If you read my entries from a few years back when I posted My Story, you're well aware that I grew up not knowing my dad, never seeing a picture and not really sure if the stories I'd been told were 100% grounded in reality. I looked a few times to see if I could find a trail that would lead to him and came up empty every time. Because of how the story played out and my father's age, I kind of always assumed he was married and if I found him I'd be in the middle of a sibling group and enter into someone else's story in not the best of circumstances. The searches only produced 100 men with the same name and in the same age bracket as my father. It wasn't helpful. This was in the days before the internet, when you had to use the phone book or know vital information to ask the bureau of vital statistics for documents. About a decade ago, I hired a professional to search for me and she went so far as to tell me she thought I'd been lied to because she couldn't find anything.
I had a name. I had a home state. And, I had an age range. Oh, and that he was good looking, tall and a great dancer (essential information for one to help find their parent).
With increasing age and children, I thought more and more about the importance of family health history. I've also just been more curious about who I look like, where my traits come from, do my children have any of my dad in them, etc... At the same time, I also kind of gave up hope of any relationship with family on my dad's side.
This last Christmas I asked Rhett if we could do the ancestry.com DNA test and get my health information and heritage. It never occurred to me that there would be matches from my dad's family on the site. I don't know why, perhaps I was just in denial, but I had ZERO expectations.
I sent in my saliva sample on December 2nd. On January 6th I got an email. Not only was my ethnic heritage a shocker to me, but I had over 300 DNA matches (other people who have taken the test with Ancestry.com) and two of those were as close as 1st or 2nd cousins. I have two first cousins on my mom's side. I know who they are. I know there names. I click on the matches. The last name - the same as my dad's.
What the what?!?!
I looked at Rhett and said half in shock, "I think we might be able to find my dad..."
We spent about 30 hours working the family tree for possible ways these matches connected to me through their family line (a second cousin could actually be a 1st cousin removed). Finally, we found him. Then the question was if he was still living. It took about an hour to find the obituary. It listed three children and their spouses. We admittedly Facebook and Internet stalked them. "Do I look like them?" "Are there pictures of them with their, or I guess "my" dad?'
(BTW - it still feels weird to say "my dad.")
There it was. On January 8th, on my little sister's FB page, a picture of my dad. Just like my mom described him. Curly hair, facial hair, tall, light eyed.
So, then what?!?
My fear was always to knock on a door, or dial a number and have to tell someone their dad was not who they thought he was. We looked at the ages of each of the kids and decided to FB message my brother on January 8th. January 9th, he answered. What I thought would be a bombshell was not. He was not surprised or bothered at all. We chatted for about an hour and confirmed that indeed I had the right person. The DNA matches were so close, there was really no question.
As the story unfolded, my brother and I set out to get all the siblings connected. We had an older sister no one had met. We searched for and found her. And my brother did the work of informing our younger sister that she had two sisters and that her dad had a story - about which none of us know all the details. We also have a step sister (my younger sister's half sister) who we wanted to include. The younger girls were raised by dad and knew him well in his last three decades. Their story was really important to me. Knowing him through them is really important to me.
My siblings are all scattered between Tennessee and Virginia, so we picked a middle ground and met this last weekend.
I owe my big brother and sisters so much thanks. I mentioned meeting in my first conversation with my brother. That night I was plagued by the thought he'd think I was a massive creeper. But that wasn't the case. There's never been any hesitation to think of me like family or treat me like family. Coming from my experience with my mom's family, where everyone is treated badly, all interactions are clothed in manipulation and suspicion, I almost didn't know what to do with all the kindness. The first time I talked to my big sister, we talked for an hour. It was easy. It flowed. It wasn't awkward.
Our meeting this past weekend was likewise natural, smooth, easy and really - FUN. It met all of my expectations. Someone asked me "Will you pursue a relationship with them?" The answer is "absolutely." But, I don't think I'll have to try too hard. I think we all have the same level of interest in being family - because we are. Words cannot express what that feels like for me.
I knew that I was lonely for a family (extended family) I've never had, but I didn't realize how deep that wound was. This weekend was like a healing salve on that wound. Their kindness is what really gets me. They are just good, nice, kind folks. I haven't known much niceness. If my family was nice to me - it usually meant they were sucking me in to do or say something cruel.
I'm hopeful. Hopeful for a better story for my kids than I had. Hopeful for a connection I've been missing. Hopeful for a family to love and care for in a way that wasn't accepted or appreciated in my family of origin.
Thanks to all of you who prayed for us this past weekend. I felt every prayer. And thanks to all of my friends who have stood in the gap a family was supposed to fill. You've made my heart whole and loved me so well.