As the years wore on, my curiosity about my biological Father would sometimes get the best of me. I would ask my Mom questions about who he was and what he looked like. I started to build a picture of an olive skinned man, balding, possibly Greek. I decided that name Joesph meant his ancestors were likely Christian, narrowing my ancestral map a bit.
I start daydreaming again, this time about a big family. A room full of people pleasantly surprised to know I exist. A grandmother overjoyed to have another grandchild. I bring myself down by worrying that they’ll want nothing to do with me. I’ll be an intrusion. A pale outsider who has no place.
Meanwhile, I make the decision to send my DNA sample to 23andme. If I can’t have a father, at least I’ll know my ethnicity and carrier status for diseases. I spit an unreasonable amount of saliva into a tube and send it to California. I check my email every day, waiting for updates as my DNA travels through the various stages at the lab. As my DNA gets closer to the final stage, I start checking my email compulsively.
Every 10 minutes.
Every 5 minutes.
Unceremoniously, the results appear in my inbox- a single innocuous line on the screen of my phone. I’m teaching a class of 3rd graders how to paint in a public school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They are busy working on masterpieces, I have just 5 minutes. I should wait till I get home and can hold my husband’s hand. I could find out that I’m a carrier for an awful disease. The gravity of this knowledge could change my life. This is not an appropriate time to read the results, there are 24 students in the room.
I click the link anyway.
I’m English/Irish. Right, right.
I’m French/German. Really? Huh.
I’m Middle Eastern.
I text my husband. He’s excited, starts making jokes about my love of hummus and garlic. Wants to know if I’m Armenian, like him. Nope. Lebanese or maybe Syrian.
There’s one more thing.
I have a DNA match to a first cousin.
He urges me to reach out. I hesitate. What if my Dad has a wife and 4 kids in a colonial in the burbs? What if I’m the result of an extra-marital affair that could destroy their relationship? What if my cousin wants to protect him?
My husband insists that I reach out. I craft a simple message. “Hello. I see we’re first cousins. I don’t know much about my family (just a little white lie). Can you help me?”
She wrote back within hours and I Facebook stalk her. She has big eyes and dark hair. Not a perfect match, but not too big of a stretch. She’s lives in Norway. What’s she doing in Norway?
She’s excited, friendly, and willing to help. There must be a family secret, she speculates.
I offer a little more. “My mom got pregnant in Calgary in 1982. The guys name was Joe. Do you have an uncle Joe?”
She writes back. “HOLY SHIT YOU’RE CRAZY UNCLE JOE’S KID! I thought it might be him!” The dam which has held back the truth of my father breaks and it all rushes down at once. There is no going back.
I have 10 Aunts and 1 Uncle.
They have kids. Their kids have kids. I have a shit ton of relatives.
I am overwhelmed with this information, it’s more than I could have ever hoped for.
“Oh right!” she shares. “You have 2 brothers and a sister!”
My (new) cousin Nita starts casting the nets. It all happens rapidly. She calls her parents, who tell the siblings. She connects me with my half siblings on Facebook messenger.
24 hours later, I’m on a video chat with my 3 half siblings. When their faces pop up on tiles on my computer screen, I see myself in their dark hair, big eyes, and prominent noses. They ask about the DNA. I explain how the first cousin match means that Anita’s Uncle has to be my Father. They are not entirely surprised at this new revelation, it seems our Father has a bit of a history. We go on for a few days, learning about each others lives, families, histories, and careers. I have nieces and nephews that bear resemblance to my own children. I have people.
My sister reaches out to our father and gives him the news. “He should know,” She reasons. He doesn’t want to talk right now, he’s tired, she tells me. I don’t mind, as I’ve always known he existed, but he’s just learned of me.
The next day, my biological father is ready to meet over video call. I’ve been told he has Parkinson’s and recently suffered a broken bone. He’s frail.
His face appears on my screen and I search for a resemblance in his face. His eyes are large, his teeth are crooked and he looks older than his 72 years. “Tell me about the DNA,” he demands. I explain it the way you might to a child. “Nita and I share 12% of our DNA. She’s my cousin for sure, and not on my moms side. We don’t share maternal DNA. My Dad has to be her Uncle. You’ve only got one brother, and he wasn’t in Calgary in 1982. You were. My Mom says my Dad’s name is Joe.”
Joe asks a few more questions about the timing, but he doesn’t deny it. I show him a picture of my Mom from the 80’s, which jogs his memory. “Oh yes” he recalls, “I remember your Mother.”