TECHNOLOGIST. BILINGUAL. FAMILY MAN.
In May of 2018, after taking advantage of a 23andme.com Mother’s Day 2 for 1 special, my wife, kids and I got health and ancestry kits for the four of us in our family. Our main motivator was to learn more about the genetics behind one of our children’s social and emotional challenges that they were struggling with.
Maybe I was naïve in hindsight but, when I first saw my ancestry timeline, I thought that there must have been some sort of mistake with my results. My mother has always claimed to be a standard Heinz 57 potpourri of your standard ‘ingredients’ that make up so many within the standard American cultural fabric, whatever that means. However, my dad is a full-blooded Mexican with nearly all his family coming from the northern Chihuahua state in Mexico.
I called my mom, half in jest, telling her what was reported to me, laughing a bit about it and asking her if she may have any idea if we had knowledge of any family members who were Ashkenazi Jewish, French, Swiss, or German as that was not at all what I had expected to see in those results. She hastily mentioned something about her maternal grandmother having been adopted; wondering aloud if that could have factored into my results. I was at work at the time and it was mid-morning, so I told her to think about it and let me know if she thought of anything else later. After we hung up two things happened that slowly started opening my eyes to the fact that there may be more to the conversation that met the eye initially.
First off, it hit me suddenly that there was absolutely no trace whatsoever of ANY Mexican or Native American ancestry in my results. In hindsight, I feel foolish for having not noticed that sooner, but I have always trusted my parents to have been, well, my parents. I am certainly lighter complected than my two younger sisters and many cousins. However, I do have dark hair and have always tanned with relative ease. My nickname growing up, on the Mexican side of my family, was “Güero” which is a common Mexican-Spanish word to describe somebody who is light-skinned but too, there are many light-skinned Mexicans who have a higher concentration of European ancestry than others who have stronger indigenous Mexican Indian roots.
Secondly, over my lunch hour, my mom texted me the following message: “I would like to sit down and talk to you face to face.” My mind, heart rate, and blood pressure all started racing in unison, jockeying for frantic pole position within the depths of me. I think I pretty much knew what was likely to come next, but I also feel that I had likely entered some grade of shock at this point. The minutes the rest of that day passed like hours. Somehow, I made it to the end of my workday in a daze. I drove to my mom’s house in a trance-like state unannounced and walked into her back yard where she was sitting quietly at her patio table. She hemmed and hawed initially and eventually started to tell me a story that has shaken the foundation of my life and basis that I have formed and shaped my entire personal and cultural identity upon.
My mom and dad were forbidden high school sweethearts. My dad was a senior when they started dating while my mom was just a freshman. Following his graduation, they decided they wanted to marry. That did not go well in my mom’s house where she lived with her mother, stepfather and siblings as she was only sixteen years old. My mom and dad decided to run away to Texas where her biological father lived and talk him into consenting for and signing off legally on their plan to elope together. Long story short, it worked. Long story longer, six months after they married, my dad was drafted and subsequently went to Vietnam to serve an 18-month tour of duty in the U.S. Army.
My mom went on to tell me that she indulged in and experimented with alcohol and drugs and took advantage of having uncontrolled freedom as a seventeen and then eighteen-year-old for the first time in her life during the early 70’s when life was different, in many ways, than it is today. She became pregnant with me during that time and wasn’t sure who the father may have been as she had maintained multiple relationships during that time-period.
The moment my mother uttered the words, “Your dad is not your biological father,” I immediately broke down sobbing, unable to control my reaction to the confirmation of what I least hoped I would hear from my mother. I was paralyzed by emotions I never expected to feel that the man I have most admired and worked to emulate during my life was not, in fact, genetically connected to me.
At this point, I will share that I have really struggled with this news in ways that I never would have expected to, probably because I never would have expected to have had to question who I was or the circumstances surrounding my coming into being.
I’m still struggling with this. Big time. I have been through every emotion that I have ever known that I could experience and discovered others that I didn’t know were in my emotional arsenal along the journey. I have more moments than not where I am fine and operating normally but then others will come without warning that leave me emotionally crippled until they pass. I know that I have been blessed and still am but these bouts of emotional paralysis, which are so unlike me and my character historically, can completely take me offline when they sneak up on me as I wallow in sadness with questions and over-analysis of memories from my youth that are pulled into question and subjected to renewed scrutiny.
