Sonoran to reunite with dad in Vegas

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

The timing was uncanny when Natalie Caler received a message about Jim Francis.

Caler had only recently started thinking about tracking down her father. On a Friday night in late February, she began searching online and saw a listing for a Jim Francis in Las Vegas, Nev.

Even though she let it be, the next night she got a message on Facebook from Jim Snyder inquiring if she was related to Francis. The real estate broker ran into the homeless Francis on the streets of Las Vegas, bought him a sandwich and talked with the 74 year-old.

"I got the message asking if this is your father. I was like, 'Yes!'" the Sonora-area resident said on Thursday.

Thanks to some help from Snyder and other good samaritans, she is heading to Nevada today to see her father in person for the first time in almost 25 years. Hopefully, Caler said, it will be an opportunity to rekindle a father-daughter relationship she never had.

"All I can think about is my kids are grown and I don't have a dad," said Caler, 52. "And now I get to be daddy's little girl."

Caler's met her estranged father twice - once when she was 21, and again in the late 1980s. Fancis and Caler's late mother were only married briefly and split up before she was born, she said.

Caler said her mother never allowed them to meet, and as an adult she was busy enough raising her five children. But since the recent loss of her job as a truck driver in Indiana, and with her children grown, she was ready to try and reconnect.

Enter Snyder, who wanted to help Francis and brought him home after buying him the sandwich on a cold winter day. Francis had been living on the streets for almost a year and was not able to stay in a shelter because he was watching after two dogs he rescued from a dumpster.

Francis told Snyder he wanted to track down his estranged daughter, and Snyder and his wife got to work online, the real estate broker told a Las Vegas news station.

Once they reached Caler, they set up a video chat on the Internet chat service Skype.

"I just said it's been too long since I've seen you," she said of that conversation.

Since then, they've talked daily on the phone. And thanks to a fundraising effort by the Snyders and a donated ticket, Caler said she has a round-trip flight and lodging paid for by the good will of others.

Caler said she doesn't know the whole itinerary, as she's been told there are some surprises. But she plans to get some waffles with her father, who shares her breakfast tastes. And she said she's bringing a pile of family pictures to catch him up.

Caler said she's also bringing some resumes, with the eventual goal of getting a job in the area to be able to live near her father full-time.

"God says he has a plan for everything, but I would have never picked this one out of a pile," she said.

The good timing goes beyond the Facebook message, Caler said. She admits that her earlier interactions with her father were not exactly warm, and she's not sure she would be this enthused to open herself up to him when they last talked 24 years ago.

It's taken a long time and a lot of reflection to get to a point where she wants to be in his life, she said.

"I can't even say 10 years ago I would have been this accepting," she said. "Everybody's young. He was only 21 (when she was born). A daughter really should have her father."

The Union Democrat
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