In 1971, Conway’s Marc Kleczka held his 3-month-old son, Marc Jr., for the first time.
At the time, Kleczka was only 15-years-old, living with his sister and parents in San Jose, California.
When his dad got a new job as a hotel manager in a town about 40 miles away, Kleczka and his sister stayed behind to stay in school. In order for that to happen, they needed an 18-year-old guardian living with them. That’s when his sister’s friend moved in.
Kleczka told the Log Cabin Democrat “things happened” and the friend – her name was Jean – ended up pregnant.
It was 1970 and Kleczka’s father gave him two options: marry the girl or never see her again. If he decided on neither and continued as things were, his father would call the police and report the situation as a statutory rape.
The young boy didn’t want Jean to go to jail but marriage wasn’t the right decision either. Jean had previously told him she wanted him to enjoy high school, to be young and could still be a part of his child’s life, but with his father’s ultimatum, that just wasn’t possible.
“I didn’t want to tell her that, I kind of lied to her,” Kleczka said. “I told her it was too overwhelming for me and I wanted out.”
He said she understood, the two going their separate ways.
The decision has been something the now 63-year-old has had to live with his whole life.
Kleczka said he tried to tempt fate many times. At one point, years later, he even worked at the same company Jean did, often walking by her desk, trying to get her to notice him, but he had changed from the young boy she once knew and didn’t recognize him.
He ended marrying another woman he went to high school with and the two had a daughter. His in-laws moved to Arkansas so the couple followed.
After getting a divorce, he met his current wife, Tammy, who he also had a daughter with.
Through the 47 years, Kleczka said he never stopped looking for his son but unlike now with easy access to the internet, that was more difficult.
What he didn’t know was Jean got married and her husband, James Chantler, had chosen to adopt Marc, changing his last name.
In 2011, with Facebook at his disposal, Marc poured his heart out on the social media site, listing dates, towns, names ... even the high school he attended, hoping someone would see it. Kleczka told the LCD he and Tammy poured through dozens of messages to no avail.
At this point, Kleczka’s oldest daughter decided to try her luck at Ancestry.com, but instead of searching for Marc, she’d try using his mother’s information. Her efforts combined with Tammy’s, the two got a hit, a contact with a land-line and address attached with additional possible contacts.
“I said, ‘this has got to be him,’” she said.
Marc Sr. picked up the phone and made the call.
“A girl answered the phone and I asked if Marc was there [and] she said, ‘yeah,’ and Marc got on the phone,” he said, telling the story of their first conversation eight years ago. “I said, ‘is this Marc,’ and I asked him a couple of questions about his mom. Everything was correct. I asked him if he was sitting down and said, ‘I think I’m your biological father.’”
Kleczka said there was a long pause before Marc responded.
“He just said, ‘where ya been,’ and then we just started talking like we’d known each other for a long time and we’ve been talking frequently ever since,” he said.
In the years, the father and son have been able to catch up, talking about things they’ve missed, memories from before and similarities between two, but have also moved forward, getting to experience new aspects to life and relationship, once spent apart, Marc Sr. even receiving a call from his son on Father’s Day.
“The way I see it, no matter what happened, it’s all good because we’re here now,” Marc Jr. said, joy evident in his tone as he turned to face his father. “Whatever happened in the past, if there was anything bad, don’t even think about it because it’s over.”
Marc Jr. said he always knew he had another family out there, his mom always up front about his past.
“Maybe I’ll see him one day, maybe I won’t,” Marc Jr. said, describing his mindset.
Getting that phone call though, he said, was something else altogether.
“It was an overwhelming feeling of joy, I guess, is a good way to describe it,” he said.
Marc Jr. was even more shocked when he found out his biological dad and his step dad shared the same birthday. He said that made him drop the phone.
“That kind of tripped me out,” the 47-year-old said.
Up to this point, Marc Jr. knew he had a dad out there in the world somewhere but hadn’t truly ever tried to find him, busy going through high school and then getting a job, the time slipping by.
Marc Sr. noted how great Jean and James were in raising Marc Jr., overall, everything working out for the best.
“I guess there’d be one thing that would’ve been different ... if we would’ve known each other [sooner],” Marc Jr. said. “Can’t go backwards though. From here on out, it’s all good.”
The LCD asked how their relationship had developed over the eight years since that first phone call.
“Aw geez, it’s developing great,” Marc Jr. said, smiling. “It’s developing even better now that I’m here.”
Marc Jr. flew to Arkansas from his home in Oregon on Tuesday, arriving shortly after midnight in Little Rock.
Tammy showed the LCD a video of that first encounter at the airport. Marc Jr. can be seen almost running down the escalator, clearly eager to meet his dad after all these years. The video ends with the two embracing.
Father and son stayed up until around 3 a.m. catching up, decades between them washing away.
“It took a while to get him here but he’s finally here,” Marc Sr. said.
In recent years, Marc Sr. and Tammy have had a lot of medical issues come up which has knocked them off track of getting his son out here, but now that Marc Jr. has finally arrived in the Arkansas town, they’re sharing as much of the Natural State as they can with the man from the west coast.
On July 4, Marc Sr. and Tammy held a cookout in Conway, welcoming friends and family, including Marc Jr.’s two sisters, who he had only spoken to on the phone at this point.
“I kind of wish I was around them after talking to them,” Marc Jr. said. “I could’ve been the big brother I always wanted to be. It kind of brings tears to my eyes.”
Marc Jr. grew up an only child.
While some in a similar situation might be bitter or resentful toward the parent that wasn’t there and the family he never had, Marc Jr. hasn’t let that shape his mindset toward the family he always knew was out there, even though that’s exactly what his dad expected from him.
Marc Sr. recalled the emotions he was feeling when he picked up that phone years ago. He said they were ones of dread, fear and guilt, that his son would never hang up on him and never want to speak to him again.
Tammy said before that conversation, she noticed her husband blaming anything bad that ever happened in their lives on that one moment in time, a situation from years ago, carrying the guilt of that choice every moment since the young dad made it.
After that phone call, she said, all that weight seemed to wash away, a change in Marc Sr. evident.
“My mom taught me to never judge a book by its cover, is a good way to look at it,” Marc Jr. said.
He said both his mom and dad were young and doesn’t place blame on either, ultimately thankful to have been raised by two great people who have both been supportive of him pursuing a relationship with his dad, and the family he has now, who is eager to one day travel west and meet Marc Jr.’s parents, his wife, his daughter and his 6-year-old granddaughter.
“A lot of families, when they dig up the past, they dig up old scars and they’re hard to heal, but this one has healed way over many times,” Marc Jr. said. “Let bygones be bygones and just enjoy life and see what happens in the future.”