I should probably also share that I have been happily married for 26 years to an amazing woman from Madrid, Spain and we have two amazing and wonderful children together. We lived in Madrid, Spain as a family for nearly eight years in the late 90’s and first several years of the 2000’s even. I worked and studied there, and it is now another home for all of us. Our children are perfectly bilingual as a result and we have worked hard to create a bilingual home where both languages form part of the fabric of our family and are prominent in our lifestyle. I note that Spain and Mexico are two very different countries and cultures, but they do share distinct dialects of a common language.
I am now the only one of the grandchildren on the Mexican of the family in a very large family who speaks Spanish with native fluency. Most of my dad’s brothers and sisters don’t speak the language fluently anymore. My Mexican grandparents, who have both passed away during the past eight years, always seemed to genuinely enjoy speaking Spanish with me and I lovingly captured their stories and anecdotes at the end of their lives and was so proud to have bridged a cultural gap between them and the rest of the family.
Considering all of this and the importance I gave my cultural identity in my life, you may be able to begin to appreciate how devastatingly sad this news has been for me to assimilate. I have felt lost and disconnected all the sudden. I spend my days thinking that I shouldn’t feel this way that I should be thankful for what I worked hard to achieve; that it’s likely even more impressive to have gained fluency and cultural acceptance in another country and culture without the ancestry I thought I had but my feelings, my truth and the literal anguish & despair that I have felt over this new truth has felt truly devastating to me personally. I think and feel like this shouldn’t devastate me, but it does, and I am still having a difficult time controlling that reality and a range of difficult emotions that come with it.
As far as the new dynamic and relationship with my mom and dad, it has improved a bit since this revelation first occurred; only in different ways. First off, I feel that on one hand I have come to respect my parents in a new way that I didn’t previously.
Regarding my mother, I note that I was born a year before the Roe vs. Wade supreme court decision and, though abortion was still illegal at that time, she could have undoubtedly found a means of performing a hasty, back-alley abortion to simply ‘rid’ herself of the burden I must have represented at the time to an 18-year-old young woman. I also feel that society will often celebrate a man’s sexual exploits and then turn around and shame a woman for behaving the same way. I will not allow myself to shame my own mother for a set of circumstances and decisions that she regrets because of the hurt it is causing me at present. She will remain my mother regardless of this challenge we now have to work to overcome together.
Secondly, regarding my dad, who will always be my father in my heart and soul. He served his country, came home to his young wife, found her three months pregnant and still decided to raise a child who wasn’t biologically his as his own. The guts required by both to decide to keep me and choose to raise me is amazing and I have thanked them for that. I recently told my dad proudly that, would I have had the chance to have “selected” any father to have raised me, I undoubtedly would have picked him.
However, make no mistake about it. I am severely disappointed and hurt that, at no point during my upbringing, they wouldn’t have made a conscious decision to sit down with me when I became of age to share this truth with me as I deserved to know this long before I was 46 years of age. I have lovingly and quite sternly shared this truth with them. They should not have chosen to keep this from me in perpetuity. That was a selfish decision and has led to a compounding of the hurt and anguish that was left in the wake of that omission.
Since I discovered this unexpected truth, I have felt that there are facets of my personality and perhaps even health considerations that I may seek to understand now under a different filter and want to seek answers to; both for me as well as my children. Could my genetics have led to my son’s social and emotional challenges that have long plagued him as well as my wife and me? Are there other health considerations that my children may need to know before considering starting families of their own in the future?
I decided that, if my biological father is alive, I felt he deserved to know I exist and I desire to, if nothing more, treat him to coffee or lunch, talk to him and just see where things go from there. Paternity tests would come well after those initial baseline relational milestone activities, as I see things. My mom and I have had some difficult conversations over the past weeks and months since. She thought she had found my birth father at one point, but he turned out to not be who I was looking for. We determined that my conception most likely occurred during the second half of July of 1971. We built a whiteboard littered with so many post-its and yarn connector lines that it now resembles a prop in an episode of CSI at this point!
While in the midst of my dark existential search, I took a second DNA test in July of 2018, hoping to widen the net of genetic connections I could draw from and find a clue as to who my birth father may be. The six weeks waiting for my results to return this time seemed even longer than the first time around. On a morning in early August, while alone at home as my wife and son were visiting her family in Spain, I woke up to receive an email notice that my results were in. I was on the phone with my wife at the time and shared the news with her.
