How Ryan O'Neal's First Family Reunion in 17 Years Happened: It Was 'Positive and Loving'

The O'Neal family is proving anything is possible.

Ryan O'Neal, 79, and his formerly estranged daughter Tatum O'Neal, 56, recently surprised fans by reuniting for a photo alongside Tatum's three kids with ex John McEnroe: Kevin, 34, Sean, 32, and Emily, 29.

The reunion marked the first time all five got together in 17 years, the last time being in 2003 when they attended the 30th anniversary celebration of Ryan and Tatum's classic film, Paper Moon. The movie starred the father-daughter duo and Tatum went on to become the youngest person to win an Academy Award at just 10 years old in 1974.

Thanks to Sean, the family made another "magical" memory together last weekend.

"I’ve had an easier time keeping it as cordial [between them] as I can. I was always the middle man," Sean, who's an artist, tells PEOPLE. "I picked up the phone. My mom and my grandpa have had their issues and the fact we were all in L.A. was a perfect storm. My mom knew I was in L.A. and I said, ‘I’d really like to see my grandpa.' I went to Malibu and I told him. And I told [my mom] he really wants to see you. We were all wanting it to go as well as it could and they had a great time. It was really nice to connect after so long and have a nice time — and we could just be positive and loving."

"Once I picked up the phone, it took a few weeks for it to happen," he says of the reunion. "My mom had called my grandpa on his birthday in April and it was a big deal for both of them that the call went well. So the last few months, it had been percolating."

RELATED: Ryan O'Neal's Grandson Sean McEnroe on 'Miraculous Moment' of Reuniting Family: 'It's a Huge Deal'

Sean tells PEOPLE he “actually did not expect” the worldwide reaction the photo has received.

“There are so many people who have been following this family saga literally for like 50 years, 40 years. At a time where there’s so little hope right now and people are really scared, really overwhelmed, and really having a hard time having faith that things are going to be better, there’s this family and if anyone knows this family, they know that this is probably the last family that will ever reconcile,” says Sean.

He adds, “It really was an ‘anything is possible’ moment.”

Ryan and Tatum's fractured relationship since they starred together in Paper Moon has often been talked about publicly. In 2004, Tatum detailed her dysfunctional relationship with her father in her searing autobiography A Paper Life. 

After a bitter 20-year estrangement, Ryan told PEOPLE Farrah Fawcett’s death in 2009 played “a very big role” in their reconciliation. Fawcett and Ryan, who share son, Redmond, never married. They split in 1997 and announced they would jointly raise their son. They reunited in 2001 after Ryan was diagnosed with leukemia, and Fawcett took care of him.

“She brought us back together,” Tatum said in 2010. She also revealed it was her father who extended the olive branch.

“He told me he’s sorry. He’s all I have in terms of family, and I needed him in my life,” she shared at the time. “My dad was absolutely everything to me.”

Describing his family, Sean says, “It’s really rare to have a family have this much chaos and drama over such a long span, and I think that’s actually the thing most families can relate to. That really kind of fractured, scarred family that’s having a very hard time reconciling and forging a good relationship later in life.”

Sharing his family’s photo is “a huge deal” to Sean “because the people who really know this story know, ‘Oh my God, I really thought that would never happen.’”

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