A simple DNA test has connected an Arkansas man with the biological father he’s been looking for his whole life—right here in Bakersfield.
Mart Wilburn is from California, but he lived in Arkansas for two years. He now calls Bakersfield home.
A few months ago, his sister was gifted a 23 and Me DNA test.
“I’m expecting her to say, ‘I’m part British, I’m part Irish,’ and she says, ‘I have a new nephew,'” Mart recalled.
Sixteen hundred miles away in Arkansas, Joe Tinkle also took a 23 and Me test three years ago.
Put up for adoption by his mother, filtered through the foster system, Joe had been searching for his dad his entire life.
Through the test, he found a match in Mart.
“I didn’t know he had existed,” Mart said.
The two finally met in Arkansas last month.
“As soon as I stepped out of the car, I knew he was mine,” Mart said.
Since then, they’ve spoken every day through FaceTime—and they make it a point to say ‘I love you’ at the end of every conversation.
“Forty years of wondering who you were, whether you were alive, whether you were a good person or bad person, whether or not you’d even want anything to do with me,” Joe said.
Mart and his wife have three grown children now. One of them was killed by a drunk driver in 2012.
“It’s been an empty heart for myself, for my wife—and Joe comes along seven years later, and he’s just filled that void,” Mart said.
“I mentioned to Joe that I felt like I was cheated out of his 41 years,” Mart said. Joe responded, “you know what dad? We have from now until the future to continue to make those memories.”
This year, the two will combine their families and spend Thanksgiving together in Bakersfield.
As an early holiday present, Joe legally changed his last name to Wilburn.
“Joe has got a lot of family to meet,” Mart said. “When he comes out here, he better have a lot of hugs ready because they’re going to be coming at him.”