Justin Jenkins


I have been staring at this blank page for far too long trying to decide how to tell my story. I am not a writer, a storyteller, and honestly, I cannot even deliver a good punchline at the end of a joke. So, I have decided to start where all stories start, at the beginning.

Unlike many other stories here I was extremely fortunate to have grown up in a loving and supportive home. I grew up poor, but looking back I did not realize or even care. In many ways it was a benefit because it allowed us to live next to my grandparents. We lived in an old singlewide trailer that my grandparents allowed my parents to place on their land. This made my family remarkably close as we would often have dinner as a large family, and I spent lots of time at my grandparents’ house. My mother was very affectionate and loving. My father traveled for work and was often gone for weeks at a time. He was also loving and playful yet had a short temper that plagued many young men of his generation as I was born just after his 20th birthday. To be clear he never abused me, and generally was a great dad, but he was the primary disciplinarian in our home and paired with his prolonged absences caused us to have a strained relationship in my younger years. My mother aided in this image by always reiterating the saying “just wait till your father gets home.”

As I grew up my father got a job as a ranch hand. His boss, let us call him Tom, and his family were my mother’s old family friends. In fact, Tom’s wife, let us call her Betty, babysat my mother growing up. Tom and Betty had two daughters. They were both older than me, by eleven and six years, respectively. We would often do fun things together including family outings and dinners. The younger of the two daughters would even babysit me. I spent a lot of time at their house. One spring, a tornado tore the roof off our home (not the trailer luckily as we had moved into a small home when I turned six). During the time our home was being repaired we stayed with Tom and his family. I remember having a wonderful time in their home as I was an only child and like most only children always wanted a sibling. Living there made me feel like I had a sister. As time went on my father changed jobs again and the time we spent with Tom and his family diminished, but I could always count on Tom to send me Christmas and birthday gifts.

In my teen years the relationship with my father became further strained when at fifteen years old I discovered I had a half sister who was in my grade and had attended school with me since kindergarten. For most of you who went to a “normal sized” school this may not seem like a huge deal, but I lived in a town where the population sign read 536. There were thirty-two kids in my entire grade. To say we knew everyone well would be an understatement. I had always wanted a sibling, so to find out I was intentionally denied the sibling I begged for my entire childhood was devastating. My parents tried twice more after me, but one child, a boy passed in the womb, and the other, a girl, was born with a genetic defect that caused her to pass eleven days after birth. As you can imagine that was immensely hard on all of us, but especially my mother and they decided not to try again. Slowly as the years passed, my new sister and I bonded and the relationship my father and I shared repaired itself.

When I hit my late teens through my early twenties my mother began experiencing severe mental health issues. She began hearing auditory hallucinations and became extremely paranoid of everyone around her including my father and me. At multiple times in her life since, she has needed to be placed in an inpatient care facility. It is something she still battles with today, but with proper medication she manages well. Through intense and frequent therapy, we learned that her condition was a result of past traumas she endured. We learned that she had been abused in every way a person can be, beginning early in her childhood and lasting through much of her teen years. The abuser had been her stepfather. I also learned that at fifteen it became so bad that she left home and moved in with Tom and Betty for a while.

Let us fast forward to my adult years. At thirty-two I have a family of my own, an amazing wife and two wonderful kids. For Christmas one year my wife wanted to take a DNA test. After buying her one I thought it would be fun to do it together, but I was in for a surprise. We took them together and waited. What was waiting for me was shocking. When I read the results, I saw two oddities. Someone who I shared a lot of DNA with, but whom I did not know and Tom’s youngest daughter, the one who babysat me as a kid. Now, I have always had an affinity for science, it along with math were the only two subjects I enjoyed. I ended up graduating with a bachelor’s in microbiology. My degree included several genetics classes, so I did not need to research what it meant when I saw we shared over 1400 cM’s. It instantly hit me like a ton of bricks. She was without a doubt my half-sister!

I did, however, immediately draw the wrong conclusion from this news. My father had already hidden one sibling from me for half my life. Why not another? I of course was thinking rashly at the time as my father would have had to be fourteen when she was conceived. No, what I quickly figured out was that Tom, the family friend I had known all my life, was my biological father. I called my parents and made plans to have dinner with them the following night and with my wife by my side we had the most awkward and emotional family conversation of our lives. I learned that my mother was not only abused by her stepfather beginning at a young age, but by Tom as well beginning at the age of eleven. He was twenty-two at the time and she saw him as something of a savior protecting her from her stepfather who was far crueler. Their relationship continued through her teen years and into her early twenties when I was conceived.

Furthermore, I learned that Tom was a serial child molester. He had not only abused my mother, but his half-sister in their childhood, and one of my father’s younger cousins when she was twelve. Of course, those are only the ones I know of. I also learned that my father, who raised me was completely in the dark throughout my childhood, only learned the truth when I was twenty-one during one of my mother’s episodes where she let it slip. But, he wasn’t sure if it was the truth since it was difficult to know what was true and what was a lie when my mother was in that state of mind. At this time, I was living sixteen hours away attending college, so I was oblivious to the chaos going on in their home. All I knew was my mother was ill again and my father was having a very difficult time which I contributed to the strain of caring for my mother.

