A New York Times Journalist Shares His Own Story This Time

Nicholas Casey's father stopped visiting when the boy was just 7
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 20, 2021 7:13 AM CDT
How a Father's Absence Shaped a Reporter's Identity
   (Getty Images)

In a long and fascinating piece about identity for the New York Times Magazine, Times' Madrid bureau chief Nicholas Casey writes that "telling the stories of others came more easily." Telling his own story, far less so. He was born to a white woman who spent a single night with his Black father when the two worked on separate ships in the early '80s that had docked at Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean. The child who resulted was named Nicholas, after his father, and given the middle name Wimberley, also after his dad. He grew up in a mobile home near San Francisco and saw his father occasionally when his ship docked in the Port of Oakland. Until he was 7, that is, and his father said he had killed a man, but it wasn't a "big deal" and he'd likely be out in 30 days. "I love you, kid," he said.

Thirty days passed, then months, then years, with no word from his dad or way to track him down. Casey weaves a tale about searching for his own identity while having "no trace of my father besides a last name": His mother said it was Nicholas Wimberley-Ortega, and that he had Cuban roots. Casey recounts going from a white school to a Black school where he was unable to fit in, and then to a private school where—in a nod to his Latino roots—he started taking Spanish and managed to go to Cuba with his class. "In the days after I returned home, it began to hit me just how much I had lost with the disappearance of my father," writes Casey. On the streets of Havana, there were men as Black as my father, teenagers with the same light-brown skin as me. They could be distant relatives for all I knew." He recounts schooling at Stanford and a decision to become a reporter, and then an ancestry test his mom gave him for his 33rd birthday. It led him to his father—and some unexpected truths. He wasn't from Cuba, for one. (The full story is worth a read.)

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