“I [37F] took an Ancestry DNA test to find out more about my family history. What I found out is that my father [64M] isn’t actually my father.
It all started with a free trial to Ancestry. I like history and don’t know a ton about my family tree so one day while I was bored I figured I knew enough to get the ball rolling. My mom’s family is pretty diligent about preserving the history of their side so that info was easy. My dad’s side was more of a mystery. One little leaf linked to another and suddenly 3 hours later I was deep in the rabbit hole of census information. After I couldn’t go any further, I was already in too deep. I saw the DNA health kit and decided to go for it. I sent in my vile of saliva and waited for my results.
My health results came back first and were pretty unexciting. My DNA and ethnicity results are a little more complicated. At first, I just glanced through the DNA results because who cares about 2nd and 3rd cousins really. At the top of the list of shared DNA was a man and just under his picture, it read “parent/child” in the related field. My brain did not process it. I read it as a parent/child of someone in my immediate family even though I have no idea who they are. Like I said, my dad’s side is more of a mystery. I looked at his picture and saw some resemblance and that was that.
Fast forward to yesterday. I woke up to a notification of a message from this guy via the Ancestry app. He was asking me if I wanted to talk and that he had just seen me because Ancestry sent him notification of the DNA match. STILL, I wasn’t following. I thought he was being polite because of the family match. Then I looked at the actual data. It says parent/child because I have half his damn DNA. We exchanged a couple of messages. He seems genuinely interested in knowing about me. I asked if he knew my mom and from where. He explained that he knew both of my parents but had no idea about me. He knew them when he lived in my home state, 37 years ago.
I called my mom this morning because I needed some answers. She had a pretty terrible childhood and a young adult life full of things she wishes I didn’t know about. At first, she was very defensive, then I think a bit of shock set in. DNA doesn’t lie so there isn’t a way out of it. She admitted that the possibility was there but she always believed my dad was my father and she doesn’t remember this guy at all. I am still not sure if she is telling the truth or not.
I am just at an absolute loss right now. My dad and I don’t have a super tight relationship because my parents divorced when I was 3 but he’s a really great guy and he really tried his best. I love my dad and think the world of him but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel like something was off my whole life. He adopted my brother when he was a baby and raised him as his own. I feel like it would crush him if he found out that the one-child he did have, wasn’t his at all.”
Dear NW Tree Octopus,
I’m really sorry that you had to discover and learn about your heritage in this way. The pain from the complexity and confusion are very apparent in your words. I really hope you can take some time to process this on your own first and foremost.
Let’s be frank and honest here. Even if your father was not your biological father, that does not make him any less of a father for you. We all get so caught up in the idea of the blood bond between kin defining family. The truth of the matter is that family is what you make of it. It honestly sounds like your father has done his best to make sure that you survived and thrived in a divorced household. He was the one that was there for you from the beginning, the one that saw your grow up, and the one that can better identify as a father. He does not need to share a single drop of blood with you to be your father.
And no one has ever said the title of a “father” has to be exclusive to one person either. It could definitely be shared by more than one person. You can definitely have more than one father figure in your life. Fatherhood is a privilege and it’s a title worthy of being shared by multiple people. I really feel for your biological father who missed out on 37 years of his own fatherhood he could have had with you. Your mother certainly robbed him of that experience. If you decide to connect with your biological father, I strongly suggest to approach that new connection with caution and compassion. You’ve been alive for the past 37 years. But he just discovered that he has a daughter. So be patient and allow him to discover and connect with you slowly.
And let’s talk more about your mom. You might never discover why she decided to withhold that information from you. Based on the timing, it is possible that she was having an affair with your biological father. It is also possible that she was just casually seeing multiple people at that point in her life. And when she became pregnant, she chose your father to attempt parenthood with. She could have just completely blocked out her experience with your biological father and decided to live out the reality she wanted to live in. Whatever the reasons are, it is ultimately unimportant and unnecessary to paint the broad picture of your own life. It doesn’t matter if her obfuscation of reality was intentional or accidental. You still live in this world after all. Just like you can have more than one fathers, you absolutely do not need to have a mother at all. But I strongly suggest that you forgive her for whatever decisions she consciously or unconsciously made. She tried her best.
As for your father you grew up with, it honestly sounds like he too has tried his best to be your father. And I think you have a decision to make, on whether or not you disclose your new findings with your father. You mentioned that his discovering the truth about your biological parentage might crush him. So I ask you to weigh your burden of not sharing against the security of his current reality. Like your biological father, your father spent the past 37 years of your life with you as his biological daughter. It is clear from what kind of father he has been to your adopted brother that he doesn’t necessarily need biological linkage to be a good father. But the circumstances are completely different here; he opted for adoption with him whereas he was (falsely) granted fatherhood with you. And that too doesn’t take away from his 37 years of fatherhood. Like I said above, he does not need to share blood to be your father.
It might not be unethical to not share this new discovery with your father, as your mother has done so far. It is not necessarily important or pertinent information in the grand scheme of his fatherhood with you. I also wonder what is the “need to know” basis here as well. It isn’t like he is with your mother anymore. And you’re all already grown up. It might just be kinder to allow your father to continue in his fatherhood as he has done so for the past 37 years. Sharing that kind of world-altering discovery might take years or even decades for him to recover from. And sometimes, the best action is to not take any action at all.
I’ll tell you that as someone who comes from a very traumatic childhood, one of the most influential father figures I’ve had was my father-in-law. Until I met him, I had a very difficult and different ideas about what a father should be. He taught me that even the most secure and confident man can be completely awkward and goofy at the same time. And it completely broke my heart when I lost him almost a year ago. He might not have been my biological father, but I definitely looked up to him as one.
So I ask you to look to your father the same way. He might not be your biological father, but you certainly can continue to look up to him as one. Most people don’t even get to have one father. And you have options. No need for you to rush into making any decisions now. So sit and think about what you want to do.
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