CURIOUS. RESILIENT. CHEERFUL.
Being a lifelong genealogist, I was super excited to DNA test at Ancestry. When I got my results back in September 2012, I didn’t notice anything unusual. At the time, the ethnicity estimates had very little specificity so they didn’t tell me much more than I was European, which was exactly what I was expecting. Back then, there was no way to see how you were related to your DNA matches. The “Shared Matches” button didn’t exist. Only when I got my BCF to DNA test did it become obvious that he wasn’t my biological father. He wasn’t on my DNA match list.
My parents had a pretty unhappy 32 year marriage which was periodically punctuated by separations; one separation directly before I was conceived in January of 1964. My parents were good people just not well suited to each other. My mother was a vivacious, detail-oriented, extrovert with leadership skills for days. My dad was a laid-back introvert that was happiest at home, watching a football game on TV. How they ever thought a marriage would work is beyond me. Still, they tried. And to their credit, after their divorce, they worked at remaining good friends. The two of them always had an open invitation at my house and most Saturdays they’d be over, together, enjoying time with my family. When I went back to work, they scheduled school pick-ups and practice drop off for my kids. Whatever was needed, they were there for me. I was fortunate to be so well loved.
When I failed to DNA match my dad, my mother told me the test was wrong, as many mothers do. A few weeks later she confessed that during a separation, she had dated a guy from Massachusetts. It was nothing serious. She told me he was in construction material sales and he went home on weekends. At first, she couldn’t remember his name. I kept pressing. How could she remember where he lived, his work schedule, and not his name? It was infuriating but I tried to remain calm and kind. My mom was 75 years old and wasn’t in good health. I didn’t want to upset or hurt her. I didn’t want to upset or hurt my dad. I didn’t want to upset or hurt anyone. I just wanted the truth.
My mom gave me a made-up name. I know she made it up because it’s the name of someone kind of famous that she’d heard of but didn’t know; someone with an usual name. She then made me promise I wouldn’t tell my dad. I wouldn’t have dreamed of telling him anyway. He was 79 years old and he too was in poor health.
I lost my mom in that first year of my search; my dad eleven months later. And I spent every spare, waking moment searching for my natural dad. I was completely obsessed. For years. My search for my natural father ate my life.
Search Angels and others offer to help people with misattributed paternity because it’s like a fun puzzle to solve but no one was going to help me and my lousy fourth cousin and further DNA matches. It’s just way too much work. I would have to do the way-too-much-work myself. So I did.
When I wasn’t working on my own mystery parent case, I was solving cases for people with better DNA matches than I had. Working on solving my paternity was frustrating but it didn’t feel fruitless. As I created family trees for my DNA matches, I was learning about my family; from past to present. I was learning the names and stories of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I was finding in-common ancestors. Eventually, my ancestors led me to my father. I just had to learn how to listen to them.
During these years, I built over 140 trees for my DNA matches. I also got a couple of people to DNA test for me to help me piece it together. Eventually, I narrowed my father search down to a pair of brothers. I wasn’t sure which one of the two brothers was my father, but I knew for certain that their parents were my grandparents. I was 100% sure of this.
I chose to send a letter to the younger of the two brothers because he seemed kind and he had a greater public presence due to his charity work. I sent the letter with a couple of photos of me and my daughters explaining my search for my father. I could only hope he’d reply.
A scant few days later, I checked my DNA matches at Ancestry and the brother I had sent the letter to was at the top of my DNA match list. I got a Parent/Child DNA match with him! He was my natural father! Boom. Mystery solved! I couldn’t believe the universe had just handed the answer to me while I was waiting for a reply to my letter.
My natural dad called later that day. He had received the letter but he hadn’t seen his DNA results at Ancestry. He called to tell me that he thought I must be his brother’s child as he didn’t remember being in Maine in January of 1964. But in conversation, he said that yes, he actually did have a sales job that took him to Maine, and yes, that job was in construction and yes, he had this job in 1964, and yes he went home to Massachusetts on the weekends. He said je didn’t remember my mother’s name. I told him it was okay as she didn’t remember his either.
For about an hour, we had a lovely chat. He told me stories about his life, my grandparents, and he complimented the beauty of my daughters, his grandchildren. “Of course they’re beautiful, they’re McBriartys!” he said. I thought he was kind, funny, and an entertaining storyteller. He said I did the right thing by letting him know about my existence. I told him that I didn’t want anything but a chance to meet him. Once. I wanted to see him in person. Of course, I’d have loved to have a relationship with him. Heck, I have enough love in my heart for TEN dads but I’m willing to meet people where they’re at. No pressure. My parents adored me. Adored. I expected that eventually, he’d at least like me. What’s not to like? I’m a nice, funny lady that wants nothing from a dad but to hear family stories and look at old photos. Isn’t this every old man’s dream?
He told me that he’d was very worried how his wife and daughter would take the news of me. He hadn’t been married when he and my mother got together, but he had been engaged to his wife. I told him that surely he had proven his wonderfulness to his family in the half-century since he last laid eyes on my mother. He reiterated his concern several times. He told me that I had years to digest that my father wasn’t my father and that he’d need some time to adjust to having another daughter. I said that I understood, because I did. And we said goodbye.
I was pretty sure I’d never hear from him again. Two days later, his DNA test disappeared from Ancestry. I was completely ghosted. A couple of months later I wrote one more letter reiterating that I didn’t want anything at all from him. I just wanted to meet him. Have lunch. One hour. I would sign any document he wanted stating the purity of my intentions.
I heard nothing back.
As you can imagine, the rejection was painful. Four years of ceaseless work and not even enough kindness in his heart to tell me to get lost.
I had friends tell me I should fly cross-country and confront him. That’s just something I would never do. My two main objectives in my search was to discover the identity of my natural father and to thank him for making my life possible. I got exactly that. Nothing more; nothing less. Still, I felt…invalidated. I had experienced an enormous, life changing event; something that had changed the very foundation of my identity. I needed to find ways to generate my own validation. So, that’s what I set out to do.
I wanted to be called by my biological surname, the one I had worked so hard to discover. So, I legally changed my name. I discarded my middle name; replaced it with my former maiden name, the one that belonged to my BCF dad, and took my natural father’s surname as my own: McBriarty.
I told my story. For a time, I blogged about my DNA discovery. It was cathartic to write about my truth openly and to meet others that were going through or had gone through the same experience. I took it down to work on turning it into a book; if only for my own enjoyment. I think creating some kind of art is helpful in processing complicated emotions.
And I continue to work on my family tree. I can’t think of anything more healing and validating than to learn about my ancestors. I’ve been extremely fortunate to find cousins that have embraced me and share photos and stories of my dad and my family with me. One cousin shared a video of him so I did get to “see” my dad as if I were in the room with him. One branch of cousins invited me to a family reunion in Canada. Attending and being considered as one of their own has been incredibly healing.
Recently, I learned that my natural father passed away. While I mourn what could have been, I also feel a deep sense of relief. I no longer have to keep hoping for acceptance. I’ve accepted what is. Now, I’m free.