I flew into my office and logged in. Again, I was hoping to find maybe a 1st or 2nd cousin that I could contact and search for results based on their clues. However, what I discovered that day changed my life forever. I quickly navigated to the DNA Relatives page and right there, at the top of my search results was a single letter for a first initial and last name stating that this person and I shared 3,425 cM of DNA across 76 segments and an analysis of the genetic possibilities of our connection indicated that this person was, and could only be, my father. I told this to my wife while my heart was about to leap out of my chest. I then took that first initial as well as the last name, which was unique, and cross-referenced both on Facebook and Classmates.com and found a result that matched rather quickly. I looked at his senior photo from high school, a school in the same district and near my own high school, and his facial structure, eyes, and features were nearly identical to mine.
After so many misses and heartaches as my mother had so desperately tried to help me find this missing piece of myself, I had found him. I stopped to take this all in; knowing that the most important, remaining phase of work to connect myself with this missing piece would be the hardest piece of all.
It didn’t take me long to find my biological father’s name, address, and phone number. Shortly before this time, I had become aware of some online support groups for others who were fellow NPE’s (Not Parent Expected) or MPE’s, which I have come to prefer during my own journey. MPE stands for Misattributed Parentage Event as the discovery of a change in a person’s perceived parental genealogy.
The day I discovered the identity of my birth father, I put a post out to this community asking for advice regarding what I should do next. One member suggested I use a template letter that they had used when they met their BF (birth father). It was short, sweet and direct. I decided that I would rather not spend my life wondering ‘what if’ I’d reached out so I took her advice and wrote my letter that very same day, having no idea if I would ever hear back. I felt as though I needed to ‘rip off that band-aid’ and just do this. The letter was sent by snail mail. I included the details I knew about our believed genetic connection, made it perfectly clear that I was a self-made man, happily married with a beautiful family, and didn’t need anything from him. I simply wanted to know my new family history and left the door open to meeting for lunch or coffee if he would care to meet me.
He texted me three days later. I was at home after work and his text was very short and sweet and he said he would be happy to write me an email with family history and would be in favor of meeting for lunch or coffee. I called him the next day and we heard one another’s voices for the first time. I was awed by how effortlessly and comfortably we were able to talk to one another. I learned that I had three newly discovered biological half-siblings; all of whom were engineers like I am. I also learned that my biological father was a retired technology project manager, like I am as well. I was swimming in a sea of surreal coincidences that seemed anything but. We met for lunch the next week on August 7, 2018, and began a relationship that continues to this day. He has become an important, integral part of my life and I’m grateful for him and the present of his presence in my life as well as my children’s lives.
Last summer, when my daughter was planning to move into her first apartment, we were short on moving help. I was discussing this with her one day when she said, “Dad, why don’t you ask your two dads if they would be willing to help?” First, I had to stop and take in the enormity and reality of the question she’d just asked but then I asked her, “Are you sure you would be OK with that?” She said, “Absolutely. I’ve met them both. They’re good men. I don’t see why not.” So, I did ask them individually and to my utter amazement, they were both, not only willing but eager to help and totally OK with the presence of the other there.
That day ended up being one of the neatest experiences of my life. After working hard, I invited them both to grab a beer with me, my treat and they accepted this offer as well. Their communication was effortless, and they were consummate gentlemen toward one another. Toward the end of the evening, I asked them if they would take a picture together with me, not for any sort of social media; just for me. Again, they eagerly consented, and this photo has become as precious to me as any I’ve ever taken with somebody I love.
When my biological father and I met, he asked me a question that I’ve never forgotten via email that may be the most ‘Project Manager’ question somebody could ask. He asked me, “What is your desired outcome of this relationship?” I spent a fair amount of time thinking about how to answer this with my head and my heart and rather quickly told him that my desired outcome, assuming all parties were up to investing what they needed to, would be that I become so richly blessed to have a dad and another dad. Not Dad 1 and Dad 2. Not Dad A and Dad B. A dad, whom I love and who chose to raise me, and then another dad who didn’t shun me nor refuse to acknowledge my existence once he became aware of me and our undeniable genetic connection.
I can now tell you that I absolutely love and respect my mom, my dad, and my dad. Not to mention my new and existing half-siblings, aunt, uncle, etc. for choosing to know me. I feel like I won the lottery for those who have been through this impactful life-changing discovery. Many in my position never get the opportunity to say the same. I’ve truly been blessed in my case.
I know as the MPE communities I am involved with are full of many who haven’t been as fortunate. I was though. I feel blessed and I hope and pray that my story inspires an MPE, a mother, a birth father and/or a birth certificate father to be brave and accepting of their truth should they find themselves in a similar situation.