GREEN BAY – His mother couldn’t believe the email came from her son because the boy she hadn’t seen in 23 years was supposed to be dead.
That’s what doctors told Michelle Hooshing all those years earlier. She was 13 years old when she gave birth to a boy she named Calvin Darnell, a boy with a heart murmur doctors didn’t expect to live past 10. A foster child in south Florida, Hooshing reluctantly gave up her son for adoption one month after birth.
She searched for him through his childhood, tracking the name Calvin Darnell with no results. Now, a young man named Ahmad Thomas was contacting her on Google Plus, claiming to be her son.
“She thought it was some cruel joke or something,” Thomas said. “But when I told her what my name used to be, she knew it was me.”
The boy named Calvin Darnell was adopted at 3 months old by Marvice Thomas, who raised him as a single mother. Thomas gave her name to her son, calling him Ahmad Thomas. The boy not only lived past 10, but he grew big and strong, a star linebacker at Miami Central High. He got a scholarship to Oklahoma, where he converted to safety and was a captain his senior season.
Now, less than a year after signing to their practice squad last November, Thomas hopes to crack the Green Bay Packers' 53-man roster. A spot opened when Jake Ryan’s season ended last week with a torn ACL, and the first-team reps Thomas has gotten since indicate he has a real chance at earning a job.
No longer a safety, Thomas has the athleticism the Packers covet at inside linebacker.
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“He’s done a lot of good things,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He definitely has the coverage ability, particularly at that Will (weak side) spot, that we’re looking for. I’d really like to see what he does on the special teams, too, but he’s off to a very good start.”
A roster spot would seal what has been a memorable 2018 for Thomas.
After that initial email and subsequent phone call, Hooshing learned where Thomas’ father lived through the website BeenVerified.com and found him on Facebook. Michael Samuel, who was also 13 when his son was born, told the mother of his child he’d long looked for them both, giving up hope after search after search was unsuccessful. Hooshing relayed the conversation to Thomas, who invited both to visit in Green Bay.
Thomas and his wife, Skyler, hosted his biological parents at his home near Lambeau Field for three days in early February.
“It was like we really didn’t miss a beat,” Thomas said. “The comfortability was already there, and it was surreal. Still surreal to me. I knew who I was because my family shaped that. But I didn’t know what I was.”
There was a time Skyler Thomas thought her husband might never reunite with his biological parents. She poked and prodded him for four years, mentioning the idea every few months only for the conversation to go nowhere. Ahmad Thomas was sure in himself, confident with who he was. He had a family, he’d tell his wife. He didn’t need to know where he came from.
Not long after arriving in Green Bay, Thomas relented. At first, he said, his reasons were merely biological. He and his wife have two children, Skylynn and Ahmad Thomas II. He wanted to learn his medical history for them.
Discovering his roots, he thought, could also benefit his football career. During a physical last year with the Los Angeles Chargers, Thomas thought he had a job until doctors revealed he was anemic. “I never even knew I had it,” Thomas said. He wondered what other secrets from his past were hiding.
Skyler, as spouses do, knew there were deeper reasons her husband yearned to find his parents.
“I just felt like there was a piece of him that was kind of missing,” she said. “With self-identity, I could tell he needed that as a part of his life so much. I don’t know if he was scared or not really interested, but I knew he needed that – whether he knew at the time or not.
“I think he’s really appreciated that I pushed him in that direction because I don’t think he would’ve gotten to this point without me kind of nudging him along. And I know his mom and his dad are just over the moon excited that they found him.”
Thomas admits now their meeting was transformative. Long ago, he had accepted his life’s circumstances, moving past the “trust issues” that defined his teenage years. But something had always gnawed at him. The unknown of his past was a quest Thomas needed resolved.
He doesn’t know why — perhaps basic intuition, Thomas said — but he suspected he was adopted before Marvice Thomas told her son when he was16. During their conversation, Thomas said he learned others in his life — including his football coaches — already knew.
They’d long wondered how was best to share the news, only to withhold it when no obvious option surfaced.
“I know they were doing it out of good intentions,” Thomas said, “but it made it hard for me to trust people.”
Thomas' environment didn’t help. He had his adoptive mother growing up, but the Miami streets were beckoning. At age 11, Thomas said, he saw someone shot and killed during a robbery gone awry. Three years later, he witnessed someone stabbed to death in a dispute. As an impressionable teen, drugs and violence threatened to lure him off course.
He found refuge in football. A positive distraction, Thomas could channel his suppressed emotions through the game.
“I did channel a lot of anger through football,” Thomas said, “but I’ve learned how to get past that and just have fun. Because when you play angry, you tend to not be focused. In high school, I was going through a lot of things. I was mad, just trying to hit somebody. When I got to college, I had to actually learn a lot more things (about the game). I had to learn how to be more calm coming downhill instead of just trying to crash down and hit people. So I just learned to be more balanced.”
Thomas said meeting his wife in college helped bring balance, but Skyler always believed her husband needed to meet his biological parents. Three months before contact, Skyler and her mother, Meredith Horn, started researching without Thomas’ knowledge. They wanted to be ready, in case he ever changed his mind.
Over those three days in February, Thomas' family squeezed as much quality time as it could. They connected over shared interests. Always an avid music fan, Thomas learned Michael Samuel is a DJ.
“We stayed up super late just talking,” Skyler said, “because they were only here for such a short time. After they were gone, we slept for like two days.”
A new start
Thomas expected the reunion to bring closure. It instead became the start of two new, meaningful relationships, growing his family. He remains in frequent contact with both. Skyler said she anticipates hosting them in Green Bay again.
More surprising than Thomas’ connection with his parents is their own relationship. Michael and Michelle, always searching for each other, were married at a courthouse in April. A wedding is planned for next year, Thomas said.
He doesn’t have to wonder anymore. His yearning has subsided, replaced with answers. Looking back, Thomas is glad he sent that email.
“I feel like I do know who I am because my family shaped that,” Thomas said, “but at the same time I didn’t know what I was. So that was important to me to tell my kids, like, ‘This is what you are.’”