The resemblance is evident when looking at pictures of Brent E. Graves and his newly found father.
Same easy-going smile.
Same eyes that reflect joyful expression.
For years, Graves thought the man who’d raised him was his biological dad, but an aunt, who accidentally revealed otherwise, launched a search that brought the pastor and his father, Dan R. Ruskin, together.
Now, the Assemblies of God pastor and his father, also a minister, are developing a relationship birthed in the timing of a sovereign and merciful God.
Graves, 38, is pastor of Living Hope Church in Cozad, Nebraska, where he lives with his wife, Mandy, and their five children.
“My parents decided fairly early on that they would, at the very least, wait until I was an adult to tell me,” Graves says. Born in Nashville, Graves grew up in Maryville, Tennessee.
Graves belatedly learned that in the summer of 1982, his mother worked at the same restaurant as Ruskin, a college student. Alcohol played a role in the time Ruskin and Graves’ mother spent together.
Ruskin, who hadn’t yet come to know Christ as his Savior, returned to college before Graves’ mom discovered her pregnancy. Graves’ mom didn’t know what college Ruskin attended and — in a time before social media — couldn’t find him.
When Graves was about 5 months old, his mother met his dad at church and they soon married. His dad adopted him when the boy was about a year old. The couple later had a daughter, Sheena.
The family began attending the former Praise Assembly of God Church near Aloca. At 14, Brent accepted a call into the ministry while at youth camp.
Graves’ pastor, the late Wayne Simmons, let him open services and even preach a sermon. Graves married in 2006. In 2008, he graduated from Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri.
He moved to Bassett, pastoring the Assemblies of God church in that Nebraska community for more than nine years. While in Bassett, Graves learned about his adoption.
The news overwhelmed him.
Graves saw a counselor about anger and other emotions he experienced due to not being told earlier. He contemplated whether he even wanted to find his biological father.
“At that point, I’d been in ministry over a decade, so I knew the good and the bad and the ugly of adoption and how, sometimes, finding your biological parents is not a good thing,” Graves says.
As time passed, Graves realized he wanted to learn more. Research eventually led him to his father’s Facebook page — and Ruskin’s profile picture.
“It was like looking in a fuzzy mirror,” Graves says. “It was astonishing how close we were as far as our looks.” He found his father’s cellphone number and left a nonspecific message just before Christmas last year.
Ruskin, now of Portland, Tennessee, called Graves and sought details. Graves then sent an early photo of his mom to Ruskin, who explained he didn’t know the Lord until the age of 30.
As a 19-year-old college student, Ruskin got involved with Graves’ mother, then 31. When Graves sent a photo of himself, Ruskin realized he had a son he never knew existed.
“This is my son, no doubt,” Ruskin said, after seeing the picture. “He looked just like me.”
Ruskin wondered why Graves’ mom never let him know about the pregnancy, emphasizing that he would have been there for her.
Graves explained his mom couldn’t find Ruskin.
“I got off the phone with him and I just cried,” Ruskin says. “I said, ‘Oh Lord, it’s almost been 40 years and I’ve never thrown a baseball with him. I’ve never prayed with him. I haven’t been there for him.’”
Ruskin made a request to God: Let me be the father to him and — the rest of the life we have together — keep him healthy to where we can have the relationship we need to have.
Ruskin’s time with Graves’ mother occurred long before he met his wife, Tara, who accepted the revelation with aplomb. Their adult children, Krysten, Tyler, and Taylor look forward to getting together with Graves during Independence Day weekend.
Graves says his adoptive dad has been OK with him meeting his biological father. He refers to his adoptive parent as “dad” and Ruskin as “father.”
“I will never, ever take the place of your father who raised you,” Ruskin told Graves. “I want you to honor him. He’s always going to be your number 1 dad. There’s plenty enough space for two of us.”
Graves’ adoptive dad is 80. Ruskin is 60.
The long-separated pair met for breakfast. Ruskin is a Baptist pastor of Sunrise Ridge Church in Portland. Ruskin looks forward to having Graves meet his biological grandparents. Ruskin wants to meet Graves’ children, who are his grandchildren, and make memories with them.
Graves looks back over the circumstances of his birth and later-in-life discovery.
“None of those were ideal circumstances, but that didn’t change God’s faithfulness,” Graves says. “He was sovereignly working this situation out over the course of 40 years.”
Bottom Photo: Brent and Mandy Graves have five children: Elijah, 12; Josiah, 9; Felicity, 5; Samuel, 3; and Aaron, 1.