ADVENTUROUS. DEDICATED. CREATIVE.
I was born in 1980 in Seattle, Washington to a self-loving woman and her husband, my birth certificate father, who she’d married six months before I was born. I grew up in a low-income abusive environment and the memories still haunt me today. The best thing to come out of the whole situation was my little sister Tiffany. We grew up not knowing what a father’s love was supposed to be. To me, it was buying us ice cream when he sold our mom’s valuables so we wouldn’t tell or us keeping quiet when he was drinking or arguing with our mom so we wouldn’t be hit. When I was six years old they divorced and my mom quickly moved us in with another man.
I was excited to have a “dad” but I soon realized he was different from my friends’ dads and stepfathers. When father-daughter dances happened at school, or through Girl Scouts, he wouldn’t attend. After our mom and stepdad had two daughters, the obvious resentment of our existence became even more noticeable. We were never hugged, he never showed us the same kindness he showed his daughters, we never had father-daughter talks like you see on Full House or Sixteen Candles. I wondered if that was how a father was really supposed to be, or was that just Hollywood.
As a teenager, I tried to please him. My mother would constantly tell us to try and be better, which made me feel like it was my fault he resented us. He and my mother would argue constantly throughout their marriage and his casual drinking became heavier as I matured. He was verbally abusive the last few years I lived at home. We quickly learned to stay out of his way and we should move out as soon as possible.
As an adult, I stayed away from him as best as I could. On my wedding day, when it came time for the father-daughter dance, he laughed and said he wouldn’t dance with me because he wasn’t my father. I was heartbroken—this was the day I finally gave up trying to please him and my mother. Part of me thought if I did what they said, they would care for me as parents should. I was always told I didn’t have enough confidence. Or that it was ok I wasn’t very pretty. That it was a thing good I excelled at computers so I could get a good job.
I married and was living with my husband in California when I became pregnant with my first child at age 21. I called my mother to tell her the exciting news. Her response was heartbreaking and confusing. She told me I should never have children because she didn’t really know who my real father was. I suddenly felt like the rug was pulled out from under my feet. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like something was being stabbed into my chest. I questioned her and told me she had a long-term boyfriend when in high school she was engaged to and broke up just before she met my birth certificate father. She dated my birth certificate father for the next year and then in February of 1980 she saw her ex-fiancé. When she was pregnant she assumed it was from my birth certificate father, but it may not have been.
I asked for more details and why didn’t she tell me. How could she let me think the man who still gave me nightmares was my real father? She of course was angry with my questions and hung up. I called back and she wouldn’t answer. She wouldn’t discuss it again.
A year later, I flew to introduce her to her grandson. I asked, “Now can we talk about my real father?” She walked out of the room without a word and was gone for a while. When she came back, she had her high school yearbook and pointed to a blonde-haired blue-eyed person and said “That’s your father, my ex.” I tried to memorize his face and wrote down his name when she wasn’t paying attention. I tried to look for similarities between his face and mine. I suddenly realized that my birth certificate father who had a dark complexion and hair and brown eyes looked nothing like me. My sister looks a lot like our birth certificate father.
Back then, I was busy with my own new family and career, but would call my mom weekly to chat, although she always seemed guarded. As our son grew, I fell in love with photography and capturing him through my lens. With loving support and encouragement from my husband, I pursued my dream to become a professional photographer. I graduated college in 2007 and my family (except my stepfather) came to celebrate with us. My mother, who never finished college, seemed to resent the attention I was getting during my graduation celebration and our relationship took another turn for the worse.
A year later, I excitedly called my mom to tell her we were having our second child. Again, I received the same weird response, “You shouldn’t have another baby because I don’t know who your father is.” I was super confused and said, “You told me, he’s your ex-fiancé.” After a moment, she replied, “Well it might not be him.” Again, the familiar knife stab to the heart, feeling like air being sucked out of the room. I had spent the last 6 years thinking this man was my dad. “Who is my father?” I had asked. She said, “Well maybe it’s your birth certificate father…” Then she said, “Never mind, it doesn’t matter,” and changed the subject. I felt numb about it for the next few weeks. She barely called me after that.
Seven months into my pregnancy I fainted. My doctor asked if anemia runs in the family and other questions about my medical history. I sat there at the table feeling stupid because all I could answer was I don’t know. I didn’t know any medical info on my biological father’s side. I felt like crying. Turns out I was anemic.
My sister and I decided it was time to find answers for me. My maternal grandparents and I had been discussing this and when I visited them they gave me sibling DNA tests. Six days after we confirmed we were half-siblings. I was sad to read this even though I knew in my heart it would say we weren’t full siblings. I asked my grandparents over to discuss the results. When they arrived, my grandma said, “Ok I have something to tell you.” She told the same story my mom had of the ex-fiancé and how they always thought I was his. My grandfather gave me a CD of images he had scanned of my mother and her ex-fiancé. He had saved them for me knowing this day would come.
