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Man raised in Colorado reunites with birth father with help of DNA testing

At 48-years-old, Reginald Hardwick learned his father lived less than 100 miles away from where he grew up with his adoptive family
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Posted at 9:15 PM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 01:17:19-04

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Reginald Hardwick was put up for adoption at birth and has always wondered about his birth parents, yet he wasn’t obsessed with the idea of finding them either.

He figured if it happened, then it happened.

At 48 years old, it’s happening.

After turning to 23andMe and, a woman in Missouri contacted him saying he was her nephew.

Reginald grew up in Elizabeth, went to UNC and worked at Denver7 as an intern in the 90s. He was then hired on as a producer before he left to work in other major TV markets.

Reginald and I have maintained our friendship over the years and when he told me he found his birth father and they were going to meet up in Colorado Springs, we both agreed it was an important story to share.

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We talked about week before he was catching a plane to come to Colorado to meet his birth father.

Anne Trujillo: So, how are you feeling about your trip?

Reginald Hardwick: I'm so excited and also a lot of anxiety building up. All of this has come to me within the last two months, and since March, I've met my father and connected with my siblings, and then later met my mother — all of this over FaceTime or phone. And just today I was taking a walk and thinking about what are the conversations and the pictures that I want to share, and they're going to share with me and all the moments that we missed, graduations and events in our lives.

Trujillo: What goes through your head, as you think about meeting your dad, your biological father, for the first time?

Hardwick: The irony that he lived less than 100 miles from me. I grew up in Elbert County, he lived in Colorado Springs. I think a lot of what goes through my head is the irony that I lived in Elbert County. I went to University of Northern Colorado, worked in Denver, and the whole time, my father, my biological father, was in Colorado Springs, less than 100 miles away, and I had no idea.

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And so that's one of the things, like could we have crossed paths at the grocery store or at the zoo or something and not known it?

Trujillo: Did you grow up thinking, wondering who am I?

Hardwick: I was adopted so young, so I didn't. Kind of like your parents are your parents. Because I was so young and they're just your parents. My parents were very open and very transparent and told me where I'm born and being from Vietnam, and so I knew I was born out of the country, and I have a lot of questions about that.

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Reginald Hardwick poses for a family photo in the 70s with his adoptive parents, Hoyd and Barbara Hardwick.

Being mixed race and I don't necessarily look Asian — I present as Black — but what about that Asian part of my culture? It wasn't until my 30s that I really got to know that culture when I lived in Texas. So I did have a lot of questions about that because I just didn't have any exposure. Really, my parents were my parents, so I didn't really have those longings because I was so young and didn't know.

Trujillo: No resentments or wondering why would my parents give me up?

Hardwick: I have no resentments, no bitterness. What I've learned is that many Asian women, especially in war time, gave their children up for safety and to give them a better life. And so, I actually, all I have is gratitude.

I'm thinking that I would have had a very tough life, especially looking like I am being a mixed-race person. I've heard the stories of Amerasian children, and, in fact, now I've connected with, on my mother's side, an older brother who is half Black and half Asian and just had a tough time. I've heard stories of mixed-race children where people threw rocks at them, and they didn't let them go to school. And so just a tough life.

So, I understand, and I can really empathize with the mothers who got us to orphanages for safety, and I'm sure it was heartbreaking, but also, they knew we would have better lives, and so I'm actually very grateful.

Trujillo: And you had a good life in Colorado?

Hardwick: It was not perfect, but, by and large, I would say my adopted parents were great. I mean, they loved me. My adopted mother died very young, 39 when I was 13.

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A family portrait shows Reginald Hardwick with his adoptive family, including his mom Desiree Hardwick, who his father married after his first wife's death.

And so, we had some challenges and things, but they embraced my dreams. I grew up wanting to be in TV news, and eventually came to work at Denver7 and other places around the country. I was asthmatic, and I remember going to summer camp in Estes Park and Woodland Park and went to the University of Northern Colorado. So, I have had an incredible life.

It's just so interesting at age 48 to come to this point, and now I'm meeting the people who created me. It's really overwhelming. I've always had, really, an open kind of feeling. If it happens, it happens.

Even when I did the DNA test, I wasn't like, "Oh my gosh, I hope this is it," and I'm glad because it took years for us to connect.

I've gone to Vietnam a couple of times. I went to the place where I was born. But I didn't go there saying, "OK, I'm going to find my mom and all the records." I'd done a lot of research and knew that a lot of that stuff either was destroyed and there was just very little left, but I just went there to soak up the culture and the food.

And it, honestly, it was odd. It was very odd when in my 30s, and it felt like I was going home, you know?

And so, I've really just been very open and very accepting and know that I've had a great life, but it's pretty incredible this turn.

Trujillo: It really is. So, what do you think is going to happen? I mean, I know you've talked, but to see somebody face to face, what's that going to be like?

Hardwick: I think it will be checking each other out physically and looking at, I mean, we've seen pictures and obviously when he was younger, and I think we really do look a lot alike. Obviously, he's older — he's 75 — but really checking each other out.

