HONESTY. FORGIVENESS. GRATITUDE.
What makes you…you? What shapes your identity? There are many answers to this question, but I’m going to focus on one that I think is under-appreciated. In 2018, at the age of 45, my identity was upended. In an instant, my life would have a before and an after.
“Predicted relationship – half brother.” Those were the words I read when I opened up my 23 and Me app to compare my brother’s results with my own.
Unlike many people who have this experience, I instantly knew what it meant and didn’t question the accuracy or validity of the results. It immediately made sense of my life and my deeply held internal feelings. An author I’ve read expresses it as having a feeling of ‘other-ness.’ In very real ways, I always had a feeling of being ‘out of place’ and like I didn’t quite belong somehow. Those words…”predicted relationship – half brother” meant that I was 45 years old, and did not know who my father was.
Over the course of the following week, my brother and I speculated who it might be; who was around us as kids. After a week, I told him I was driving out the next day so we could talk to mom.
My brother and I were raised by a single mother, who alone, along with our church family, raised us to be strong, independent, educated, hard-working, faith-filled people. She struggled to provide, but she did it. If our lives are a judge of her life’s work, I think you’d have to render a more than a successful verdict.
I’m also a happily married man with a wife who has been very supportive through this entire process. And I have 4 beautiful children I love more than life. In spite of all of this, in making this discovery, I became unmoored. I did not know who I was; who made me. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t fully recognize myself. The most basic parts of my life story were no longer true.
As I was told my father’s name, I learned he was alive; a little about who he was; and that he had 3 children. I had more brothers and a sister. It’s amazing how quickly you can find information about people online when you really want to know.
I never had a father in my life, and now as I learned this truth, I was intent on making sure that as little time as possible passed before we met. And so 17 days after my discovery, I sat down at a restaurant table with my father. It was a surreal 2 hours that included some laughter, tears, awkwardness, questions and good conversation. Those moments are forever etched in my mind. During our visit, that feeling of ‘other-ness’…like I didn’t quite belong in some way…disappeared. Many of the feelings of not knowing why I was a certain way…felt answered.
We continued to meet together for dinners over the next several months. They are cherished memories I will always have, of just getting to know each other, and I hope those can continue for some time. Eventually, he agreed to share this news with his other two living children…my sister and my brother.
About 13 months after my discovery, I sat in my father’s home and met my family I didn’t know existed for the first 45 years of my life. We talked, laughed and shed a few tears for several hours that day. We shared photographs and stories. Words can’t describe how happy and grateful I was to see the burden of this secret lifted off my father’s shoulders. It was palpable and something I will never forget.
Genetic connection and identity are inseparable. Please read that sentence again. I believe this to be an irrefutable truth that has profound implications. Those who have not experienced this could never fully comprehend it. I feel like I could have been a human experiment in the debate of nature versus nurture. Think about your mannerisms, appearance, your laugh, manner of speaking, aspects of personality, the way you walk, things you like and dislike…to name just a few…all more highly connected to genetics than I think people realize. Not seeing that genetic connection in your life has implications.
Though challenging, my journey has been a profound blessing for which I’m profoundly grateful. Not everyone is so lucky. I am grateful to my father, my sister, my brother, and other new family for warmly and graciously accepting me into their lives. The day my brother and sister learned of my existence, they immediately told their children. I broke down in tears in my office at work when I was told they did that. That decision said all I needed to know about the kind of people they are. Though COVID has interrupted some of our opportunities to get together, I cherish every time we are able to be together.
Learning you are a 45-year secret is hard. Learning you are no longer a secret was healing beyond belief. Maybe that’s part of why sharing my story matters to me.
Early in my journey, I discovered a photograph of my grandfather and it was life-altering. I got chills as I saw myself in a photograph of someone else. It sealed that sense of belonging. When I met my brother and sister, the family had put together a collage of photographs they found of me on Facebook alongside photos of our grandfather. That genetic connection in physical appearance has also been a profound part of my journey.
My journey is still active. I continue to grow my relationship with my ‘new’ family. And I appreciate them and their presence in my life. All I know is that I have a father, brother, sister, nieces, nephews, and cousins who all live less than 90 minutes away. I am immeasurably thankful to my Father in Heaven for learning this and for having them as part of my life.
My message to others is we are all human. Good people, even great one’s, make mistakes. But every human being and child of God has a fundamental right to know who they are…who made them. That truth, whether known or unknown, helps form your identity. I believe it is best for people to learn of their origins from those closest to them. And if you are ever on the receiving end of a contact from someone in my situation, please think of that person searching for answers that only you can provide.
Family secrets damage lives and cause pain. The lack of awareness of the truth of one’s biological heritage is psychologically damaging in ways that are not easy to explain, but trust me, it’s real…even when you aren’t consciously aware of it. In today’s technologically advanced world, if you are the keeper of a secret like this, the question to ask yourself is not ‘will they find out?’ The question is ‘from whom will they find out?’ If you carry a similar secret, they should learn it from you.