I knew telling my eldest daughter, Cassandra would be uncomfortable. For me. Not her. There wasn’t a thing I could say about my mom that would change Cassandra’s feelings about her Nana. While both of my parents showered my kids with attention and affection, each had a special relationship with one of them. If my youngest daughter, Sabrina was, “Papa’s Girl,” her sister Cassandra was, “Nana’s Girl.” Through and through. She was not only named after my mother, she inherited many of my mom’s most endearing traits: a hilarious sense of humor, leadership skills for days, and a desire to counsel people through all their problems.
Cassandra was surprised at the news, though not shocked. She was in college at the time, majoring in Psych. Ever the caretaker, her first concern was wanting to know how I felt about it. I couldn’t begin to describe it all but I could start with words like grief, humiliation, fury, betrayal…. She suggested that I get therapy to help work through my feelings. Knowing I’m horrible about seeing a doctor of any kind, she made an appointment with a therapist, and she took me.
“I’m here because I recently discovered that my father isn’t my biological father,” I confessed to the therapist who sat across from me while Cassandra, seated on my left, held my hand. I had never been in therapy before and wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured it was best to give the therapist the issue and see what she could do with it. You know, like a regular doctor when you go in with a stuffy nose and a cough you can’t seem to shake.
“How did you make this discovery?” the therapist inquired.
“I took an Ancestry DNA test. I also DNA tested my dad and we didn’t share any DNA.”
“How would they know this?” the therapist asked.
“Um, its DNA. I sent in two DNA samples; mine and his. We don’t share DNA so he’s not my biological father. I also DNA tested my mom and we do share DNA in the correct range of a parent and child.”
“Huh. Well…okay,” the therapist said incredulously, as if I had told her I sent in some cereal box tops to Kellogg’s and they had given me an upsetting psychic reading.
“My mom is very distressed to learn that my grandfather isn’t her dad.” Cassandra offered, hoping to move the conversation along into a helpful direction. “And she’s been trying to figure out the identity of her biological father.”
“How could you possibly figure it out?” the therapist asked.
“With DNA. People that are related to you share segments of DNA with you. I don’t have any great DNA matches but I’m working on figuring out his identity,” I said.
The therapist sat for a moment in silence, I assumed taking it all in. She then said, “Well, really, your dad is still your dad, isn’t he? I assume he’s the man who raised you, right?”
“Yes, he did. He raised me.”
“He performed all the duties of father for you?”
“Yes, he did.”
“Was he a good father to you? Do you have issues with him?”
“No, no issues at all. He’s been a wonderful dad.”
“Then I don’t understand why you’re so upset. You have a dad.”
And so therapy session went. I was being an ungrateful person to the man that raised me, not only for actively searching for my biological father but for simply wanting to search. Beyond being perhaps the world’s worst therapist, she reiterated the same, helpful-to-no-one, knee-jerk diatribes that people with misattributed paternity or those who that were adopted have to endure; the “Your ‘real’ parents are the ones that raised you,” spiel. I don’t know what the word, “real” even means in my situation. I have three very real parents. Period. Deciding that someone is or isn’t “real” who clearly made a significant parental contribution to me being me is just nonsense. It’s not only dismissive of my feelings, it’s totally illogical; it’s a suggestion that one person can be simply and meaninglessly exchanged for another. “You have a dad, a mom, a family. What’s the difference?” The implication is that individuals in these roles are wholly unimportant as long as their filled by someone, anyone. “Didn’t you like your dad? Why would you need another one, then?” People can’t replace other people; they can only be who they are to you. Would anyone tell someone who announced they were expecting a second child, “If you loved your first child enough, you wouldn’t need another child. How do you think this makes your first child feel? Wasn’t your first child good enough for you?”
It’s the same thing.
I didn’t have the energy to defend my feelings and I didn’t see the point in paying money to argue with someone, so I quietly took the beating. I didn’t know what emotional investment this therapist had in adoption situations but clearly there was one. Had she adopted a child and was now insecure about her child wanting to know their biological parents? Maybe. Probably. I could see someone being supportive or even neutral about someone else searching for a bio parent, but I’ve yet to see anyone argue that a desire to know your own parent is inherently wrong without them speaking from an insecurity about a birth situation close to them. When would it not be operating from a self-serving desire to gate-keep adults from contact with own parents? What’s the thing this person fears losing here anyway? Whatever her ‘real’ issue was, something was definitely off with her.
“Wow. She sucked. I’m really sorry, mama,” Cassandra said as we walked to the car. Truthfully, I deeply appreciated her effort. Cassandra had made this appointment because she loved me and was trying to help. The words of the therapist didn’t hurt me; they pissed me off. Royally. You can tell me I shouldn’t wear flip-flops to the party, or that my handwriting is a mess, and that I really do need to move the furniture to vacuum properly, but my feelings? I get to decide those. One-hundred percent of the time. If anything, the reaction of the therapist made me more determined to figure it out. Her dismissive attitude was like putting gas on a fire. I was going to figure out who my biological father was no matter what or how long it took. And I realized that I sure as hell didn’t need anyone’s validation to do it, either.
It was probably a good thing I was all fired up because when Mark Timmons’ DNA test results came in a few days later, I learned he wasn’t a DNA match. And if Mark didn’t DNA match me, it was pretty certain I wasn’t a Timmons from Massachusetts. Oh, I could keep at it and blindly test another Timmons but I would likely be just continuing to guess. I didn’t want to keep blindly guessing. I needed to at least work in the direction of solving it. Still, it was obvious there wasn’t going to be a quick and dirty shortcut for me. No easy solve here. I was going to have to learn how to solve my paternity the hard way. With fourth cousin DNA matches.
What’s the range of grandparents 4th cousins share? Great-great-great ones. I figured that would put my DNA connection to these 4th cousin matches around 1790-1810-ish. That’s a lot of distance.
It was time to get busy.
Perpetually curious. I love history, genealogy, old movies, good books, all sorts of music, and adventures involving travel. In my spare time, I help admin a genetic genealogy Facebook page for CeCe Moore ("DNA Detectives") and coach people how to connect with their biological family using DNA.