On what had been another ordinary day in January 2001, Guy Nassiff returned home to College Point from his job at Lehman Brothers in Lower Manhattan, expecting to eat a home-cooked meal, watch television and get a good night's sleep.
Instead, Nassiff got the biggest surprise of his life.
When he arrived, his wife was on the telephone with his cousin. When Nassiff took the phone, his cousin informed him that a man claiming to be his brother was looking for him.
"I was totally blown away," Nassiff, 44, recalled in a recent interview at his home. "I grew up as an only child. This was earth-shattering news."
The phone call put Nassiff on track to meet not only the man who turned out to be his half brother, John Breen, but his half sister, Anne Kenney, and his father, Jack Breen. The three live in West Virginia.
"At this time of your life, you don't expect that to happen," said Nassiff, a systems administrator. "All of the sudden, this newfound family comes out of nowhere."
Nassiff's meeting with his family was a chapter in a saga that began decades ago.
Nassiff's mother, Virginia DeJose, married Donald Nassiff in 1946, and they settled in Jacksonville, Fla. In the late 1950s, the two separated.
Soon afterward, DeJose was introduced to Jack Breen, a seaman stationed at Jacksonville's naval base, and the two began dating for a short time.
When his term ended in Jacksonville, the 23-year-old Breen returned to Philadelphia, his home at the time. DeJose found out she was pregnant by Breen, and she wrote to him, telling him the news. Breen, however, felt he was too young to start a family, and he did not get back in touch with DeJose.
When she did not hear from Jack Breen, DeJose decided to move to Brooklyn, where her father lived. She told her father her child was Donald Nassiff's and later told her son the same story, although she told the truth to other relatives.
Guy Nassiff grew up fatherless in Brooklyn. DeJose died in 1982, never telling her son about his father.
After having a son of his own in 1990, Guy Nassiff began to question his family history. He wrote to Donald Nassiff, whom he believed to be his father, but got no response.
At the same time, John Breen, now 38, wondered about his half brother, who his father had told him existed.
In 2000, John Breen was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
"The doctors all asked questions," John Breen said in a recent phone interview with the TimesLedger. "They wanted to know if there was any thyroid disease in my family. I said nope. But then a few days went by and I said, 'Wait a second, I have a half brother.'"
John Breen, who has since recovered from the disease and works for a CBS affiliate, began a search to find his brother. Using the Internet, he searched for DeJose in Florida to no avail. His father then informed him that DeJose was from New York, and John Breen began calling numbers there.
With every call, John Breen wondered if he had struck the right house.
"Someone would answer the phone right off, and I would wonder, 'Is this my brother?'" he said.
Eventually, John Breen came across a relative of Guy Nassiff, who put them in contact.
After sending e-mails back and forth, the brothers eventually decided to meet in person. On Mother's Day 2001, John and Jack Breen drove from West Virginia to College Point.
"It was pretty emotional," Guy Nassiff said last week. "I'm waiting on my stoop, and I'm sitting there thinking, 'Man, I'm going to meet my father for the first time, and I am 42 years old.'"
As the Breens drove up onto 123rd Street, John Breen immediately recognized his brother.
"When Guy stood up, I saw my father," he said. "It was him to a 'T.'"
The three went out to dinner and toured the city. Jack and John Breen were introduced to Guy Nassiff's wife and two sons.
"It was just wonderful," Jack Breen, 67, said in a phone interview from West Virginia. "I wish I could have been there for him his whole life."
Guy Nassiff found his personality very similar to his brother's. He described himself and his brother as easygoing sports fans with an interest in writing. Since their meeting, they have communicated on a weekly basis, and Guy Nassiff has also become close TO his father's wife, Laquita.
Guy Nassiff said he has no hard feelings for his father.
"If I was 22 or 23, I wouldn't have wanted a family, either," he said.
The best part about meeting his family, Guy Nassiff said, is the benefits for his own sons.
"My children now have a sense that they know where they come from," he said.
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.
©2003 Community News Group
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