After my dad died, I had a lot of responsibilities which kept me between home and Lincoln, CA (the city where my parents retired): the estate sale, selling his planes and cars, finding a good memory care facility for my mom with Alzheimer’s, paying bills, etc. One of the last things I had to do was correct his grave marker at the Sacramento Valley Veteran’s Cemetery; Dad retired as a Navy Captain but his marker showed him as a Lieutenant Commander, his rank when he left active service but not reserves. When I went back in early March of this year to take care of the last details of the estate, my final item on the checklist was to ensure that his grave marker had been changed. That was the last piece of business that kept me tied him from a logistical standpoint. When I saw the marker had been changed, I finally had a peace about his passing. I was finally moving on.
When I came back to the Bay Area that night, it was a late Sunday evening (around 8pm). I was ready to go to bed and call it a day since I had to work in the morning, but I had mail at the house where I used to live, so I made a quick run to the house before I went to my apartment. Waiting for me amongst the junk-mail was a letter from upstate New York. My mom was born and raised in upstate New York and had recently received a final paycheck for her final inheritance, so I assumed it was a letter from the estate lawyer telling me that the estate was finally closed.
“Dear Dan, In 1976, no one could envision a future which included DNA tracking, instant family histories and records thought sealed forever available to all. In June of that year I met your Mom.“
After reading these first few sentences, I paused for a second. Is this a form-letter or scam for sons that recently lost their dad? A scheme? This must be a joke. Did some stranger see my dad’s obituary or death certificate, know that I had just lost him, and was pulling some sort of prank or scheme? The timing was way too perfect to be a coincidence.
As I read the letter, I realized that this wasn’t a joke or a prank. His story added up and I slowly entertained the idea that the man who wrote this letter, a man I never knew in my life nor had any inclination that any other person on Earth could be my dad, was my biological father. My world began to unravel, kinda like Danny Devito in the movie Twins when he learns his whole life has been a lie. This can’t be real, right?
I had taken an ancestry.com DNA test a few months before my dad became ill for no other reason that to discern my family’s heritage once and for all. The results came back showing I was Irish and Northern European with heritage dating back to the New England settlers. What a disappointment! I wrote off my DNA test and didn’t think twice about it even though I continued to receive notifications that I had new DNA matches for family members, no doubt ones I already knew . . .
If I had paid attention, I would have seen that I was matched genetically with a woman who was my aunt (1,340 shared DNA traits), a woman I had never met in my life. We were matched in November, shortly after my dad died. I was identified as a potential nephew and she began investigating me and asking her relatives who I was. It turns out her brother, my biological dad, remembered my last name as the same last name of a woman he had been with the summer before I was born. He kept this a secret from her, his sister, until he notified me. And because I stopped following my ancestry.com profile matches to focus on family matters, I never thought twice about following up on my notifications.
By sheer coincidence I took the DNA test months before my dad became ill. By sheer coincidence a woman I never knew also took a DNA test a few months later. By sheer coincidence I discovered a whole family I never knew I had at the exact same time I was saying goodbye to the man that I thought was my biological father.
The letter had the cellphone number of the man who was my biological father. After reading it once, I paused and read the letter again just to make sure I read it correctly. The shock was turning into disbelief. What more could the universe do to me in just one year? (2020 has been bad for most people, but I posit that mine has been worse than most. Imagine being separated and on the road to divorce when your dad contracts a sudden and terminal illness, having to bury your dad and take care of his affairs, putting your mom who barely remembers who you are anymore in a memory care facility that can meet her needs, finding out after 40+ years that the man you buried is not actually your biological father, and then having to adjust to shelter-in-place quarantine as a teacher. And guess what? There are MORE bad/life-changing things that happened to me recently that I plan to reveal in another post.) I was simply numb and decided I’d deal with the letter later since I had to teach class the next day and lessons to prepare. To be honest, I’m still in disbelief at times.
I reached out to this man and introduced myself via text the next day. Over the next several weeks, he shared the story of how him and my mom met, how he had no idea she was pregnant with his child (like me, he assumed that she must have become pregnant by my father, her husband at the time). My aunt Diane, who died in December of bladder cancer, introduced them when my parents were going through a rough patch. He told me about himself and his (my new) family; it turns out I have a half brother and sister back East, a new set of aunts and uncles and cousins, and a new adventure on the horizon.
One thing that disturbs me–or gives me pause rather–is the timing. My mom was supposedly infertile. My parents tried for years to have kids to no avail, but one night with someone else and she became pregnant? And then to be introduced to this new family on the same day I’m finally done processing my dad’s final affairs and finally saying goodbye to Dad? And to have everyone I can ask questions about this be gone within a few months (Dad and Aunt Diane)? Too many coincidences if you ask me.
Another thing that haunts me. My parents were married for life. They never hinted once that I could be someone else’s child. The notion of my mom cheating on my dad was crazy, maybe because through this experience my mom realized what she had with my dad and didn’t want to throw it away. My dad may have known, and I have my suspicions he did as I grew older and I felt him grow more distant, but I think he decided that I was his son, biologically or not.
To answer some questions you may have: I avoided sharing this story until all relevant parties were notified, like my biological dad’s family members. My brother knows (yes, he took a DNA test and he’s my dad’s legitimate son). Most of my family and friends don’t know except a few people, so this is my way of announcing the story to everyone. Legally I’m still my dad’s son and I still consider him my father, even if he’s not my biological father. I’m friends with my biological dad, half brother, half sister, and some other family members on Facebook.
Did I learn anything from this experience? Yes, but that’s another blog entry. This one is more for the emotional ride than the lessons/morals. Thanks for reading my story!