In late 2008, Brian made his first fitful attempts to have Sean added to the Duke Trust—to "rattle cages," as he calls it. One of the earliest and most difficult calls was to Sean's father, Jack, who had not spoken to his son since he was 7 years old. Furthermore, Jack had denied Sean's birthright to the Trust by refusing to add his name to the affidavit that appeared with the yearly payments for the express purpose of bringing aboard new descendants. For most of its history, the Trust has recognized hundreds of descendants on the strength of the affidavit (and birth certificate) alone.
Eventually Brian reached Jack by phone at his home in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Phoenix. "All Sean wants is to have a father," Brian told Jack. "I can tell you, he doesn't hold a grudge against you. Give him a chance."
Jack bridled at the call; he was uncomfortable, Brian says, "having a window opened on a past he wanted to leave behind." But Jack also seemed resigned. Wearily, he told Brian, "I always knew this day would come."
Hopeful that the Trust would be swayed by the legal heft of the documents in his possession, Brian sent a package to its attorney, Arthur E. Morehead IV, with the expectation of a quick resolution. On March 12, 2009, Morehead responded to Brian with a letter:
"The trustees realize that this letter will disappoint you and Sean. And they regret that. However, given the unique circumstances, the trustees believe that Sean should be responsible for establishing that he is the son of John Means through appropriate scientific testing. Only then will the trustees consider taking further action."
In other words, they wanted DNA evidence. So Brian and Sean headed to Phoenix for some genetic material—and for Sean's first meeting with his father in 20 years.
On the five-and-a-half-hour ride from Los Angeles in Brian's BMW SUV, Sean wondered aloud what Jack would be like. "I woke up that morning so nervous," Sean recalls. "Did I look like him? Was he healthy? Did he have his hair? And I'm wondering how he's gonna react. Is he gonna hug me or sock me in the gut? Was I gonna do the same to him?"
More than anything, Sean's goal was to have a relationship with his father. Aware of his nerves and high hopes, Brian says he "tried to get him to see that Rome wouldn't be built in a day. I tried to relax him by talking about things he likes, like sports cars." Yet Brian had some nervousness of his own. "I knew the father had a lot of anxiety and angst toward the mother. I'd been trying to get him to realize that Sean is not the mother, and that there is nothing not to like about Sean. Later I told Jack, 'What I wouldn't give to have a day like this, where my father could come back and we could spend the day together.'"
The morning after Sean and Brian checked in to their hotel, Jack showed up downstairs, as planned. "He gave me a big bear hug, like dads do," says Sean, who welled up at the sight of him. "He joked, 'No way—that's not my kid.'" Jack isn't as tall as his son, and he's bulkier, with thinning hair; the one obvious trait they share is a welcoming smile. "After all the pent-up wondering how it was going to be, they immediately recognized each other," says Brian. Later, the three went back to Jack's house, where an entire room is devoted to model planes. Jack started showing Sean around. "They were like two pigs in slop, connected at the hip, when that started," says Brian.
But before that, the three men had done what they'd agreed to do in the first place: They went to a testing center in a strip mall—the sort of place that provides quickie information in paternity cases—where Jack and Sean were swabbed for their DNA. Conclusive results were mailed to the Trust and to Brian Kramer within two weeks: Jack and Sean were father and son.
"My mother cried," Sean says. "For her, it was a big victory. For me, I was just glad I had a dad."