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Maine man dresses as Buddy the Elf to meet his biological father for the first time

“When he came out of the airport, he probably thought I was a lunatic."

Doug Henning, right, dressed as Buddy the Elf to meet his biological father at Logan Airport last week. Courtesy of Doug Henning

It’s not often someone can say they’re meeting their biological father for the first time in their 40s. But what made this meet-up at Logan Airport between a Maine man and his dad even more special was a burst of holiday cheer in the form of none other than Buddy the Elf.

Doug Henning of Eliot, Maine, grew up with an “amazing” set of adopted parents, he said, but he wanted to know more about his personal background. He turned to Ancestry.com a few years back, hoping to at least learn about his heritage. 

Then, an email changed the course of his life: A cousin helped him connect with one of his two biological sisters and then his biological dad, who didn’t know about his son.

“So within a day we exchanged emails and phone numbers,” he said. The following day he was on the phone with his sister, and since March, the family has connected on Zoom. Henning, who is married and has two daughters of his own, finally was able to connect the dots of his past.

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After all parties involved had received the results of COVID-19 tests, Henning’s dad was able to fly into Boston for Thanksgiving.

Just days before the meet-up, Henning and his family watched the 2003 Will Ferrell movie “Elf,” and that’s when he had the idea that he should dress up as Buddy. In the movie, Buddy the Elf meets his biological father (James Caan), who doesn’t know about him, and sings a song to him when they see each other the first time. 

As Raul, Henning’s father, strode toward him at the airport, Henning broke into Buddy’s familiar song about father and son finding each other. He couldn’t get the whole thing out before Raul wrapped him in a hug.

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“When he came out of the airport, he probably thought I was a lunatic,” Henning said. “It was a really good way to break the ice.”

There was one catch: Henning’s dad hadn’t seen the movie, but his two sisters had. Both were laughing as Henning sang.

“We ultimately sat down as a family and watched the movie,” Henning said.

Through reconnecting, Henning found out about himself, and his dad gained a son, and also became a grandfather. Henning is the first of Raul’s children to become a parent. Having lost his adoptive father around eight years ago, he said he and his family are excited to build their bond.

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From Raul, Henning learned that his father had moved to the U.S. from Colombia in the 1970s, and he now hopes to visit the country with his family. Together, they made a traditional Colombian dish. His dad was frustrated that he didn’t know about his son, and sad that he missed parts of his life, according to Henning. But he was able to tell his father that his life with his adoptive parents was positive.

The two men, though separated for decades, found they had more in common than they thought. Both work in television: Henning as a camera operator, his dad as a sound mixer. They talked about who they know in the industry, and the potential of whether they may have crossed paths over the years.

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Henning said he didn’t expect the attention to his story, but said he hopes it can bring others some positivity during a holiday season marred by the raging COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m just glad it was able to bring people some happiness,” he said.

Doug Henning with his father and two daughters during their visit.

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