Attempt to Reunite With Son Given Up for Adoption Brings Frustration

Photo: Science Reveals Son Is Not Their OwnABC News
Ron Ryba set out to find the son he gave up for adoption, was reunited with the now-adult child, and got to know him over several years. But a DNA test has proved the two men are not related, and now both are seeking answers.

For more than 30 years, Ron Ryba wondered about the baby boy he and his high school sweetheart had given away.

The year was 1975. Ryba played running back on the football team at Shawnee High School in in Medford, N.J., while his girlfriend, Kathy Butler, cheered for him on the sidelines. Ryba said the two were "very much" in love.

But the lovebirds faced a difficult decision: 16-year-old Kathy was pregnant. Given their age, the couple believed they could not give the child with the upbringing he deserved.

"At that time, being 16 years old and scared and not sure what to do, we turned to our faith," Ryba said.

VIDEO: A father looks for a child that it gave up for adoption years ago.Play
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The couple decided to give up the baby boy for adoption through Catholic Charities of Trenton, N.J.

It was an agonizing decision, especially for young Ryba, and he wrote a letter to the adoptive parents, describing the reason behind his decision.

"The only thing I could give him would be my true love," he wrote. "But he also needs two parents together and a good home."

Son Never Far From Father's Thoughts

The baby was born Nov. 25, 1975, and soon after was adopted by a loving family, who named him Philip.

As the years passed, Ryba said he thought about the child constantly. Was he well-cared for? Did he have loving adoptive parents? What did the boy know of his birth parents, Ron and Kathy?

"I wanted him to know that he was born out of love, and I had given him up as a gift," Ryba said.

Ryba stayed in contact with Catholic Charities caseworkers, who assured him the baby was doing well. In 1993, Ryba received a file about his son, detailing the child's development through the years -- even noting Philip's first words and first teeth. Ryba, who now had another son and a daughter, told the agency repeatedly he wanted to meet Philip.

"When you have your own children, your bonds, your thoughts ... and I go back ... and you know there's a piece missing," Ryba said.

Joy of Reunion, Then Shock of DNA Results

But it was not until 2004 that those pieces would begin to come together.

Phil, who asked ABC News to withhold his last name, was 30 years old and at last ready to meet his biological parents.

At first Ryba and Phil exchanged letters and e-mail through Catholic Charities, but a year later Ryba planned the ultimate father-son reunion: a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game.

The two met -- and bonded immediately.

"It was awesome," Phil said. "And everything felt really natural and really good."

For Ryba, the meeting gave him peace after years of anguish.

"Because for me, the journey I took was a lot of pain. A lot that I went through, shame as a 16-year-old," he said. "So I thought that meeting and seeing this guy who had a great life and loving parents and was a balance. My pain was his joy."

Phil said the two barely watched the game on the field, instead spending hours talking and learning about one another. Phil said his childhood was a happy one, and said that while growing up, he was told about the couple he believed were his birth parents.

"I got a little background on Ron and a little background on my birth mother. Their story was nice. It was comforting, but it just wasn't my story," Phil said.

Indeed, that story would unravel three years after their reunion. In the time since their meeting, the two men grew close, so close that Ryba decided to add Phil to his will. Ryba's lawyer insisted that he, Kathy Butler and Phil each take a DNA test. The results were stunning.

'The report came back and none of us were related," Ryba said.

The three submitted to a second DNA test but got the same result: zero probability that Ryba and Butler were Phil's parents. Ron said his heart immediately ached for Phil.

"I thought of Phil. And I didn't know what to say to him because he is a great guy and I didn't know what to say to him," he said.

And then, there was an even bigger mystery.

"Where is my son?" Ryba asked.

Search for Answers Brings Frustration

He and Phil took that question to Catholic Charities of Trenton's Executive Director Francis Dolan but said they got nowhere

"Mr. Dolan said, 'We don't feel any obligation to help you.' And at that moment, you know, the moral value of what I did was gone," Ryba said through tears.

"I keep waiting for them to tell me what happened, what went wrong, what got switched, but that call is just not coming," Phil said.

When asked by ABC News, Dolan said he never told Ryba that the agency felt "no obligation" to the families involved and insisted his agency has every desire to help. As evidence, he said, the agency is ready with added staff and intake forms for anyone who contacts them with information surrounding this case.

"It's a very frustrating situation. And I understand the frustration, I share the frustration," Dolan said.

To visit the Web site for Catholic Charities of Trenton, N.J., click on this link.

Dolan said he believes the mix-up happened very early, perhaps even before Ryba's son arrived at Catholic Charities.

"Did the files get mixed up? Did the babies get mixed up at our institution or at the hospital? We simply don't know that," Dolan said.

There were at least six baby boys in the care of Catholic Charities at that time, but because adoption records are sealed by state law, Dolan said, there is nothing he can do for Ryba or Phil.

Answers May Never Come

None of the other boys adopted around the same time have approached the agency to open their records. Without their explicit consent, the agency cannot look in those files.

If the mix-up happened at the hospital, the search could be even harder, as the hospital has since destroyed those birth records.

"It's heart-wrenching. It's his [Phil's] story. It's his personal identity," Dolan said. "I would love nothing more than to be able to provide him with his story."

Without that story, Phil said he is left to wonder about the basic details of his life.

"I am just looking into a little bit of history about where I came from. What my actual birthday is and so far, I don't know," Phil said.

Now, not father and son but friends, the two men are on a quest, side by side, searching for an answer.

"We'll just take this journey together, we'll do it together," Ryba said.

"He's my friend now. We're friends for life." Phil agreed, but the search is far from over. "I just try to take it day by day, and I just try to stay hopeful. The answer is out there somewhere. It's just a matter of finding it."

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