BETTER. EMPATHETIC. DECENT.
In 2013 my 79-year-old father had been in and out of the hospital repeatedly and then had to be placed into a facility that specializes in Alzheimer’s care. His Alzheimer’s, along with prostate cancer, caused a substantial decline in his overall health. During a visit with him to one of his doctors, he unexpectedly started talking about the difficulties he and my mother, who divorced in 1981, had in conceiving. I had known there were special efforts made in my conception with the explanation given to me decades earlier that they just needed a little help, I was “sort of like a test tube baby.” From what I was told, my father had contracted mumps during puberty causing him to have a low sperm count. To me, that explanation was what I knew and I didn’t give it much thought. So little thought actually, that I had never even shared the “test-tube baby” story with my then wife who I had known for 18 years.
During this time waiting for the doctor to come in, my father started to talk about how he was unable to get my mother pregnant. He began with, “And there is something I have never told you…” and proceeded to tell me he was not my biological father, that somehow she (my mother) went to “these people that just knew how to help with this” and “they injected her with something that got her pregnant.” My father struggled with remembering the term, so I told him artificial insemination to which he responded with a “yes.” He even added we could do “one of those tests” and it would show he was not my real father.
To confirm what my dad told me that day, I telephoned my 80-year-old mother who said it was true they had difficulties conceiving. She told me about vitamins my father was taking, how they monitored her monthly cycle and how the doctor had artificially inseminated her resulting in her pregnancy with me. What she could not tell me was what exactly was used that got her pregnant. She explained the doctor took my dad’s sample “to the back room to be mixed with something to make it work better.” After a paternity test, I discovered my dad was not my biological father. Research into my mother’s doctor provided enough evidence to answer some basic questions. An over-the-counter DNA test then confirmed my suspicions, my mother’s doctor was actually my biological father.
This news caused sleepless nights, a wide range of emotions, a feeling of loss wondering who I was and also a loss of my biological connection to my dad. It was an intensely sad time in my life. A portion of my foundation in life, who I was, was truly gone. In some respects, it was a relief learning that Alzheimer’s was no longer a genetic concern from my dad’s side. On the other hand, however, the medical history I had completed for my paternal side – the cancer and strokes – was no longer valid and I had no new medical history to replace it. My dad’s extended family – my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, along with the ethnic traditions – were not really mine anymore.
After determining who my biological father was, I learned he had passed away in 1983 and I had four half-sisters from his marriage to his wife. One child, a son, had passed away in his teens from polio. Of the remaining sisters, two were living in the same metro area where I was. After months of pondering on how to proceed, I decided to write a letter introducing myself to my half-sisters. I sent the letter and the next day one of the half-sisters came to my house. We visited for three hours and had a pleasant conversation. She left with the understanding she would talk to her other sisters about the news and then she would get back to me. I didn’t hear back. After several months, I reached out to a paternal-side niece and a nephew using a similar letter of introduction. This was then followed by a certified letter from the family saying they wanted no contact and stated “we feel we have nothing in common to share.”
While I very much appreciate the relatives on my dad’s side and the relationships I have with them, I also truly wonder what my paternal biological relatives are like. Do I walk, talk, laugh or have other traits like my biological father? Is my ability to fix things a trait passed down from him or something I learned from my dad? When people who knew my biological father look into my eyes do they see him too? I recently had a health issue that made me wonder if there was a genetic link and also are there other health issues that I need to be aware of as I age?
As the years have gone by, my desire to know my half-siblings has diminished. It is quite evident these four half-sisters of mine and their families do not have the same warm, welcoming, empathetic and compassionate traits that I grew up with and have myself. Choosing to surround myself with decent humans is a much better way to live.