A family’s story of loss, separation, reunion
By Jane Myhra
A trip to Russia has changed the life of a local teenager.
Roman (Ro-mahn) Glodowski, 18, of Iola, always knew he was adopted. He heard some stories of his early life in Russia, all which he believed to be true.
His outlook on life was changed by a series of circumstances, which started when his mother, Sue Glodowski, asked if he wanted to travel to Russia.
“I grew up hearing that my father was never involved in my life,” Roman said. “I was told he wasn’t around and my mother was the one who gave everything up to give me a better life.”
The other story he heard was that because of impoverished conditions, both parents consented to give him up for adoption.
Neither story was even close to the truth.
Rob and Sue Glodowski, of Iola, traveled to Russia in September 2001 to pick up 4-year-old Roman at the Voronezh Baby House. They already had a daughter, Jessica, and the family wanted to adopt a boy.
Recently they returned to the same location with the help of the Family Ties Group.
“If not for this group, none of this would have happened,” Roman said. “They bring people together, but they never make any promises.”
When they arrived at the baby house, one woman recognized Roman and introduced the family to the other caregivers. She also invited the family to her small apartment to watch videos of Roman as a child.
“All of the caregivers were very kind hearted, open and generous,” Roman said. “My mom (Sue) was overwhelmed and felt good that I was cared for by such wonderful people.”
The next day, the Glodowski family traveled to Palovoski, where Roman was born.
“As we were driving, we passed two people waving us down by a path through a field,” Roman said. “They directed us to the house.”
The two people were Roman’s uncle, Sergey, and cousin, Alexander; the little house in the middle of the field belonged to his father, Victor.
The next moments were memorable.
“In the distance I saw a little brick shack and a plywood door slowly open and out steps my father,” Roman recalled. “When he saw me, he ran to me and threw his arms around me. We embraced for the first time ever.”
He immediately recognized his father from photos the agency had provided.
“I was told I didn’t have any family members except my father and my mother,” Roman said. “The orphanage told me my mother died as a result of a wildfire. That wasn’t true at all.”
Prior to the trip, Roman was told there was a cousin, but that was the only family member he would meet.
“They said meeting my father was ‘uncertain,’” Roman said. “Not only did I have a father, I had a cousin, uncle, aunt, grandmother and some more cousins, some of which traveled over 90 miles just to meet me.”
Immediately Victor began running his hands through Roman’s hair, feeling his head. The translator explained he was looking for a birthmark.
“He found the birthmark, which I never knew I had,” Roman said. “After 15 years of not seeing me, he knew exactly where the birthmark was.”
Through the translator, Victor said he always celebrated his son’s birthday. He kept repeating “I never abandoned you.”
“Right then and there I knew the stories they had told me weren’t true,” Roman said. “It wasn’t that he wasn’t involved in my life – I was taken away from him.”
“Every moment we were together he kept hugging me and running his hands through my hair, like he couldn’t believe it was actually happening,” Roman said. “I was feeling every emotion.”
They asked Victor what really happened. The story was completely different than what Roman had been told.
According to Victor, he had fallen in love with Svetlana and they lived together for 2 1/2 years. She left when Roman was about 8 months old.
A year later, Roman was taken to the baby home. Although he tried to adopt the boy, Victor had no authority to raise Roman since he was never legally married to Svetlana. He was also financially unable to care for a child and he was disabled, having lost both feet while serving in the Russian army.
“After all this man had been through, he gets his only child taken from him,” Roman said. “All they saw was that he was poor and disabled; they didn’t see what I saw that day – a caring, sweet man.”
“He tried to keep Roman,” Sue said. “There was a large family group to help care for the child.”
“Victor blames himself that I was taken away from him,” Roman said.
Within a year, the orphanage received a death certificate for Svetlana. The details were not clear: She was either hit by a street trolley or died in a house fire.
At that point, Roman was legally an orphan and became eligible to be adopted.
The Glodowski family stayed at Victor’s house for about four hours and shared a meal with the relatives. When the food was ready, a small table was pulled out, a newspaper was placed over the table and the food was served on paper plates.
“They shared all the food they had,” Roman said. “I felt horrible because here is a man who has nothing and he offered me everything he had.”
When it was time to leave, Victor asked if his son planned to come back to stay.
Only Roman’s words can describe their final farewell.
“Walking up to the taxi I remember how my father had his arm around me and I could tell that he hated to see me go,” he said. “I can only imagine what was going through my father’s head at that time. Before I hopped into the van, I gave my father one last hug. I wanted to tell him how strong he truly is to go through so much and yet keep smiling. I love my father.
“As I got into the van I remember how I was holding my father’s hand and it literally felt like a separation that you would see in the movies. As the door closed and the driver started up the car they were all waving to us and I will never forget the look on my father’s face as we left his driveway. He seemed happy and peaceful and content. There was no sign of him grieving or feeling like it was unfair that I could not stay with him.”
Since arriving home, Roman has come to terms with his past and has learned to embrace his present life.
He is still haunted by images of Russia.
“Russia has haunted me ever since we went back, but not necessarily in a bad way,” Roman said. “Before the trip I thought ‘why me?’ How did this kid come from nothing with a father who had nothing and end up with everything?’ Now I know I was the lucky one.”
Roman saw that his father and relatives lived in impoverished conditions, in rundown shacks with no plumbing, and no hope of changing their lives.
“I have a loving family, a roof over my head, good health, friends, opportunities, education and food on my table,” Roman said. “I can have up to four meals a day – my family in Russia is lucky to have two meals a day.”
“As soon as I returned from Russia, I appreciated what I have,” Roman said. “We take so much for granted. If we had less maybe we would be kinder to other people.”
Before the trip, Roman wasn’t sure if he wanted to meet his father.
“It took a lot of friends to convince me that it would be one of the rarest opportunities I would ever have,” he said. “It was the happiest moment of my life and my family helped me through it. I have closure, so now I am just looking at the future.”
He hopes to someday be able to help make Victor’s life better.
“I just can’t imagine what my father has gone through, what he is going through and what he is going to go through,” Roman said.
The teenager now has a new outlook on life.
“Be happy with what you have,” he said. “Love the ones who are the closest to you because you never know what could happen. Do not ever take anything for granted because the truth is we deserve nothing and yet we have been blessed with so much.”
Roman will present his story at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the Iola United Methodist Church.