Forgiveness, a reunion and music: Story City woman and her father reconnect after 40 years apart
The story of Story City businesswoman Cande Coulter’s reconnection to her father after 40 years is an emotional journey that ends on a happy note.
The reunion led to Coulter hosting Thursday night’s Country Music & Comfort Food event in Story City, where one of the starring musicians will be her dad, Dan Bowers.
“My parents were young parents, and my dad went off to the Vietnam War,” Coulter said. “Basically, when he came back, he wasn't the same person that he was when he left. And so my parents’ marriage did not work out. And he had a lot of things that he needed to work through — it’s been 53 years of working through it.”
Coulter said her dad’s mental status at the time and other circumstances led him to turn over his parental rights, and she was adopted by her stepfather in 1974. She hadn’t seen Bowers since she was about 4 years old, but she does have memories of being with him and his family.
“We lived in a community in Indiana that was similar to Story City and Roland, so I went to a small school, and he always kept track of how I was doing,” Coulter said. But she didn’t know that was happening, she said. Once she was out of school and married, her dad lost track of her.
The box that led to forgiveness
In January of 2011, Coulter’s mom died, and it wasn’t long before Cande found a box full of materials about her dad.
“She left a box of items that had several newspaper clippings in it, Vietnam letters from my dad that he had sent back, memorabilia about him,” Coulter said. “And then if she had any information about him through those missing years that I didn't have any contact with him, it was in that box along with an address for him.”
Coulter did not receive that box very well, she said.
“I was mad,” she said. “If it was important that I have this, why didn’t my mom talk to me about it? Because it's something I’d definitely never ever seen before.”
Over the next six months or so, the box was moved around the house as the Coulters’ kids were transitioning in and out of the house due to graduation, college and a move from Indiana. At some point, Cande told her husband Todd he should just throw the box away.
“He said, ‘Absolutely not,’” Cande said.
She talked to her grandmother about it: “I was ugly crying and asking my grandma, ‘Why do I have to have this now? Why is it so important?’” But her grandma wouldn’t tell her anything about it.
A couple years went by, and one day while Cande was home alone, “I was digging through stuff and I found that box. I just sat down and wrote my dad a letter.”
She told him she was happy, married to Todd, has three kids — Jessi, Jerod and Mattye — and grandchildren. She told him she didn’t blame him for anything.
And she told him she forgave him.
“I forgive him for all that happened because I understand a lot more now at my age than I did when I was going through my teen years,” Coulter said. “I said, ‘I can’t fathom sending my son off to war at the age of 18 and what that would do to him.’
“I've had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and I had a stem cell transplant. I told him I understand what one event in your life can do to change the whole trajectory of how you think, how you feel, how you deal with things, how you cope. I get that one small piece of our lives can change everything.”
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The letter that led to a reunion
Coulter mailed that letter on a Thursday and the next Monday morning, she got a phone call.
“It was my dad,” she said. “That led to days and hours and hours of being on the phone.”
It was awkward at first, she said. “What do you say? Hi, Dad?”
She remembers him saying “thank you” over and over.
“He said, ‘I’m so glad that you reached out to me. You don’t understand how much this means to me,’” she said. “He probably made a decision a long time ago that he regretted and he didn’t know what to do to change it.”
Coulter sent that first letter seven years ago in November. Her dad came to visit that Thanksgiving, becoming reacquainted with his daughter, meeting her husband, kids and grandkids.
There have been so many things to catch up on — a lifetime of stories.
There have been interesting discoveries to make. Like the Coulters’ son, Jerod, loves to play the guitar. “When those two get together, they’re like two peas in a pod,” she said. “You want to talk about genetics, even though maybe they weren’t a part of your upbringing.”
Everyone says Cande looks like her mom, she said.
“But I never acted like my mom,” Coulter said. “I always acted much different than the rest of my family. Now that I met my dad, I know where it comes from.”
Based in Arkansas, Bowers is a musician who tours through the Midwest, and the Coulters often travels to see him perform.
“A lot of people knew that Dad had another daughter that he didn’t have a relationship with,” Coulter said. “So whenever I would go to these festivals, they're like, ‘You must be Dan’s daughter. I'm so excited for you. He’s so happy.’”
Breaking the chains that kept a father and daughter apart
Cande herself is a vocal musician — she was a singer in high school and that led to singing in her church as an adult.
During a music festival in Macon, Missouri, she planned a surprise for her dad, along with the help of John and Connie Pedersen, who will also be performing in Story City on Thursday.
She joined them on stage and sang “Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone.”
“There were a lot of tears in the crowd,” she said. “I thought this song was fitting for our relationship and about breaking down the chains that used to bind us, that kept us separated.”
Bowers’ wife told Cande that he’s a completely changed man now.
“He’s told me a lot of stories about the war,” Coulter said. “He specifically said that when he was injured and really thought for sure that was it, he said, ‘All I could think about was you and your mom. And that’s the only thing that got me home.’”
Coulter said she still isn’t sure what her mom’s intentions were with the box, “but if this is it, then I guess it worked.”
Country Music & Comfort Food night is Thursday
Coulter’s businesses Simply Mae's Cafe & Boutique, which she owns with her daughter Jessi, is hosting the Country Music & Comfort Food event at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Sons of Norway building, 503 Elm, Story City. Doors open at 5:30.
It will be a night of music, dancing and food. The lineup will feature John and Connie Pedersen, Dan Bowers and Dwayne Spangler.
A dinner will be available. The meal will include a brisket sandwich, pasta salad, Mae's Chips and Texas sheet cake. Audience members can carry in wine or beer.
Tickets are $10 in advance. Tickets including dinner are $16 in advance. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. for the 6 p.m. show. For tickets, call 515-357-9664 or order online at simplymaes.com.