It seemed like I had tucked the thought away two months ago. The thought that, I’m going to spit in this tube and get back some results that tell me what my ethnicity is. I’m an anxious person and waiting for results to anything doesn’t necessarily come easy, so I try hard to forget about things that may take awhile. Things such as, making it till Christmas, going on vacation, buying that latest gadget I’ve saved for, getting my yearly physical report back (I might be a hypochondriac), and so on. In this case, it was receiving DNA results. On the day that I received a text message from Ancestry.com saying my testing was complete, I became so excited that I stopped what I was doing to check the results. Finally, I would know the truth about whether or not I had Viking blood or that 16th Cherokee I’ve always been told about!
Now, I’m a white guy. Like get a sun burn in the shade during the middle of winter white guy. So, I wasn’t too surprised to find out my ethnicity was estimated at 87% England, Wales and Northwestern Europe and 13% Ireland and Scotland. Sure I was a little let down that I wasn’t Cherokee after growing up in Oklahoma and telling everyone I had some native ethnicity. No, instead I was plain vanilla without any sprinkles and at least now I could see it for myself. It then dawned on me that I didn’t have a trace of Italian or Greek in my results. This was weird because my dad’s side of the family were all darker complected. My little sister (on dad’s side) had also completed an Ancestry.com DNA kit. In fact she showed me her results and there it was, she was Italian and Greek! Looking back, it’s a little odd to me that neither my sister or I contemplated why we hadn’t been matched together once I received my results. Instead, we both just thought, “hm, that’s weird”!
On the next day I woke up from a long night of contemplating possibilities. These were possibilities as to why I hadn’t received any data on my account for being Italian or Greek. As I went to check my Ancestry account I noticed that there was a person I shared more centimorgans with than all the family I recognized. I had absolutely no idea who this person was but she shared enough cm’s with me to be either a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or half sibling. So, out of confusion and curiosity I began to call my mom and dad (divorced) and start asking a few questions. My mother didn’t know who the person was and was confused as well. My father didn’t say he knew who the person was, but I could tell in his voice that something was wrong. Something I said had made his words clumsy and hesitant. I think it was at that moment I knew a bomb was about to drop, but once again, I went to sleep without any answers to my numerous questions.
The next morning started like most days. I was some what disoriented from the restless night while trying my best to get my kids ready for the morning. Diapers needed to be changed. I couldn’t match a sock to save my life. My toddler was yelling at me for something or other while watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and my 6 month old was chugging a bottle. All the while my coffee sat cold and forgotten where I left it. Yep, pretty normal morning. My wife was at work but all of sudden I heard the door unlock. There appeared my wife, hours before she was suppose to be home. I was confused, she looked confused and startled and right about that time I thought, “here’s the bomb”. Early in the morning my dad had called my wife to explain that he was not my biological father. He explained that during the divorce process there were arguments as to me having another father and therefore, on his own, he and my stepmother performed a cheek swab DNA test on me in the mid 1990s. I was young enough that I couldn’t remember this being done. My dad said that he had told my grandparents who later went on to adopt me, but that he didn’t believe it was “his secret to tell”. My grandparents passed away in 2015, never telling me this information and so here it was, 31 years later the truth had arrived at my doorstep. A truth I never knew or expected, but none the less still reality and very much true for me.
After my wife gave me an overview of my dad’s call to her, the doorbell rang. It was dad, here to tell me the story in person. He gave me a name of the man he believed to be my biological father, and that matched the alleged man as being a sibling to the woman I shared such a large amount of centimorgans with. As he shed many tears, I sat there in shock as I found out that big chunks of my life were a lie. My father’s side of the family had known all along that I wasn’t his biologically, starting around the age of 8. I am on the Truman Show… (is that too old of a reference for most?). There was good to this however. My dad, though late, made the effort to drive all the way to where I now live and explain to me everything and he was very sincere. I believe this was the turning point in our relationship and for that I’m thankful. A lot was done wrong by many parties, but some good shined through.
Initial Processing of Thoughts
To discover a reality that you didn’t know existed can and most likely will require some time for rest and contemplation. Be gracious with yourself and give yourself compassion. You are not at fault. Try to accept compassion as others give it, but don’t expect it. Expecting others to understand could possibly set you up for more hurt and we cannot expect those who haven’t experienced such a situation to truly understand the sheer amount of differing emotions. These emotions came at me like a flood for the first week before they steadily began to subside. Existentially, I faced questions like who am I and who could I have been? Another question I struggled with was how do I make sense and meaning out of others choosing not to tell me about this? Could I trust those who were closest to me?
During this time of contemplation try to see all sides. You don’t have to agree with the sides, but try to understand the time and circumstances for better context. If your family is alive still (some do not have this opportunity), ask questions. But expect the questions to not always be truthfully or even lovingly given. Sometimes they can be received negatively as pride and shame collide with the parent you might be questioning. How is it you wade through this if there are no living parents to ask questions? The initial DNA surprise discovery is only the beginning to the journey. It’s a marathon so pace yourself. And maybe…. just maybe it doesn’t have to be an identity crisis of asking, “who am I?” in the sense of living a lie but rather, “who am I now that I’ve added this information”?