LOUISVILLE — Adjusting the black leather case to raise the iPad to eye level, Nancy Galloway sits upright in her chair, tucks her long brunette hair behind her ear to show more of her face and breaks into a smile as she touches the phone number on the left side of the screen.
The phone number rings four times, then an image of a handsome silver-haired man pops onto the screen.
"Good morning," Galloway gushes. "How are you, Dad?"
A breezy yet extraordinary conversation follows the innocuous greeting.
It's not the content of the exchange which is noteworthy. In fact, their back-and-forth flow is an effortless almost bland chat about everyday topics like the weather, a golf game, a social outing and picking up kids after school.
But listen closely, and there is a subtle undertone of intrigue, delight, and admiration. These are two people getting to know each other, searching for clues in the conversation and doing their best to make up for decades of lost time.
"Isn't he adorable?" Galloway coos from her home in Louisville. "He's so sweet and wonderful and kind."
"She's such a beautiful person," her dad, Alan Freedman, replies. "I am so lucky."
And they are, Galloway says. "Its a miracle. It's really just a miracle how we found each other."
Galloway is a small business owner and a married mother of six (three biological and three-step children) who lives in Louisville. She grew up not knowing her father's real name or even which corner of the world to look for him.
"It wasn't a taboo subject, but no one ever brought up my father," said Galloway. "I had a very loving mother and an older brother, lots of aunts, uncles and grandparents — so I never felt like I was missing anything. At least it didn't feel that way at the time."
More than 14,000 miles away, in Sydney, Australia, Freedman didn't feel like he was missing anything or anyone either.
As a young man, he was part of an athletic Surf Club, got married, had two sons and, for five decades, lived unaware of the fact that he had fathered a child during a work trip to Louisville in 1968.
He met Rosalind Mudd when he traveled to Kentucky to collect information about potentially starting a business in Louisville. The two spent a couple of weeks together before Freedman carried on with his travels and flew to London. For 26 years, Mudd never told a soul about the Australian man who fathered her child.
"Nobody knew. She didn't tell anyone. It wasn't only me who didn't know who my father was," Galloway told The Courier Journal. "She was dying in 1995, and I asked her one last time to tell me about my father, and she finally told the secret."
Thinking back on the day, Galloway remembers how nervous and embarrassed her mother was as she quietly revealed the name of her daughter's father and a small amount of information about the time they spent together in Louisville.
"I was so shocked by what she was telling me that I didn't think to ask for specifics like how to spell my dad's name," she said. "By the time I realized I needed that information it was too late — mom died the day after she told me."
Without the correct spelling, Galloway wasn't sure if she was looking for Alan or Allen, and Freeman or Freidman? Occasionally through the years, she tried to find her father.
She searched through an Australian phone book, hired a private detective and scoured the internet. But without her dad's true first and last name and a more precise location than "the continent of Australia," her hunt never yielded any real results.
"Through the years, people have asked me about my ethnic background and my kids would come home from school with a family tree to fill out," remembers Galloway. "I found my birth certificate when I was 12 years old and the line for 'father' was empty. I never had any information about where I came from on my father's side. It was just a blank, and I had nothing to pass onto my children."
Then in March of 2019, Galloway noticed a DNA test kit on sale and decided to give it a shot. After spitting into a tube, she packaged up her DNA and sent it off to the AncestryDNA.com lab to be analyzed.
"My first cousin on my mom's side, and I thought it would be fun to test our DNA to see if these kits actually work," she said. "Of course in the back of my mind, I was still hoping to fill in my family tree on my father's side, too. "
In recent years, consumer genetic testing has grown swiftly. More than 26 million people have taken DNA tests from at least one of the four major consumer genetics companies, according to a recent study by MIT Technology Review.
Not everyone thinks it's a good idea to give up their privacy via their own DNA, but for Galloway, the chance to find her father was worth any risk.
One month after she mailed her saliva, a report from the home-testing company appeared on Galloway's computer.
Sure enough, just as she'd guessed, her cousin in Louisville showed up as a match — but there was someone else.
A first cousin living in Australia and his name — Mark Freedman.
"Freedman! Not Freeman or Freidman like I had been searching for all these years," said Galloway. "Of course I cried, I had goosebumps. It was exciting and overwhelming to realize I was so close to actually finding my dad."
Immediately she crafted a note to her Australian cousin, careful to let him know she was only interested in finding out more about her ancestry and nothing more.
"I am a grown, financially sound woman and I just want to know my heritage," she wrote.
She hit "send" and anxiously hoped for a reply from halfway around the world.
Thanks to the time difference between Australia and the United States, the answer didn't arrive immediately. But when it did, Galloway couldn't think of anything else — she felt like her world had turned upside down.
"Hi Nancy," wrote Mark Freedman. "It looks like you have found your dad. I have contacted my Uncle Al and he has encouraged me to make contact with you and let you know that he will certainly be in touch with you very soon. I am happy to let you know that your dad is a lovely, lovely man and part of a large and loving family. Welcome to the family."
At age 79, Alan Freedman was understandably shocked to learn chances were high he was the father of a woman in America.
"It was like a bomb had gone off when I first learned I have had a daughter who was out in the world for 50 years without me knowing," he said. "But once I wrapped my head around it, Nancy is such a gift. I just keep telling anyone who will listen 'I have a daughter and I don't want to waste a moment of getting to know everything about her.'"
After speaking with his two grown sons and their families, Freedman sat down and composed a long and heartfelt message to the daughter he never knew he had.
"I promise you," the message read, "I will do everything that I can to make sure that the hopes you might have had in your search are fulfilled. I assure you that you have the support of the entire extended Freedman family."
At first Galloway and Freedman communicated by email.
"We had 50 years to makeup, and we wanted to know absolutely everything about each other," said Galloway. "Within a couple of days, Al was sending me multiple page documents about my family in Australia and the lives of my grandmother, my great grandparents and ancestors all the way back to their crossing by boat into Australia from England, and I read every word."
Within two weeks of discovering each other, Galloway and Freedman had set up a routine that includes a daily face-to-face video chat.
"After the second week, he said he couldn't wait any longer and he was coming to meet me in person," Galloway said. "In July he came to visit for two weeks along with his son Jason, my new brother, and his wife, Haley, and their kids."
During the visit, Galloway showed her dad her blank birth certificate and he immediately went to work to have that omission legally corrected. They spent hours touring Galloway's hometown, met her family members and made plans to meet again soon in Australia.
Which they did in October when Galloway and her husband, Mark Phelps, flew to Australia to meet the other side of her family.
"I never realized how much it would mean for me to know my father before I found him," said Galloway. "I didn't even know that I needed to know but now I have this wonderfully large and loving family on both sides, and for me this sense of completeness is indescribable."
Not all family searches end as well as this one, and Galloway and Freedman are aware their story is special.
"It's a gift, it's a real gift," said Freedman. "Not only do I have this beautiful daughter, but we have two large families that come with the package."
After now after 50 years of wondering and searching, Galloway can fill in those empty white blanks on her family tree, because she knows her father.
"He fathered me by chance, but he's stepped up to the plate with his actions and is definitely my dad by choice," she said.
Information from: Courier Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com