In the midst of a pandemic, an adoptee connects with her birth father

In spite of the pandemic, one woman found ways to deepen her connections to family — old and new.

Two people smile as they pose for a picture outside.
Susan McCrea met her birth father, Rick Nelson, at his home in Wisconsin in August of last year. McCrea said getting to know Nelson better has been the highlight of her year.
Courtesy of Susan McCrea

Susan McCrea's quest to find her birth parents started during a routine medical visit three years ago, when a doctor encouraged her to use genetic counseling to learn more about her health history.

Before long, McCrea, who was adopted at birth and now lives in the Twin Cities suburbs, found herself down a rabbit hole of internet ancestry websites and family trees.

“I always pictured mom being a homecoming queen and my dad a football star,” she said.

A woman standing on a dock at a lake.
Susan McCrea often calls her birth father, Rick Nelson, from the shore of Lake Minnetonka, which is close to her home. Nelson lives near Lake Michigan, and the two often share photos of their lakes with each other.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

By March 2019, McCrea had connected with her birth father, Rick Nelson, who lives just north of Milwaukee — a star baseball player, but, by his own admission, not so great at football.

Nelson, who has three sons, said he had no idea he had a daughter, too, until last year.

"It came as a total surprise. I was shocked and happy and excited all at the same time,” he said.

After meeting briefly in person that August, Nelson and McCrea decided it was time for him to meet McCrea's two sons — his grandsons. They made plans for a longer, bigger family visit this spring, just as COVID-19 hit the Upper Midwest.

But the pandemic upended those plans.

“It was the perfect storm, the third week of March,” McCrea said. “I'll never forget it. I remember canceling that trip, and boy did I feel so sorry for myself."

Through the spring and summer, McCrea and Nelson tried to reschedule that visit.

But concerns about safety in the middle of the raging pandemic kept them apart.

“If I came, brought the virus and something happened to [him], I would never forgive myself. Being this newfound child, what would this family think of me?” McCrea said.

Finally, in September, after more than a week of quarantining, McCrea and her husband spent a long weekend with Nelson, his wife, friends and family in Wisconsin. McCrea's sons, who are in college, had to lay low at school and couldn't join.

The weather cooperated for a lot of outdoor activities — trap shooting, al fresco meals.

4 people in front of a school bus with a sign that reads "breakfast bus"
Susan McCrea (second from right) stands with her birth father, Rick Nelson; her husband, John McCrea' and her "bonus mom," Barb Nelson. Rick Nelson and Susan McCrea took a bus on their "daddy-daughter date" earlier this year.
Courtesy of Susan McCrea

“It was a great weekend,” Nelson recalled. “Could not have been better, we just had a super time.”

McCrea says the visit buoyed her through a difficult fall of growing case numbers and stricter isolation measures.

And in the midst of a pandemic that is preventing her from spending more time with her relatives in person, she says she's never felt more connected — to her roots and to her family, old and new.

"You define 2020 with isolation and sacrifices. But amongst all of that I feel like I have made some amazing connections,” she said.

Susan says that her greatest hope for the new year is to nurture those connections — and to finally introduce her sons to their newly found grandfather.

Looking back, looking ahead: As 2020 comes to a close, several MPR News reporters have been checking back in with people they met earlier in the pandemic — about how their lives have changed, and about what they're hopeful for in the new year.

COVID-19 in Minnesota

Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health's cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.

The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.

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