Milton West’s first impulse was to not answer the phone that Sunday afternoon as he relaxed in his chair.
His decision to ignore that impulse changed his life and led to meeting the daughter and granddaughter he never knew he had.
“On April 8, I was sitting in my recliner,” West said. “I get a call from this woman in Tennessee. I wasn’t going to answer it until she mentioned one of my cousins so I picked it up to find out what it was about.”
The woman identified herself and said she was helping a young woman from the Philippines who was trying to find her biological father.
“I said OK,” West said. “I had been in the Philippines, and I didn’t know what was coming.”
The woman said the person she was helping was born in October 1978, according to a DNA analysis.
“It pointed to that she was a descendant of the West family because my cousin, not the one mentioned in the phone call, but his brother, had submitted a DNA kit just to find out where the West ancestry originated,” he said.
“She said, ‘Well, we are trying to find one of the West siblings, grandchildren of Alonzo West, who was in the Philippines during that time frame.’”
West said his cousin, like him, had served in the Air Force, but had never been to the Philippines.
West told her he was there from 1976 to 1978.
He also recognized the mother’s name, but said that he had never known the woman was pregnant.
“I knew the woman because I had an affair with her when I was over there back then,” he said. “I was shocked to death, I mean here it is almost 40 years later. I wasn’t sure what to say.
“I told my wife, I remarried. She was sitting there and heard all of it, so I told her. It all really matched, and I knew, yep, I am her father.”
The caller told West the woman did not want anything — she just wanted to find out who her father is because her mother gave her up when she was 15 days old.
She was raised by two women, and when she got of age, she began looking for her biological father, he said.
West gave the caller his contact information to pass along to the woman, who she identified as Christine Rivera-Hugo, whose nickname is Tin-Tin.
Rivera-Hugo, 39, lives in Cavite City on Manila Bay southwest of Manila. She has a 17-year-old daughter, Sobea Lyka.
Her husband, who is a dentist, has children by a previous marriage in the U.S.: a daughter who is a dentist in California, and a daughter in Orlando, who is a nurse. He also has a sister in California.
West woke up the Monday morning following the call to find a three-page email from Rivera-Hugo telling him a little bit about her life.
“I was shocked. I was excited. I was trembling. I wasn’t sure what to expect,” he said.
West said he has read her first email at least a hundred times.
“I read it and cried. It was so sad,” he said. “But she ended up with a good life. She has some college education. She ended up marrying a dentist who is a lot older than she is.
“There was no way I could tell her no after reading her story that she had looked so hard to find her biological father. Even if I wasn’t her father, I would have told her I was.”
His daughter handles administrative and bookkeeping duties for her husband’s dental practice. She has a business and finance degree.
She also has a nursing degree.
West has three sons who were born before Rivera-Hugo, and he knew he had to tell them.
His first wife died in 2007.
“When I opened up my emails, and I had that email from her, it was right then when I called my oldest boy,” West said.
The first thing his son, who lives in Winchester, Virginia, asked was if West was sure it was not some kind of scam.
West told him it was not a scam.
His son told him he needed to tell his younger brothers face to face.
“They loved their mother, and I wasn’t sure how they were going to accept this,” West said. “I called and kind of set up an appointment with them to meet them at the middle boy’s house in Wilmington.
“The youngest one was a little late so I was holding this information. Of course they were mad with me. They thought I was fixing to tell them I only had two weeks to live or something because I told them I had something to tell them face to face and not over the phone.”
He gave them copies of the emails.
West told his sons he had found out that they have a half-sister in the Philippines.
“They were reading that and, of course, after they got the tears out of their eyes after reading that, they wanted to FaceTime her,” he said. “They wanted to call her.
“They have accepted her a whole lot easier and better than I thought they would,” West said. “I figured they wouldn’t want anything to do with her because of the way she was conceived by their daddy doing the wrong thing over there.”
They all sent her flowers shortly afterward.
His sons and two daughters-in-law plan to travel to the Philippines in October for Rivera-Hugo’s 40th birthday.
West said he will not be going, but would be going later to have more time to spend getting to know her and her family.
West said he and his daughter talk at least twice a week on FaceTime.
“She sent me a Father’s Day card,” West said. “I read it and cried. I didn’t expect that at 70 years old I would find out that I had a daughter who is almost 40.”
Rivera-Hugo, her husband and their daughter came to visit the Wests June 26 through July 3.
West and his sons wore blue shirts they had made to welcome her at the airport.
He has a photo book of the visit including a photo of the first time they met.
“You can’t see her face because she is crying,” he said. “It has just been a wonderful story. I had seen pictures of her. She even sent me pictures of when she 1- 2- and 3-years-old. Some of them even favored my sister when she was a baby.
“I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. We started waving. When she got within feet (of me), she just let go of her suitcase and come running.
“I was sitting there bawling. Everybody was crying.”