Herald-Leader article about dog helps father and son reunite

jwarren@herald-leader.comDecember 6, 2012 

The story began a week ago with an account of Jessie Brothers and his little dog Nubbin's broken leg, but the climax came Thursday when the story brought Brothers together with the son he had not seen in 30 years.

Shortly after noon Thursday, Jessie Kennard, 34, stepped out of his car in front of Brothers' front gate, which Brothers, 65, had decorated with a handmade sign that proclaimed, "I love you Son, Daddy." [See a PHOTO GALLERY of the reunion]

The two men approached and then, the intervening years melting away, they embraced.

"I haven't seen him since he was 5 years old," Brothers said as he fought back tears. "But the first time I heard his voice, I knew it was him."

"It's really great to finally see you," Kennard told Brothers. "This is all part of God's plan."

The way it all worked out, you'd almost have to say it was part of some plan.

Kennard and his wife, Carla, drove all the way to Lexington from their home in Cleveland, Okla., after they found an online copy of last week's Herald-Leader story about Brothers and Nubbin [READ THE STORY]. Kennard, who was raised by adoptive parents but had been searching for his biological father for years, immediately recognized Brothers from an old photograph he had.

"I just said, 'That's him,'" Kennard said.

It was quite a change from last week, when Brothers was in deep depression over the possible loss of Nubbin, a 4-year-old Jack Russell terrier who is his only companion. Nubbin suffered a badly broken hind leg while chasing a groundhog, and Brothers, a retired laborer, couldn't afford the surgery to repair it.

Fortunately, two Lexington firefighters stepped in to split the cost of the operation. People who read the story have been sending in donations to help.

Nubbin seems to be doing well, and he has a date with the veterinarian on Friday to see how his leg is mending. [PHOTO GALLERY: Nubbin goes home]

But the story Nubbin started just keeps going.

Not every day does a news story about a little dog reunite a father and son separated by years and hundreds of miles. But there are several unusual twists to this story.

Consider that when Jessie Kennard was a boy, his nickname was "Nubbin," because he was missing the tip of one finger.

On Thursday, Jessie Brothers explained to him that he'd lost that fingertip in a screen door as a small child.

About a decade ago, Jessie Kennard briefly lived in Lexington within about two blocks of Jessie Brothers' home on Whitney Avenue. Neither of them knew it until they talked on Thursday.

And then there was the dream that Carla Kennard had last Saturday night, after years of fruitlessly searching online for some trace of Jessie Brothers.

"I went to bed Saturday night and I had a dream, just as real as ever, that we had found him," Carla said Thursday. "The next morning I told my husband, 'I had a dream that we found your real dad.'

"Somehow, it just felt like I should at least try to search one more time. So, I started Googling, and there he was in the newspaper story. When I saw the picture I immediately thought, 'That's Jessie's dad.' They look a lot alike."

From the news story, Jessie Kennard got the name of Brothers' neighbor, Mary Sweeney. He phoned her Sunday morning, and she put him on the telephone with Jessie Brothers. They quickly concluded that they really were father and son, and Kennard began planning to travel to Lexington for a meeting.

Sweeney wiped away tears as she watched the two finally embrace.

"I'm so happy for Jessie," she said. "He needs to have somebody in his life."

Brothers said that he and a woman named Judy Gibson were married for almost 20 years and had three children: Jennifer, Maryanne, and Jessie. But the couple had a series of problems, and they parted in the early 1980s.

According to Brothers, the state took custody of the children, who eventually were put up for adoption. Brothers said he tried, but could never trace them.

Jessie and Maryanne eventually were adopted by Rick and Debbie Kennard and raised in Johnson County. Jessie didn't know he had a second sister until hearing about Jennifer on Thursday. She lives in Indiana.

Jessie Brothers in turn learned that he has grandchildren he never knew about. Jessie and Carla Kennard have three children between them.

Jessie Kennard, who is a seminary student, said Thursday that he feels "very, very blessed" by the adopted parents who raised him. He will always consider them his true parents, he said.

Kennard said he had essentially no memory of Brothers, and for years he wasn't interested in finding his biological father. But he began feeling a need to reconnect several years ago. His initial searching, however, was fruitless.

"I finally decided that I had just waited until it was too late," he said. "I even went so far as checking death records and obituaries. But nothing came up until now. God had all this happen for a reason."

Carla Kennard called it "a Christmas miracle."

"If it weren't for his dog and the dream I had, we wouldn't have found him," she said.

Jessie Kennard said he and his wife planned to spend some time with Brothers on Thursday afternoon before driving on to visit Kennard's adoptive father in Johnson County. But he said he intends to stay in touch with Brothers from now on.

"You know, money doesn't mean anything if you don't have love," Jessie Brothers said. "God has really shined on me. I won't need to get any more presents this year."

Jim Warren (859) 231-3255.

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