Nick Daddona grew up angry. Though he knew his adoptive parents loved him, Daddona felt rejected by the woman who had given him up for adoption.
“I was born to a Native American Mohawk woman,” he says. Terrified and ashamed to speak to anyone about her pregnancy, she left her reservation for Syracuse, N.Y., and took him to an orphanage, Daddona explains.
Adopted at six months of age, he was raised in south Florida. “My new parents never hid the fact that they could not have children and they needed to adopt,” he says. Both of his sisters have different biological parents and come from different backgrounds. “We were all one family.”
Despite the loving environment, Daddona wasn’t happy. “I grew up with a lot of anger issues and resentment,” he adds. “I always felt, ‘Why was I given up for adoption?’ and wondered if I was unlovable. I knew that I was loved, but I had nagging questions in my heart.”
Daddona embarked on what he describes as a journey of “anger and frustration.” He decided his best bet was to sign up for the military and worry about finding his biological mother later. At age 18, he joined the U.S. Navy.
“I always wanted to be a police officer,” Daddona remembers, “not because I believed in justice, but because I wanted to have authority — and if it meant hurting people, then that was even better.”
However, working in the naval military police was not to be. “The U.S. Navy requires you to be a higher pay grade to take on that job,” he explains. Instead, Daddona was offered a position with naval intelligence, where he thrived.
“I took the test and had a top-secret clearance with the U.S. government. I did that for a time, but found that it was too hectic and not where I wanted to be.”
Daddona transferred to the U.S. Air Force, where he was able to realize his dream of becoming a police officer. “I trained police K-9 units, both dogs and handlers,” he says.
Answering the call
It wasn’t long before his anger began to fade away. “I became a Christian during this time,” Daddona says, “and my heart had started to soften and my anger began to dissipate. I no longer wanted to harm people or abuse any authority that I had.”
His change of heart caused him to move in a completely different direction. “I began to study the Bible,” he remembers. “I learned a lot about myself and people. I attended a lot of seminars and took some courses in biblical studies and soon became a minister.”
It was in his congregation that Daddona met the woman who would become his wife. Before long, they were married and began to raise a family.
“We had a daughter, and life seemed to be coming together,” he says. In 1995, Daddona traveled to North Carolina as a youth pastor with the Assemblies of God. Moving his small family over the summer, he faced some surprises.
“The small mountain town we moved to was not ready for a long-haired, tattooed, ear-pierced, street-gang evangelist,” he says. “Quite frankly, I was not a pretty sight. I had to cut my hair and remove the earring and become part of a very laid-back community, something I had never known before.”
Something else he didn’t know was that his calling as a minister would reunite him with his birth family.
A new family and culture
In the spring of 1996, during a pastor’s conference in Atlanta, Daddona met the people who would lead him home.
“On the second day, there was a Mohawk preacher speaking,” he says. “There was a section in the stadium reserved for the tribe.” He told his story to several people, hoping that someone might know his biological mother.
Those conversations helped him find the reservation where his family might be. “I was excited beyond belief,” Daddona says.
He contacted the orphanage in Syracuse, which provided some general information about his birth mother. It was enough for him to begin his search.
Daddona’s wife helped him write a letter that was copied and sent out to everyone in New York state with the same last name as the person on his adoption papers. The letters mailed on a Friday.
“On Monday, I received a phone call from someone who believed that we were related,” Daddona recalls. “He said that he would go speak to the woman he thought was my mother the following day.”
Daddona waited for the news, but the woman denied she was his mother. It seemed he was back at square one.
The following Sunday, he got a surprising phone call. Thinking it was a telemarketer, Daddona was impatient.
“What do you want, lady?” he asked.
“I’m your mother,” came the response.
“I didn’t know what to say. I began to weep,” he remembers. “We talked for over an hour.”
His birth had been kept a secret after his mother returned to the reservation. She was now married with other grown children and feared how they might react. Eventually, she sat them down and broke the news about their long-lost sibling. More than being shocked, they were excited. They had a new brother.
Daddona visited the family a few times and moved up to New York to the reservation in 1997. “I learned so much about the culture and some of the language,” he says. “I got to meet aunts and cousins and I loved every minute of this homecoming.”
Reconciling with his past helped the pain of his youth to disappear. Now Daddona is doing the same for others — in yet another career. He is enrolled in the massage therapy program at Tennessee Technology Center at Chattanooga.
“That’s why I have chosen the career path of massage therapy,” he explains. “Helping others through their pain is a great sense of accomplishment for me.”
This decision eventually led to his being elected as a SkillsUSA national officer. After being named his school’s outstanding student of the year, he’s in the running for best in the state.
“Wish me luck,” Daddona says as he explores yet another phase of his life.