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After 33 years, dad, son meet

For 33 years, he didn't know his dad. It took 10 days to change that. Dad, son. Son, dad. Now what?

By MICHAEL KRUSE
Published June 12, 2007


Dr. John Thayer of Zephyrhills (center) gets to know his son, Rich Van Hart (right). Van Hart flew into Tampa from Pennsylvania with his wife, Hope, and daughter, Keira.
photo
[Times photo: Zach Boyden-Holmes]
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Doc Thayer drove past the gate of his community in Lutz one morning last week and headed south to the airport in Tampa. He had his hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel of his red Mazda and was rubbing the tips of his thumbs together.

This had started with a call the day before:

"Is this John Thayer?"

"Was your dad's name Harold?"

"Were you born April 23, 1949?"

Then: "I think you're my dad."

Doc, whose given name is John, owns a small radio station in Zephyrhills, WZPH-FM 96.7, and teaches math at Land O'Lakes High School. He has an 18-year-old daughter who lives in Largo. Now he was at the airport.

Flight 1023 was due in at 12:27. A little late. He looked at his watch and smiled and let out some air and adjusted the waistband on his shorts.

It was 12:27.

He cleared his throat. He crossed his arms and uncrossed them and rubbed his right eye and then his left eye and dabbed at them both. He looked at his watch again. He walked over to the screens.

He took from his pocket a pink Post-it note and looked at the phone number on it.

He called it once. Called again. Then a third time. He left a message.

"This is Doc," he said. "It's 12:30. Your plane has arrived. Apparently you haven't turned your cell phone on yet. But we'll meet when you get here." He closed the phone and stood still.

Then a young man in a black T-shirt and a black ball cap walked up from the opposite direction. He looked nervous and smiled.

"Snuck up behind you," he said.

- - -

What do you say?

First, introductions: He's Rich Van Hart, he's 33, and this is his wife, Hope, and here's his 2-year-old daughter, Keira. They live in Morrisville, Pa.

Then, not long after that: "I appreciate you being excited about this," Rich said, "and not disappointed."

In the car, on the way back up to Lutz, they stitched together their halves of the stories they've heard.

Doc was a rock 'n' roll disc jockey in the early '70s in Trenton, N.J. Hazel was living in Morrisville, and married. She called and asked him to play her songs, which he did, and then they started meeting every day around lunch. He got a job in Fayetteville, N.C., and she left her husband, and brought the three kids she already had. When she found out she was pregnant, she left and went back home.

Rich was born May 3, 1974.

She told him about Doc when he was 17 because that's the first time he asked.

Rich took a long time to find Doc, he said, because he was worried about Doc's response, and the response of his siblings and the man he had always known as Dad.

Two Saturdays ago, at a party in an Elks Lodge in Pennsylvania, he was the DJ and his mom wanted him to play some songs, and he didn't want to. She told him: Your dad would've played what I asked.

That was it.

He said he was looking for closure and didn't want to wonder anymore and especially wanted his daughter to know her biological grandfather.

"It drives you nuts," Rich said, "when you know something like that and you just sit there and don't do anything."

There were nine numbers for John Thayer on peoplesearch.com, Rich said. He started making calls last Tuesday morning. Doc was No. 9.

Doc stopped the car, now back at the gate in Lutz. He looked at the woman in the gatehouse and pointed at Rich.

"That's my son."

- - -

Inside Doc's condo: Doc has a full head of hair at 58, and Rich is balding, already. Doc is thick and stocky and Rich is long and lean. Rich is a half a head taller. Doc likes dancing, they find out, and Rich admits he has "two left feet."

But they both play the drums.

Doc owns a radio station and Rich owns an entertainment business where he deejays for parties.

They both write everything down on tiny Post-its. They both have awful handwriting.

Their little toes look the same.

They both have trophies. Doc has bodybuilding trophies and Rich has karate trophies. They both like talking about them.

Rich told Doc he was in a band. He told him he once opened for Molly Hatchet at the Pennsylvania State Fair. He told him he did stand-up comedy for a while and came in second in the state in wrestling his senior year and sold cars "and excelled in that too." He told him he was a really good pool player and had never been in any "law trouble." He told him he was in the gifted and talented program in school. He told him he won a presidential academic fitness award in the fifth grade. He told him he had a four-bedroom, four-bath house, with an inground swimming pool. He told him Keira eats her vegetables, everything, even broccoli, and that "you can tell she's smart."

Doc wanted to put him on the radio.

He pulled out a hanging black microphone and said into it: "I'm Dr. Dr., and who are you, sir?"

He prompted Rich: "Your son, Rich."

"Say it," he said.

"Right now?" Rich said.

Doc nodded.

"Your son, Rich," Rich said.

- - -

Later in the day, all of them, Doc, his girlfriend Joyce, and Rich, Hope and Keira went to eat at a sports bar in Land O'Lakes. Doc got a chicken caesar salad, and Rich got a salad, too. Doc ate fast.

Sometimes it got quiet.

Rich had a Corona. He had another.

He said he'd invented a pool trick shot called the Rip Cord. He said people at home called him Tricky Ricky and that the Rip Cord was "fail-proof."

There was a pool table on the other side of the bar. It wasn't regulation size, and it wasn't fancy, but Doc asked Rich if he wanted to do the Rip Cord.

Rich said okay. Maybe just once.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a world-class pool player here," Doc, standing up, announced to everybody in the room.

"Nah," Rich said softly and to nobody really. "Now I don't want to do it."

Doc didn't hear that.

"Come on, Rich," he said.

"I set you up."

"All right," Rich said. "One shot."

There was a crowd now. People were watching. He set up one ball on the side and two more near the opposite corner pocket. What was going to happen, he said, was that he was going to rake the ball with the side of the cue and make it hit five rails, then knock the second ball into the third, which then was going to drop into the corner pocket.

He got ready. He held the cue. He made the first ball move.

It didn't work.

Again.

Didn't work.

A third time.

Didn't work.

A fourth, a fifth, a sixth. Was it 12 times? Maybe 15? People stopped watching.

It finally went in.

Rich walked outside. He said bad words under his breath, alone, away from his dad, Doc. The pressure, he said. "I was shaking, " he said.

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or 813 909-4617.

[Last modified June 11, 2007, 20:52:12]


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