A Strong Foundation: Matt Davis '89 and the story of his families, reconnections and life (Irish Ayes, Father Ryan High School)

Posted 05/18/2018

This article and the accompanying photos appear courtesy of Father Ryan High School, Nashville, TN.

In elementary school years ago, a class project often entailed drawing a family tree, a project that would help young students connect with their ancestors. The student would fill in the roots of the tree with the names of grandparents and conclude with the child's own name at the very tip-top of the branches.

Today, this project isn't widely used anymore, if at all. Teachers and educational institutions realized that the typical nuclear family unit fits no simple pattern. Some children may have a single parent; some kids may have two moms or two dads; some may have multiple siblings and step-siblings, and some kids, such as Matt Davis '89, may have two loving adoptive parents but do not know their birth parents.

Davis was born in Nashville, October 2, 1971. His birth mother, a 17-year old girl, immediately gave him up for adoption through Catholic Charities [of Tennessee], an agency that also provides services such as refugee resettlement, immigration counseling, senior assistance and more.

Ten days after his birth, Matt was adopted. He grew up in a wonderful home with two loving parents, Bob and Mary Jane Davis, and his adopted sister, Kelly Davis ‘87. He has led a very successful life since his Father Ryan graduation, first as a 1993 Notre Dame graduate and then as the founder of the firm, Grapevine Interactive. From the beginning, Matt knew he was adopted.

"As far back as I can remember, I was told about my birth parents. I always knew I had my parents, and I had my birth parents. I had a happy home, amazing parents and a great life. I never felt like I was missing anything. I never felt like I needed to know more," Davis says.

Matt knew his birth mother was 17 years old and gave her son up for adoption through Catholic Charities, but that was all he knew. And that was all right with him.

"I never pursued or even gave much thought to pursuing my birth parents because I was happy. I felt complete and didn't need to know. I felt like if I did ever happen to meet my birth mom I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for what you did."

Since he was never on the search for his birth parents' identities, Matt didn't think too much about buying the birth kit. As he tells it, he really only bought it to learn more about his genetic background - to see what countries he hailed from. He thought he was Irish, but after turning in his DNA and completing the kit, it turns out he is actually Cajun. His ancestors came from France to Nova Scotia and then to Louisiana.

That isn't all the birth kit revealed. It also showed a list of potential names on his very own ancestral tree. Although it didn't show who his birth mother is (it only shows other members of your family who have also completed the DNA birth kit), it did come up with two names on his family tree that had a 98% match.

Knowing he never intended to look for his birth mom and wasn't ready to face contacting his potential birth family yet, he decided to leave alone for a while. But two months later, he received a message on the site that said: "looks like we might be related. Would you mind sending me your family tree?" To that request he had only one answer, "I don't have one. I'm adopted."

Cindi Salyer had a unique childhood. Her family was military and was stationed in Japan, Georgia and New York before settling in Florida in the 60s. Cindi lived on Marco Island and attended high school in Naples, Florida. She was a fun, outgoing girl who enjoyed waterskiing, bonfires on the beach and typical high school fare like football and basketball games and school dances. She dated the same boy from
9th grade through the 11th grade, and at the end of her junior year, she found out she was pregnant.

Cindi didn't have a lot of options then, but she knew one thing for sure. She was going to have this baby. She waited six months before she told her mom, and even then she only told her once she started to show. The very next day, her mom sent her to Nashville to live with her older sister, Linda, so she could have the baby away from prying eyes and gossip before returning to Florida to complete her senior year.

Cindi arrived in Nashville in late summer and went to a school for pregnant teens for two months while she waited for her son to be born. She went to doctors appointments, studied for tests and researched adoption agencies. She decided on Catholic Charities knowing (and hoping) they would place her son in a good home.

On October 2, 1971, she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. She stayed in Nashville until she was cleared to fly, and then returned to Florida.

"Those nine months of my life were so hard. I knew I couldn't keep him. Back then, we didn't have any programs in Florida for pregnant teens on how to raise a baby, but I knew I didn't have the skills or the education I needed to support a child on my own. I knew I had to give him a better home and a chance at a better life. It was the toughest decision I've ever made, but I did it for him."

After Cindi returned to Florida and received her high school diploma, she met her future husband, whom she married in 1973. They later had a daughter, Christine, in 1978. When Cindi first met her husband, she was very open about her son, and when their daughter was old enough, she told her about him, too. She made sure all of the grandchildren and extended family knew about her son and the love she had for him. Many years later, her daughter even hired a private investigator to find him, but to no avail.

"I thought about him every day, and especially on his birthday. On October 2 each year, I would look up into the stars and hope and pray he was being taken care of and loved. I hoped he knew about me and hoped he was ok."

She even had a special song, "Somewhere Out There" from the Steven Spielberg-produced movie, American Tale, about a mouse who is separated from his family, that she would repeat in her head, hoping the lyrics were true for her and her son, too:

And even though I know how very far apart we are
It helps to think we might be wishin' on the same bright star
And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby
It helps to think we're sleeping underneath the same big sky
Somewhere out there, if love can see us through
Then we'll be together somewhere out there
Out where dreams come true.

According to Cindi, "It would give me great comfort thinking that he and I are truly looking at the same stars in the sky and hoping that he is doing well and knowing that I love him no matter what."

Flash forward to 2016, to when Matt received the request from a distant relative asking for his family tree. He began thinking about that message and how non-threatening it was. He decided to take a leap and contact the two people who were 98% matches to see if they were related.

He sent a message similar to the one he received previously, and within a short amount of time he heard from a high school girl, Shey Oliver. Matt asked if any of her family members had ever lived in Nashville, and she reported back that her grandmother's sister who lives in Florida had lived in Nashville many years ago.

Emboldened by this discovery and hoping it was not just a coincidence, Matt asked the million dollar question: "Did anyone in your family ever give someone up for adoption?"

The girl, having known the story her whole life, immediately responded, "Yes, my grandmother." Matt told the girl his birthday, October 2, 1971. He waited for a response.

Within just a few minutes, she wrote back: "OMG, you are my grandmother's kid."

When Cindi received the first text from her granddaughter, Shey, with news that they had found her son, she was overcome with emotion.

"I couldn't stop crying all day. It was the best news ever. I had to ask a few more questions to make sure it wasn't a hoax. I literally couldn't believe it. I had always dreamed this would happen, and now it had."

Cindi and Matt began texting immediately and were talking the next day. She has visited Nashville several times since and sees Matt as often as she can. Her sisters, including Linda, who had lived in Nashville and held Matt in her arms when he was born, have met him too.

"I have so many questions for him. I want to know all about his life and fill in all the gaps I have, but I don't want to overwhelm him," says Cindi.

In time, Cindi is looking forward to the day when she can introduce her daughter, Christine, to Matt and hopes she can meet Matt's adoptive father, Bob, (Mary Jane passed away in 1997) sometime soon, too.

"I can't wait to meet Matt's father. I want to thank him for what a great job he and Mary Jane did, raising Matt. He did exactly what I wanted and prayed for. I couldn't have done it better myself."

Matt, for his part, remains extremely grateful for Cindi's decision all those many years ago and for his parents' loving embrace and support ever since.

"The way I see it is: I got two gifts. The gift of life and the gift of a great family."

SOURCE: (Winter 2018)

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