WALLAND, Tenn. (WVLT) - Leaves crunched beneath Quila Castiglione's feet as she inched closer to the Little River, clutching her professional camera. Slowly, she brought the viewfinder to her eye, snapped the shutter, and tried again.
Quila Castiglione as a child, before she began searching for her biological father. / Source: WVLT
Castiglione is like most photographers, always searching for the perfect shot. "You just keep missing it. Maybe the lighting is wrong. You just keep trying to get there, but it’s just beyond your reach," she described.
For the better part of Castiglione's life, something else seemed just out of reach: more specifically, someone.
"I knew that the person I thought was my father was not my father. There were chunks of my life that were really hard, and it would have been a lot better to have that support, that love," Castiglione explained.
From her home in Michigan, Castiglione spent six years scouring the internet. She posted on Facebook, "Please share this post so that I may know who my father is or was."
Castiglione entered her DNA into a genetic database through the website 23&me and searched for matches. Finally, she found a cousin who put her in touch with the man she'd been searching for.
“I went into my assistant manager’s office and I can’t even really talk and said, 'I think I found my dad,'" Castiglione recalled.
In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, another photographer was also searching for a Kodak moment.
Bob Castiglione unpacked his own sophisticated camera from a padded case and started shooting what he called, "Nature's splendor."
With Mt. Leconte in the distance, Bob Castiglione noted the beauty of "the clouds coming down on the mountain."
Each click of the shutter offered a snapshot of Bob Castiglione settling into retirement, but one click to open an email snapped him right out of it. A message from Quila Castiglione made him realize he had a new job: her dad.
"The first thing I did was go over to my wife and I said, 'Does she look like she could be mine?' and she goes, 'Yeah.' Because she looked so much like me," Bob Castiglione said.
A true shock for Bob Castiglione considering his struggles trying to have children.
"We tried to have kids and we were unsuccessful. I had a problem, low sperm count, low motility. I thought I could never have a kid unless I had corrective surgery or something like that," he explained.
So naturally Bob Castiglione had no idea she existed, but Quila Castiglione had always known his face.
"I scanned my biological mother’s entire military album. I just remember seeing his birthmark and thinking, I’ve seen his face before. I have a picture of him," she said.
Bob Castiglione knew the picture. "It was a dinner party. I just laid down on the floor and I think I was watching TV and I fell asleep," he explained.
"It all brought it together for me, I had had a picture the whole time," Quila Castiglione realized.
Quila Castiglione learned she was the product of a short lived military romance. "I never saw him in the Air Force. I never saw him fly a plane. I never was part of it," she said.
Phone conversations and emails continued before Quila and Bob Castiglione decided to meet.
It was early summer of 2017. Neither of the two photographers were snapping photos when they first met at McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville. However, Bob Castiglione's wife was recording the moment on her cellphone.
Quila Castiglione said, "He just looked so adorable standing there like, 'I’m your dad!' This is what I've waited for for so long."
Quila Castiglione said there's a certain sadness hanging in the shadows of this story. "You now know exactly what you missed out on. You know what you lost: time. You can’t get back time. My life events, their life events, we all missed 36 years of it," she explained.
The biggest miss came when both of Bob Castiglione's parents died just before Quila Castiglione found him.
"They’ll never know I existed. They’ll never know about me. That’s been the hardest I think for me. Finding out they’re these great people and they’ll never know me and I’ll never know them," she said, wiping away tears.
Quila Castiglione has come to know Bob Castiglione and his wife as Mom and Dad.
"It's nice to have a sounding board. We talk about her father, and that's fun. Yeah we gang up on him. I never had anyone to gang up on him with," Carol Castiglione mused.
Quila Castiglione changed her birth certificate. It lists Bob and Carol as her parents, and changes her last name to Castiglione.
"Now I have a birth certificate with Dad and Mom, and I got a new last name. I got the name I was always meant to have," she said.
For two photographers who are always searching for the picture of a lifetime, the perfect shot developed when Quila Castiglione found Bob Castiglione and both of them stepped into frame.
Bob Castiglione said, "She's my finest work. It was one of those pictures that you take that came out and it was perfect."
Quila Castiglione said it's one "you want to capture it and keep it forever."
Bob Castiglione didn't just find his daughter. He found the chance to be a grandfather. In the weeks after filming, Bob told WVLT that Quila Castiglione was expecting twins.
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