That year, she got a tattoo for the father she barely knew. "I love you," it read, "and I'll never forget you."
Back in Trabuco Canyon, the subject of Amanda was dropped.
Garcia moved to Merced, near other relatives. He quit working. Gained weight. Needed pills to sleep and TV to pass the time.
Eighteen years of heartache can do that to a man.
"It made me bitter," he admits.
Right up until his son Anthony got a text from halfway around the world: "Hi Anthony. I don't know if it's the right thing to write you, but I'll try. My name is Amanda Garcia, and I'm your sister."
Anthony had tears streaming down face. He called his dad and soon they were all crying as they discussed Amanda's return.
No one could afford it, so Melissa raised about $2,000 online to arrange the reunion.
It is now about to unfold at Los Angeles International Airport.
"Eighteen years is a long time," Garcia is saying as a young woman tentatively steps into the terminal.
She looks unsure who to greet. Just as Garcia looks unsure if he should greet her. Then their eyes meet.
And they run ...
The words are few:
"I love you," he says.
"I love you," she says.
"I'm glad you're home," he says.
The man without purpose suddenly has one. He talks about losing weight. About taking his daughter to Disneyland and getting her an iPhone. He talks about helping her get an education if she wants to move here.
"It's up to her what she wants to do," he says. "It's not my choice. It's her choice."
Back at home, they scour old photos and share family stories. Then Garcia pulls something out of his luggage -- Amanda's itty-bitty shoes that he kept by his bed for 18 years. He no longer needs them.
"Oh my God," she says, laughing -- she no longer needs them either.
"I have a family now," Amanda says. "That means everything to me."
Just as it does to her father, who may well have found himself as well as his daughter.
"She's my baby girl," the tough guy says, wiping back tears.
"I can now die a happy man."