Kevin Callaghan and Ron Ryba

After DNA tests indicated Kevin Callaghan of Philadelphia, left, is the son of Timonium businessman Ron Ryba, the two met for the first time the week of Fathers' Day. (Courtesy of Ron Ryba, BALTIMORE SUN / June 17, 2011)

For 35 years, Ron Ryba dreamed of a reunion with the infant son he and his high-school sweetheart had given up for adoption. Two days before Father's Day, that dream came true over burgers and beer at a Wilmington, Del., restaurant.

The Timonium businessman said he and his newfound son, Kevin Callaghan of Philadelphia, were nervous at first. But that didn't last long. "He gave me a big hug, and told me he was happy to see me," Ryba said. "We had a couple of cheeseburgers, and shared our first beer together."

"Finally, we asked the bartender to take our pictures, and she said, 'You know, you two look alike.' So we both started laughing."

The hard-won reunion came after years of searches, heartbreak and false leads. Ryba's adoption agency, Catholic Charities of Trenton, N.J., had "reunited" him with another man in 2004. But four years later they learned through DNA tests that they weren't related. Before Ryba's quest ended, there would be an investigation by New Jersey authorities, leaked names and two more DNA tests.

But the last tests proved that Callaghan, a 35-year-old accountant, is the child that Ryba, 53, and Kathy Butler of New Jersey turned over for adoption.

"I'm happy and excited," Callaghan said earlier this week via email. "This happened very quickly for me, so I didn't have time to develop a lot of expectations. … I feel it's the start of a relationship, and you can't predict how it will turn out, but it's very positive so far. I'm happy Ron can stop his search."

Ryba's long separation from his son, and his dogged quest to find him again, began with the baby's birth on Nov. 25, 1975.

Ryba was a high school football player; Butler was a cheerleader. Unprepared to provide a home and a secure future for their baby, they gave him up for adoption.

While Ryba knew it was the right thing to do, he was heartsick. He couldn't even bring himself to look at the infant. But he wanted his son to know he was born and given up out of love. He took comfort in the adoption agency's promise to reach out and mediate a reunion, if the boy agreed, once he was grown.

The decades went by. Ryba and Butler split up. He went on to college in New Jersey and in 1982 moved to Maryland, where he now owns a company that designs and manufactures military uniforms. He married and had another son, by coincidence also named Kevin.

In 2004, Catholic Charities fulfilled its promise. Caseworkers told Ryba they had contacted his first son, Philip Bloete, then 28, and he had agreed to a reunion.

They met in Philadelphia, at a Phillies baseball game. It was a warm, if awkward meeting. Neither man saw much physical resemblance in the other. Ryba is blond, stands 5 feet 8 inches tall, and weighs 175 pounds. Bloete is dark, 6 feet 4 and 240 pounds.

But they and Butler grew close, sharing their time, family stories and photos. In time, when Ryba began to prepare a will to include Phil, his attorney suggested a DNA test. Phil agreed.

To their dismay, the DNA proved they were not related.

Ryba asked Catholic Charities to search its records, find its mistake, his real son and Bloete's origins. But the agency declined, insisting that federal health care privacy laws barred it. A New Jersey judge agreed.

In 2010, Ryba took his pleas directly to New Jersey's attorney general, who asked the Department of Children and Families, which licenses adoption agencies, to look into the records of the adoption.

After a six-month investigation, the department reported its findings, and gave Ryba a copy. It describes a confused process, but contains no information identifying any of the baby boys.

Lauren Kidd, a spokeswoman for the department, said that under New Jersey law, only "non-identifying information from those records can be disclosed to adult adoptees, birth, foster or adoptive parents."

In their report, the investigators said they found that Ryba's son was one of six similarly aged boys placed at St. Elizabeth's, the Catholic maternity home and nursery in Yardville, N.J., at around the same time in late 1975. They identified two who appeared to be Ryba's son and Bloete, and quoted a former Catholic Charities social worker who said "it was not impossible for the children to have been mixed up."