ActivePaper Archive Simple twist of fate in search for dad - The Providence Journal, 10/7/2012

Simple twist of fate in search for dad


William Arena, of Portsmouth and his girlfriend, Linda Dempsey, of Middletown. DeVogue, who was adopted, has found his birthmother and believes his father is Bob Dylan.


In trying to put the story of his earliest days together, William Arena turns the pages of a book of iconic photographs from Life magazine. There is, as there has to be, a photo of Bob Dylan, walking a New York street with a girlfriend. That was a recurring image in the ’60s — Dylan, slightly hunched, leaning close to his sweetie on a city street.

Arena looks to one side of the photo by famed photographer Jim Marshall. He looks at another woman walking nearby. He’s pretty sure the woman is his mother, whom he met for the first time in February 2010. That photo is one small piece of a fascinating story of a man’s search for his identity — and a trail that leads back to one of the most famous men in the world.

It is a story that Arena is hoping to turn into a film and a book.

Arena was adopted when he was 3 1/2 from a foster home in Woonsocket. He does not have fond memories of his childhood. His adoptive father turned down his requests for guitar and piano lessons.

Like others adopted in Rhode Island, he went to Family Court and put his name on the list of those who want to connect with their birth parents. No one got in touch.

He tried for years to find his mother on the Internet. He had found her name by doing some detective work with some basic documents, including a baptismal record, provided by his adoptive parents. But he could get no further.

“I was at my wits’ end. I couldn’t find her.”

Then he made a connection on Facebook that led him to the Department of Vital Statistics in Boston, that led him to a three-decker in Jamaica Plain.

“I came back to Ports-mouth, took a shower, then did everything the experts say you shouldn’t do.”

He went to the house, walked up to the third floor and knocked on the door.

“It was a shock,” says Tina DeVogue, who lives with her husband in Jamaica Plain.

She says she had tried to find her son but couldn’t. Now, he makes the 90-minute drive from Ports-mouth to talk with his mother and fill in his life. He says he has started the legal process to change his name to DeVogue, and has worked and written under that name for the last two years.

Tina DeVogue was a folksinger in Greenwich Village in the early ’60s.

“It was pretty wild,” she says of those times, when the times were definitely a-changin’.

In one of their first conversations, Arena asked her who she knew back then, and he says the first person she mentioned was Bob Dylan. Richie Havens was around then, and Peter Tork, who was wondering if he should become a Monkee.

Arena also asked his mother the most important question of all — who was his father. She told him it was a singer named Gene Michaels, who has since died.

But Arena says he contacted Michaels’ daughter, did a DNA test and there was not a match.

It’s a mystery, he says, and it’s compelling. His mother isn’t sure if that is her in the photograph.

Arena is 48, a former Marine who lives in Ports-mouth and used to make a good living in the sub-prime mortgage business before sub-prime mortgages went south. Now, he devotes his time trying to solve the mystery.

“I was writing a short film, and I want to get the film done. I want to make it a tribute to my mother, focus on her struggles.”

He and a friend, Nick Alahverdian, are trying to raise money for the film, using the online fundraising site Kickstarter under .

It was Alahverdian who provided Arena with a first-time experience several weeks ago. He took him to a Dylan concert at Mohegan Sun. But Arena wants to do more than hear the music. He wants to talk to Dylan. In his conversations with his mother, Dylan is always in the mix.

So far, he has received a second-hand response from Dylan’s manager that Dylan does not recollect Tina De-Vogue.

“I don’t want anything from him,” Arena says. “I just want to know.”

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