With the details given to me by my grandparents, I found my mom’s ex-fiance and contacted him via Facebook. He replied back he wasn’t my father and to leave him alone. I was heartbroken and wasn’t sure what else to do. Eventually, we moved back to Washington with our boys. My grandfather and I started building the family tree. I left the father’s side of my tree blank and secretly hated the little green leaf that was shaking and wiggling at me. A year later we had a number of deaths in the family, including my grandfather, and I stopped the tree project.
Many years had gone by when I started watching Find Your Family on TLC. In the episode I was watching, the story was like mine, the woman had grown up without a stable father figure in her life. Of course, the commercial was for an Ancestry DNA kit. Before I realized what I was doing, I purchased one. My results showed I was Scottish, Irish, Welsh, English, Norwegian, and Swedish!! Wow, I thought. I never knew about the Norwegian and Swedish which made perfect sense since I am so pale.
My close DNA matches showed a first cousin with a last name I didn’t recognize. None of these last names were the same as my mom‘s ex-boyfriend surname. I was so confused. I realized most of my matches were closely related through this one surname. One match was a third cousin with over 2000 people in her tree and she looked friendly in her photo. I decided to contact her. We corresponded and she discovered we were related through her grandmother. She wrote a little later, “I don’t know how to say this…” she explained my mom’s ex-fiancé was not my father.
My heart pounded so loud I could hear it in my head. Once again, I felt the wind being knocked out of me for the third time. She went on to explain who my biological father was. I had never heard of his name nor had my grandmother. Then she sent a photo of him. You know there’s always that one photo that you look at and you’re like, “Yep that’s my parent.” I kept looking for similarities between my mom’s ex-boyfriend and my birth certificate father and never saw those.
When I saw this photo of him it was like seeing me staring back with facial hair! I immediately texted my husband the same photo and didn’t say anything. He wrote back that’s your dad, isn’t it? It really is amazing how DNA works and how you can resemble somebody that you’ve never met.
Through online research, I discovered we had more in common than just looks. We both are photographers; he specializes in nature while I specialize in people. The few nature photos I have on my photography page, he has taken photos of the exact same flower, or bridge as me. He lives 10 minutes from my sister and grandma. I learned his father, my paternal grandfather, worked at Boeing just like my maternal grandfather. They both retired the same year and we’re both supervisors on the same projects. Sadly both passed never knowing they shared a common granddaughter.
I spent the next week typing a letter to send to him. My new cousin is a teacher and helped me. I sent the letter through Facebook and emailed him as well. A week later he responded. He acknowledged he recognized my mother’s name and the news of my existence was “traumatic for him.” He told me, “He and his wife led simple quiet lives and at this time he wasn’t ready to talk to me or answer any of my questions.”
I discovered this was his second wife and he had two daughters, my half-sisters, with his first wife. They are just a few years younger than me. After four weeks, I responded asking for any basic medical info and history, and asked him to respond when he was ready. I wondered what got him interested in photography and explained I was a professional photographer and that I enjoyed seeing his nature photographs.
In his response, he did not answer any of my questions and he asked for more time. He also requested I not contact anyone in the family. I felt frustrated. Very frustrated. I don’t understand why he was upset with me asking basic human questions about where I come from; to make me feel guilty for reaching out to him or for even existing. I had no say in the matter of how I was created.
I waited months and months hoping he would reach out. When he didn’t, I wrote to my biological father for the third time. I had hoped he would answer my questions and I explained to him since people are getting older I would start reaching out to other family members to learn about my medical and family history if he didn’t respond back. He never responded.
I tried to reach out to his sisters but haven’t been successful in finding a means to contact them. I friended my half-sisters on Facebook and messaged them, but they didn’t see my message for a long time. They responded they were shocked and surprised. They told me our father was very private but agreed to meet me. Every time we try to plan a day though, their work always got in the way and suddenly a couple of years passed, and now it’s COVID. On holidays I send them a hello and happy whatever holiday. They respond back with the same and occasionally we like each other’s posts. It breaks my heart it hasn’t gone anywhere from there.
It’s been months since I last wrote to them, so I reached out last week while writing this story about my life. Their response was the same: they don’t want to meet.
My 20-year wedding anniversary is next year and my husband and I may renew our vows and have a fun party with our entire family. I had hoped I would be able to finally have that father-daughter dance that I do often photograph at weddings, but I realize it may never happen. At least I can look forward to having the mother-son dance with my sons at their weddings. I also realized I know exactly what a father is as it was right in front of me all along. A father is somebody who is always there for you no matter right or wrong. Someone who loves you unconditionally and expresses it with any means they can. Someone who teaches you, plays with you, cares for you, supports you, who will do anything they can to make life better for you. It was my husband Ryan. I may never get that with my real dad, but I do know what true love is in my own family thanks to my husband and our boys.