I'm 5’6”, so I thought that was because of the Asian side of my life. But it's actually, we're actually, I'm told, all kind of short and stocky. So, I'm looking forward to meeting other short Black people.

Trujillo: Do you feel like he's excited to see you or as excited as you are?

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Elzie Johnson, Reginald Hardwick's birth father, served in Vietnam.

Hardwick: I really do. And I think my understanding from him is that this really did answer a long journey for him. He had some idea, because there was a letter that he never saw, but he learned later that I was around but had no way to connect back to my birth mother and then find out if I was alive and what happened.

So, once he learned about that, I think he had hopes to meet me.

Trujillo: I assume, then, you're glad you did the 23andMe test?

Hardwick: Yeah. I did it six years ago. I did it partially hoping maybe there'll be a connection. Also did it for health history. And after a few years and you do get matches of distant cousins, but there was never anything close or anything I wanted to follow up on.

And then to get a message from a woman who's now my aunt in that, ‘You’re my nephew, and I don't know you, but I think we know you,’ it's been incredible. And it's all… being connected with my biological parents in less than four weeks, it's just been a whirlwind.

Trujillo: So, you’re all getting together, what's going to happen?

Hardwick: I think we're going to get together and, my dad is now retired, so they're coming in from Vegas, and then my sister in Denver, we're all coming to my brother's house in Colorado Springs. And I think we'll all check each other out. And I've been told to wear a blue shirt, and we're going to take a nice family portrait, and then just chatting.

We've already talked about some differences and similarities, like I'm asthmatic, one of my sisters suffered from asthma. One of my sisters went to the University of Northern Colorado a year after I graduated. I hate watermelon, but they love it, and they hate cantaloupe, which I love. So, we've already done some comparisons, so we'll just do more.

Trujillo: Does that feel weird saying my dad, my brother, my sisters?

Hardwick: It is. Yeah, I had to recalibrate. My adopted father passed in 2007. He's buried at Fort Logan in Denver, and it's odd, but I kind of swept that out of my head — saying dad.

At first, I was saying your dad, you know, talking to my siblings… your dad, her dad. And then I said our dad. I mean, it's taken me retraining, oddly, to say, “yeah, dad” and not just call him by his first name. And I don’t want to be that formal, and he's very easy going, and the family is very easy going, and everybody's been so accepting, so it makes it a lot easier.

Trujillo: What are your expectations? I mean, you all are meeting and then what? What are your expectations for after?

Hardwick: I'll have somewhere new and different to go over the holidays and to get together. And I just… having deep conversations with dad. I've missed those with my dad. And he’s a deep guy. Being in… having been to Vietnam and having had a whole life, and so we've had some deep conversations about politics already and TV and other things.

One thing also, I live in central Illinois right now. He was born and raised in southern Illinois — another irony. So, this summer we're planning to meet up in southern Illinois so he can show me his hometown, which probably is a lot like the small town I grew up in Colorado with a very small high school, see and meet some of his siblings who are still alive.

Trujillo: This is a whole new world opening up to you.

Hardwick: I want to take it fast, but take it slow at the same time because we want a close relationship. And you think of what family is supposed to be and everything, and I have all that going through my head, but I also want to take it at my own pace and our own pace.

Trujillo: Let's talk about your mom for a second because you have, you also are fully aware of your mom's existence.

Hardwick: I remember just staring at the computer and saying, I have a mom, and she has a name, and she actually is in America. She lives in Georgia, and we've talked on the phone. We haven't made plans yet to meet in person, but I've learned that she was in a refugee camp in Thailand and was able to come to America in the 80s and has made a life here.

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Reginald Hardwick hopes to meet his birth mother, Thu Dang, in summer 2021.

And I had really absolutely no idea and absolutely no expectation that I would ever connect with her. I'm just thinking she was still in Vietnam, and if she was alive because it's just not the health services and these things that we take for granted here are not necessarily there. Wow. it was amazing.

And then I have three siblings on that side, too. And I have another brother, who was adopted out to Australia, and then another brother, who was with my mom and later, and then a younger sister, and she lives with my sister in Georgia.

Trujillo: I think we can all understand and remember the hardships of that time of the Vietnam war, so to be able to connect with your mom… that's amazing. So that will be the next family reunion at some point?

Hardwick: Yes. And, hopefully, this summer we will connect because, of course, our lovely pandemic that we're in… it might be a while before I meet my brother in Australia. But what's incredible is the technology — thankful that we can do a FaceTime. Of course, we can do plain old phone, but we can see each other, and we can share pictures and stories.

I think I was eating Vietnamese food the other day and took a snapshot and shared it with my siblings in Australia and in Georgia. And it is incredible this technology that we have and that we can connect in this way.

Trujillo: Do you remember ever, like, looking in the mirror and saying who am I?

Hardwick: Now after seeing them and noticing their face… and that was the other thing, seeing their faces, I didn't know what she looked like. I didn't know what he looked like. And now, I see the resemblance in both of them. And people have told me, people have looked at pictures and they see my mother in my face and my dad, my face — same forehead with my dad and cheekbones and everything.

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On May 15, 2021, in Colorado Springs, Reginald Hardwick met his biological family for the first time.