After 21 Years, Father Reunited With His Daughter
Published: July 9, 2008 | 7178th good news item since 2003
For 21 years Peter Luddy was left to stare at a photograph of the son and daughter who left for a brief vacation with their mother to her homeland of Austria and did not return.
Those 21 years passed quickly, Luddy said this week, only days after his 22-year-old daughter Justina Linder cleared the gates of immigration at Boston’s Logan Airport a week ago Tuesday. Luddy said he was holding up the photograph of his son James, just two-and-a-half years old, and Justina, eight months, in hopes of being able to recognize his grown daughter.
“The last day I saw her she was a bundle of joy,” Luddy said. “That time has gone very quickly now that she’s here. “I missed a lot of years, but having been with her a week and it’s almost like she had never been gone …now she’s talking back to me.”
Luddy and his first wife, Christina Linder, who worked as an au pair for a wealthy family in New York City, separated and divorced and he was told not to come visit his children. Luddy said he made efforts to stay in touch, sending Christmas presents to the kids through his wife’s family. When Justina Luddy was 10 years old her mother took legal steps to change the kids name to Linder.
Over the years Luddy has made efforts through both the state department and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, the agent of the Austrian government facilitating child support payments, to contact his children.
“I went to court and wanted to talk about my rights as a father,” Luddy said. “I always wanted to pay the child support.”
But Luddy, a former selectman was stonewalled. This past winter Luddy said he received a letter from the Austrian government about his son James.
“I got scared, it wasn’t written in English. I thought he might have gone to war and something happened.”
Luddy contacted his ex-wife’s family and they said James was ok. The letter turned out to be an announcement to Luddy that he had met his financial obligations and no longer had to pay child support.
From that point, Luddy said he began pursuing contact with his former wife in effort to communicate with his children. He said when he reached Christina she yelled at him for five minutes.
“I said the phone goes two ways and one of us could have communicated better,” Luddy said.
That phone call led to a quick response from his daughter, who said she wanted to come to America and meet her father.
“The moment she said she wanted to come see me, I was excited,” Luddy said. “She wrote me an e-mail and said ‘a stone has fallen from my soul.’ Waiting for her for three hours at the airport after those 21 years was like an eternity.”
“I thought a lot about him and would it have been better growing up in America,” Justina Linder said on Monday. “Yes, I knew he was here and wanted to get in contact with him growing up, but my mom said no.”
Luddy said he has learned a lot about his daughter in the past week. He said his life has been an open book and that holds true for his daughter. “She’s been very honest with me,” Luddy said.
In an effort to help define her life, Linder has put together an album of photographs chronicling milestones and, she said the second half of the album will be filled with her experiences here with her father.
Linder has been out and about in Harwich and it is quite different from her home in Hohenems, Austria, a mountainside village near the border of Switzerland, where her grandfather is a sheep herder.
“The gardens are perfect and there are no papers or litter in the streets,” Linder said of Harwich. “The people are also very friendly here.”
Luddy said many people have stopped him and his daughter in the streets to congratulate them on the reunion. Luddy said his daughter asked him at one point if he paid them to make those comments.
Justina’s older brother, James Linder, recently moved to Los Angeles and is also planning a trip east to visit with his new found family. Luddy’s daughter from a second marriage, Katrina, now 13 years of age, informed her father and half sister she had communicated with her half brother the previous evening on MySpace.
Katrina was excited to finally meet her half sister, explaining she learned of her existence when she was a little girl and often asked if Justina would ever come and see her.
“I said if you say enough prayers they will come,” Luddy said.
“It’s really good,” Katrina Luddy said. “I love my sister and I can’t wait to meet James. I thought I’d be older, 18, and be going to meet them.”
Linder is here for at least the summer and she has brought her best friend Jackie Dorn with her. The group has already made a visit to Leo Cakounes’ farm and done some horseback riding. On Monday, Linder, who grew up on a farm, wanted to make another trip to the farm to ride a horse and work with the animals.
“I will stay until I become homesick and then I must go home,” Linder said. “But I will come back every year to America. Next time I will come with my boyfriend.”
Luddy said he has called Austria again to talk to his former wife.
“I wanted to thank her for doing such a good job raising Justina,” he said. “Once my son comes here my life will be complete.”