It is an unsettling thing to reach the age of sixty-something and then discover that your father — the man you called “dad” all your life — is probably not your biological father, after all.
About six months ago I had my DNA analyzed by ancestry (dot) com. Their analysis report comes with a percentage breakdown of your racial heritage.
According to my online research, ancestry’s DNA analysis is reliably accurate. But when I received my profile I was shocked to discover that my dad’s racial heritage isn’t there!
The maternal side of my father’s family is proudly German. His mother’s maiden name is a well-known German name. But there is no German in my racial profile.
My dad’s father was said to be half African-American. My paternal great-grandmother was black. This means my dad should have been 1/4 black, and I should be 1/8 black.
But in my DNA profile there is less than a 1% trace of Nigerian. A comment attached to my profile states that the Nigerian trace is so small it may be a fluke, a genetic anomaly of some kind. In other words, I may not actually have any African DNA at all.
Which doesn’t make sense! If my dad’s paternal grandmother was 100% African, then I ought to have 12.5% African DNA. If she was only half African, I still should be 6.25% African. Even if she was only 1/4 black, I should still be 3.125% African-American.
But I have less than a 1% trace of African Nigerian DNA, such a minuscule amount that it may be a “fluke.” And I have no German DNA at all, despite my German paternal grandmother and all my German uncles and German cousins.
Of course, we loose a random 50% of our ancestor’s DNA with each generation, so it is possible for entire races to eventually disappear from your genetic line. But what are the odds that both my dad’s maternal German heritage and his paternal African heritage would disappear by more than 99% from my DNA profile? I’m no genetic scientist, but I don’t think it’s very likely.
For most of my life, I have felt like an outsider in my family of origin. Mainly because, for most of my life, I have been treated like an outsider by my family of origin.
I don’t look like the rest of my family, either. I am much taller than my mother and my sisters. I am also the only one in my entire family who, to my knowledge, has my ultra-rare AB negative blood type. I believe I am also the only one in my immediate family with a very high IQ. (That is, my IQ was extremely high — 156, as tested by Mensa — before a couple of hard concussions and one mild mini-stroke — Transient Ischemic Attack — put a damper on my “genius.”)
I am also the only one in my family with my alien-looking eyes. My strange eyes are aqua, or turquoise, with a much darker turquoise ring around the iris. My mother’s eyes are gray. My dad’s (if he was my dad) were blue. I have siblings with blue eyes and siblings with gray eyes. But no one in my family of origin has turquoise eyes.
And then there are my zillions of freckles. No one else in my immediate family are cursed with so many freckles, although my dad’s mother was freckled, so I always assumed I got them from her.
When I was a little girl, my mother often told me stories about a boyfriend she had before she met my dad. In her dreamy romantic stories, this old boyfriend was the love of her life. My mother even told the little-girl-me that she wished she had married her wonderful boyfriend, instead of my father.
When I was around four or five years old my parents had a terrible fight, much worse than their normal fights. A few days later, while Dad was at work, my mother told me we were going to visit the old boyfriend she had told me so many stories about.
We drove and drove, then finally came to a stop in front of a small white and blue house. A very tall man came out of the house and walked across the yard to our car.
My mother and the man stared at each other for a long moment. Then the man said, “You look good.”
He glanced down at me, then back up at my mother. “That’s a pretty little girl you have,” he said. “She looks like you.”
“No,” my mother said. “She looks like you.”
When my mother told a man I had never seen before that I looked like him, I was shocked. I didn’t know anything about sex or paternity when I was that young, so my shock had nothing to do with wondering if he was my biological father.
But I was shocked because he was a man and he was very tall. I was a girl and I was very short. How could she say that I looked like him? I looked nothing like a man, especially one who towered over my mom!
We went inside the man’s house and there was another little girl sitting on the sofa. She was blonde like me, but she was smaller, maybe one or two years younger.
The man told the other little girl to take me outside to play in her sandbox. I obediently followed her through the kitchen and out the back door. The little girl seemed upset by her dad telling us to go outside. We don’t even know each other and we are supposed to play together? seemed to be her attitude.