After the initial shock wore off, I made a call to the sister I had known and built a relationship with for the last seventeen years and planned a dinner with her and her family to tell them the news that although I would always consider her my sister, even if by blood we never truly were. Yet another hard and emotional conversation, but as we were both innocent of the circumstances, this one somehow seemed easier. My sister and I continue to have a good relationship to this day.

The feelings I had towards my mother at this time were intense, yet confusing. While I logically could understand she was a victim in most regards I could still not help feeling extreme resentment towards her for lying to me my entire life and for denying me another part of my family, especially my two sisters. Not only that but knowing she never would have told me if I had not found out myself made me irrationally angry. Looking back now it is easy to see why she did it. My biological father was eleven years older, married and had two daughters. To top it off Betty was, and continues to be, her good friend. My mother was twenty-two, single and had a newborn. I am amazed I was born at all or that I had not been relinquished for adoption. She and my father were taking a break at the time. Once I was born however, she told him I was his and they got back together. Yes, it was pure manipulation as she has always known the truth, but she had to be completely terrified.

Now it is time to circle back to the other person the DNA results turned up. We shared even more DNA in common than I did with my half-sister, but not enough to be a parent so I knew it was not Tom using a pseudonym. This one was male. I knew Tom did not claim to have a son, but this clearly had to be another child he conceived in a similar fashion. The person did not have a picture or age attached to their profile so I carefully wrote them a message knowing I could be about to turn their life upside down as mine just was. I included my email and phone number. It was not long before I received a call from a strange number that was from out of state. After I said hello the voice that responded was clearly much older, elderly in fact. I was expecting a brother, but what I got was a grandfather! I know you think it was Tom’s dad, but you would be wrong. It was my mother’s true biological father. She grew up thinking a certain man was her father, but it turned out my grandmother had an affair as well. Yes, from one DNA test we received not one, but two unexpected biological fathers!

Through this entire process it turned out so many people knew about my true parentage and when speaking to them I always got similar responses. The two most common were “it wasn’t my place,” and “it wasn’t my story to tell.” They always followed up with “it doesn’t change anything.” This last statement was of course dead wrong. I really got tired of hearing those old worn-out lines. It changed so much for me, specifically how I perceived myself. If you are not in a similar situation, I understand it’s hard to grasp why it is so life changing, but it does change things, dramatically. I felt lost and that some fundamental part of my identity had been stolen from me. It is difficult enough accepting that the man who you considered your father for thirty-two years was not, at least by blood. Then that branches out to everyone on his side. My favorite uncle and my last living grandparents. None of them were actually related to me. It just made my resentment grow. After learning about my biological grandfather, I knew I was not going to be like my mother or those people who knew my story but refused to share. I asked my mother directly if our situations would have been reversed and she had a father she did not know about would she have wanted to know. She infuriatingly told me yes, and even though she denied me the same right, I told her right then and there about her dad.

I have known the truth for nearly four years now and unfortunately my family dynamic on my biological father’s side does not have a happy ending. Tom was a monster, maybe he still is. The truth is I do not know, because we have not spoken since I learned the truth. The sad fact is, that even knowing his history does not make my desire to meet and learn more about him diminish. I wrote him an email and a letter letting him know I had learned the truth and that I would like to meet and talk, but he has rejected all attempts at communication. The crazy thing about all this is we were family friends. I grew up knowing him well and I only saw the good side of him. He always seemed great, and I was treated like his favorite nephew growing up. The relationship with my two half-sisters is not much better. Neither of them spares me a thought. They will respond to me when I reach out and it is a necessity, but neither of them has ever once taken the initiative to reach out to me. Not to talk, invite me for a visit, or even to wish me a happy birthday. We do not have any semblance of a relationship. Not even the one who I considered a friend growing up. The fact that I knew them all so well growing up makes this whole thing that much more emotionally difficult and hard to wrap my brain around.

My mother’s journey has a better ending. My grandfather is now eighty-four and his wife passed about a decade ago. He never told her about the affair which is why he never reached out to my mother whom he knew was his. He has wanted nothing more than to get to know my mother and include her in his life. He is kind to me, but his focus is on his child and catching up on the 56 years he missed with her. He also has two daughters, who are about a decade older than my mother. Neither of them knew about my mother or the affair. One has welcomed us both with open arms and is possibly the sweetest woman you have ever met. The other is more reserved and is only cordial when we get together at my grandfather’s house. She refuses to let us meet her daughter, my cousin who lives out of state. Hopefully, she just needs more time.

The relationship I have with the man who raised me, my father, is better than ever. He struggled seemingly as much as I did after the facts were confirmed, but as we both have grown older and grown emotionally, we have bonded more than ever. My feelings towards my mother have shifted and changed over time from all these experiences and sometimes it still just depends upon the day how I feel, but she is still my mother, and she loves me. I know she never intended to hurt me, and she regrets it deeply. She thought she was doing what was best for me at the time. She is about the greatest grandmother to my children I could ask for. I am slowing allowing myself to forgive. I cannot change what is, but I can focus on the positives and do my best to have an optimistic perspective moving forward.