A House Full of Light : Finding Her Natural Father Has Filled the Only Empty Space in Her Life


A FEW MONTHS AGO, I ran into Andrea Van de Kamp having breakfast at the Konditori in Pasadena. She invited me to join her.

She was bursting with a story she had to tell someone. She had just found her natural father after 40 years of wondering who he was. I didn’t take notes. I didn’t want to intrude.

Then a few weeks ago, I met her again. She had calmed down some. I asked her if she would tell the story again and if I could use it. She said yes, she wanted to share it.


Andrea was born in Detroit in 1943. Three years later, her mother divorced her father. When she was 5, her mother remarried. Andrea was raised by her stepfather, but she was never adopted. Her real father was against it.

Her mother never told her who her father was. She didn’t believe in split families. Her mother had two more children, a boy and a girl--Andrea’s half-brother and -sister. Andrea adored her stepfather. “I worshiped the ground on which he walked. He treated me with the same love as he did his natural children. He was always there.”

She went through the usual period of adolescent self-doubt, thinking she wasn’t pretty. He told her, “You’re as pretty as anyone needs to be.” That was all the reassurance she needed.

But she always wondered, “Who is my father?” On her birth certificate, her name was Andrea Louise Messenger. She knew no more. “I lived in a house of light. But one room was dark. I always rushed by it.”

Two years ago, her stepfather died. She was determined to find her father. Her grandmother told her that he lived in Lansing, Mich., and that his name was Andrew. Andrea telephoned Lansing directory assistance. They told her Andrew Messenger’s telephone was not listed. Through her husband, Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, she knew Frank Kelly, the attorney general of Michigan. She called him and asked whether he knew of or could find an Andrew Messenger.

“Andy!” he exclaimed. “Why, Andy’s my dermatologist!”

With some trepidation, she telephoned Dr. Andrew Messenger and was given the usual defensive treatment. What was the nature of her business? It was personal: “I’m a daughter of a former marriage.” The doctor had appointments all afternoon. If she wished to leave her number, the doctor would call her back.


He called. She told him. She said, “I’m half of you and I don’t know you. I told him he had a lovely granddaughter (Diana, now 10). He said, “I had eight grandchildren; now I have nine.” He also told her, “You have three brothers and two sisters.”

Andrea and her father agreed to meet for a weekend in a neutral city--Chicago.

“It was a delightful weekend,” she said. “We had dinner two nights. I was thrilled to discover that my grandfather had been a professional baseball player, that all three of my brothers were doctors, that one of my sisters was a biologist and that the other had an engineering degree and was two years through law school.”

Later she flew to Portland, where one of her new sisters lives. The other sister joined them there. Last month she flew to Michigan to meet her blind 88-year-old grandmother and her three brothers and their families. She has also met her father’s third wife. “She’s fabulous!”

Andrea said, “It’s been overwhelming.

“There is so much to be absorbed that I feel like a sponge. I’m completely filled. I couldn’t absorb any more.”

I wondered what her mother felt about all this. “She said, ‘How nice for you, and how nice for Andy. I always worried that I kept you two apart.’ ”

Andrea and her father talk by telephone every week. He had never heard of Atty. Gen. Van de Kamp and had no idea that he was running for governor of California. (Andrea Van de Kamp is West Coast supervisor for Sotheby’s.)

So far, the only note of discord in Andrea’s life is that her husband is a Democrat and her father is a Republican. But it doesn’t matter: Dr. Messenger can’t vote in California.

“Finally,” Andrea says, “my house is full of light. There is no dark room. For the first time, I feel complete.”