COMPASSIONATE. DOER. SEEKER.
In 2011 my mother started to document our family tree and joined Ancestry.com. As DNA kits became more popular, she submitted her own. Several years later she had my son and I submit ours. We were searching for my ex-husband’s birth family. That is another story. Years passed. Mom’s side of the tree grew. I was more interested in our ethnicity and never really paid attention to the fact that none of my DNA matches were from my father’s side of the family.
In 2018 I had a “close family-1st cousin” match that was not connected to my mother. I sent this person an ancestry message excited to find out what our connection was. She never answered. Later I looked again at the connection and this time I noticed that it said half-sibling. I am not sure if I didn’t notice before that half-sibling was a possible relationship between this woman and I, or if at some point Ancestry revised the connection possibilities. I automatically assumed the man on my birth certificate who I thought was my father had some child I never knew about. My parents were divorced when I was 3 and Tom didn’t remarry until I was 13.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my mother would have lied to me like this about Tom. In 2019 I reached out to my match again, now with the knowledge, she is my half-sister. I already have one half-sister from Tom. She is 17 years younger than me. She was excited to learn we may have another half-sister. I never heard anything back from my match. In January 2020, I reached out again. Still no response. I scoured social media trying to find this match by her Ancestry handle and could not figure it out.
I was at work March 12, 2020, when I noticed a match to a 1st cousin by the name of Sandra Tullius. My world exploded. That was the same last name as the man my mother had an off-and-on affair with for over 40 years. I messaged my new cousin and she responded. She confirmed what I had already realized—my mother lied to me about who my father was for 55 years. I called her and asked her if Bob could be my father. She said yes. I then asked her point-blank, was Bob my father and she confirmed it. I am not sure why, but I told her I was not mad at her. She said I had every right to be. I was in shock. I barely remember the next few days. I had to leave work I was in such shock I was not safe to take care of patients.
A couple of days later my husband and I visited my mother. I questioned her about what happened. She said she met Bob when she was 19 and he was 32 and they were both living in Virginia. She had a Triumph car and was having trouble with it. She took it to the dealership, and they said they had a man who knew a lot about these cars and in walks Bob. They quickly started an affair. He was married and had a son already.
When my mom found out she was pregnant with me she panicked. She came from a very troubled home. Both of her parents were alcoholics, and her father was very abusive. I knew as a teenager I was conceived before she was married. I found my birth certificate in a drawer. I remember asking her if I was adopted hoping to have a better father out there somewhere. She told me at one point that if abortion were legal, I would not be here, but that she loved me.
After she found out about the pregnancy, she and her best friend conspired to get Tom, back from Army training and get him to sleep with her so she could pass me off as his child. The ruse worked and they were married six months before I was born.
According to her story, she went into labor “early.” I was small so no one questioned this. Within the first year of my life the guilt overwhelmed her, and she told my Tom and both sets of grandparents. My mother’s father paid for them to go to counseling. Tom agreed to accept me as his own child, and they agreed to stay together. This did not last long, they separated and divorced.
I only saw Tom on holidays and never at his home. He never paid child support. I always resented that. I never felt loved or wanted by my father. I cut off contact with him briefly when I was an adult because I was so hurt that he never reached out to me. I stayed at his bedside for the last days of his life because I thought he was my father and that is where I should be. I never gave up hoping that he would love me. He went to his grave never telling me he was not my biological father. I respect him more now that I know he stayed in my life even when he didn’t have to. But it would have hurt less had they told me the truth.
My mother dated Bob off and on for over 40 years. I remember answering the phone when he called the house. She would tell me about him. He never would agree to meet me. I never thought very highly of him. He always seemed to be involved with more than one woman at a time. I thought my mom deserved better than that. She said she loved him and that is just how he was. I knew about his children, his other girlfriends, his racing career, his love of flying, his traveling, and his participation in airshows.
My mother learned to fly and bought an airplane because of him. She would go with him to airshows and traveled with him to the islands. The last time she saw him, I think I was in my 30s. She said she took me to one of his races when I was a small child and told him I was his. She said his response was something along the lines of “well, I think I have another son out there somewhere too.” As far as I know, that is the only time that I saw him. I remember going to a race, but not meeting him. He never helped support me. I never met my siblings, my cousins, or my grandparents. I really wish I had had an opportunity to know them. And I will never understand how she could keep seeing him when he refused to acknowledge me. I think that’s what hurts the most.
All of this happened right at the time of the lockdown. I could not sleep. I could not focus. I was having anxiety issues. I was drinking more. No one could really help me. No one really understood. I knew I needed help. I reached out to find a counselor. She was nice but had no idea how to help me. She had no experience with people with misattribute parentage. She did help me see that my mother was damaged at a young age from the abuse she suffered. It did not excuse what she did but allowed me to be more compassionate towards her. I started googling everything related to NPE/MPE. This is when I found the Facebook support groups. They were a lifesaver. I found my people.
Back to the present…I reached out to my new half-sister on Ancestry. I told her I knew who she was and the connection between our father and my mother. No response. I reached out to my brother on Facebook. No response. That was in March. April 2, I received an email from my brother and an Ancestry message from my sister saying basically the same thing. They said that now that they have had some time to process, they desire no further contact for reasons personal to them. They go on to say there are no hereditary medical concerns that I should be aware of, which I later found to be untrue. My brother is an attorney and the letters both sounded very legalese.
I showed my son pictures of this “new” family. My mother found out and went off on me saying that the Tullius family was not my family and they never were. The DeHarts are my family and always have been. She basically shut down any further inquiries into my father and into their relationship. Our relationship, already strained, is now completely superficial. She has cancer. My son lives with her and helps care for her. I still go help take her to appointments. We never talk about it.
I researched my family on Ancestry and found pictures of my cousins. Turns out one of my first cousins and I look very much alike. It was the first time in my life I looked like someone. I never looked different enough to question, but now that I know I see it. Looking in the mirror will never be the same. I see Bob in the shape of my face, in my smile, in my eye color.
I corresponded back and forth with my new cousin match from Ancestry, Sandy. She emailed and texted me family pictures. I told her that she made me feel like part of the family. She told me that as far as she was concerned, I was. That felt so healing after all I had been through. We were able to have lunch with her and his new wife. We had a wonderful visit and she shared with me about my family, especially about our grandmother who she was close with. I am looking forward to future visits with them, and with my other cousins.
Of course, like anyone else would, I Googled my brother, my sister, and my father. I found out where my they all live. We drove by my father’s and brother’s houses. I was simply curious to know more about these people that are my family. It took me a while to be ready to contact my father. I wrote him a letter and sent it return receipt requested. A month went by and I received the letter back as unclaimed. I sent a second letter by regular mail which had the DNA matches and pictures of me next to him and next to my first cousin that I look so much like. He never answered.
I took a chance and called his cell phone. At first, after I told him who I was, he denied it was him. I recognized his voice and told him so. He said, “how do you know, you never met me?” I told him that I had heard his voice on the internet. He told me he did not want to talk to me but would not tell me why. I sent him a text on my birthday with my baby picture telling him that just because he does not talk to me does not make him any less my father.
Since then, it has been my goal to change my birth certificate and get involved in advocacy. I cannot change it without DNA proof and Bob will not cooperate. I am excited to meet more of my cousins when the pandemic starts to wind down. I still struggle with identity. I found a counselor through someone on the FB group. She is helping me navigate my new normal.