We sat silently in the sandbox, digging tunnels in the sand, for what seemed like a long time. Then the back door opened and my mother came rushing out of the house, alone. She had a tight, pinched look on her face.
“Come on, Linda, we’re going,” she said.
My mother was silent all the way back home. She never told me stories about her wonderful old boyfriend again.
About twenty years later, I worked up the courage to ask my mother about that memory. Why did she tell her old boyfriend that I looked like him?
My mother looked shocked. Then she told me, in a defensive tone, that it hadn’t happened, I must have dreamed it.
Less than two minutes later, though, my mother turned to me and said, with a shaking voice: “You know, Linda, sometimes your memory really scares me!”
Although I was in my mid-twenties at the time, I did not have the nerve to ask my mother what she meant by that. WHY did she say that my memory scared her, when moments before she had told me my memory was incorrect? I knew my mother would become furious if I were to ask her a question that made it clear I thought she was lying. She would call it “backtalk,” which was something she never tolerated, no matter how old I got.
Until a few years ago, it was more important for me to try to have a relationship with my mother, than to be honest about my thoughts and feelings and memories. But I always knew that I did not “dream” the memory of going to see her old boyfriend and hearing my mother tell him that I looked like him.
Maybe because of my high IQ, I have a lot of detailed, early childhood memories that my mother would rather I forget. I even remember the first and last name of the man my mother and I went to see almost sixty years ago. She had told me so many stories about him prior to that day, it would be hard for me not to remember his name.
I recently looked that name up online. He is apparently still alive and still living in the same state where he lived all those years ago. His age was listed as 79. (My mother is 80.)
You know how White Pages often lists the names of other people that a person “may be associated with”? The name of a woman came up. When I Googled her name I discovered that she is a year younger than me. So she may be the little girl I remember who reluctantly shared her sandbox with me all those years ago.
I also discovered that she is a genetic scientist. Which I find amazing, as I have long been fascinated by genetic science. In fact, one of the two main characters in the novel I wrote fifteen years ago is a genetic scientist.
White Pages gave me the name of a young woman who “may be associated with” the genetic scientist. This younger woman is the right age to possibly be her daughter.
I looked up the younger woman and found pictures. To my shock, she looks eerily like me. Her face is shaped like mine. She has the same thick, curly, wild reddish-blonde hair. When I enlarge her pictures, it even looks like she has a lot of freckles hidden under makeup.
But the most amazing similarity is her eyes! Her eyes are aqua-turquoise, with a much darker turquoise ring around the iris. Her eyes are my eyes!
Is that young woman my half-niece? Is her mother, the genetic scientist, my half-sister?
Here is the larger question I have been mulling over for the past six months: Do I reach out to this 79-year-old man and ask him if he could be my father? Do I reach out to the genetic scientist who is one year younger than me, and tell her this story?
Do I want to risk turning these people’s lives upside-down when it may not even be true that we are genetically related?
I have also been asking myself this: with my history of trauma and the stigma of my Complex PTSD “mental illness,” how are these people going to feel if they discover we’re related?
I am really not up for being rejected all over again by a whole other family of origin!
Also… even if this man is my biological father…. so what? My mother introduced him to me more than half a century ago. She told him then that I look like him. If it was within the realm of possibility that I could be his daughter, he would have known that when we met.
And… if he had cared enough to be part of my life, then somewhere along the line he would have sought me out.
I think I will leave things as they are.
But…. here we are in the middle of the holiday season. Christmas in this country is mostly about Family and Joyful Reunions. All that mushy, Hallmark Special, fairy tale stuff.
I wish…. I wish….
PS: After reading this, my husband suggested that I send a Christmas card to the man who may be my father, enclosing a picture of me with a close-up of my face and eyes, along with a note saying that I believe my mother took me to see him years ago when I was a little girl. But… the man is close to eighty. I don’t want to give him a heart attack! (Update added December 19, 2015: I looked up the name of this man on White Pages again and he is now eighty.)
Anyway, regardless of who my biological father is, I know who my Heavenly Father is.
So, the answer to my “Who Am I” question is:
I am ME. 🙂
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