A couple of things kept me from writing blog posts over the last few weeks. One is my DNA test. I had it done through Ancestry.com, after a lot of thought. Actually, what I really did was purchase the test then let it sit in a drawer for almost a year. And not because I forgot it. I just didn’t want to find out that my mom and stepfather were wrong.
When I was fifteen and feeling pretty smug about who I was, my folks broke the news that my biological cocktail wasn’t made in-house. They were in the middle of a nasty divorce, and I’m pretty sure my brother and I were being asked to choose sides. I chose my father’s side (and I use that term loosely) because we’d always been closer. He’d spent more time with me and accepted my emerging personality of follower and worshiper. It was many years later when I truly acknowledged the costs associated with that relationship. That is another story.
My mother did offer to name my biological father. She did offer a bridge over the chasm of reserve and divorce, but I was angry at the time and unwilling to allow a newcomer into my tiny circle of chaos. We left that subject behind us, like a condemned building, and never returned.
We did keep a line of communication open throughout the years. It was amicable at best. I suppose I could describe our relationship like this: if we were both at a bus stop and the clouds let loose a storm, with one umbrella between the two of us, we would both offer the other one protection from the rain. Beyond that, we would exchange a smile and keep to ourselves. She never really developed relationships with her grandchildren either. It was my mother’s way. So, I was glad when my mother had passed on fragments of her family history in one of our last phone calls. That bit of family history left me with hope of belonging to a larger family.
Around 2006, I began my search for family online. It was a lop-sided search. There was my stepfather’s family that didn’t register for a while on the website since they were all born, raised and living in Germany. And, he was my stepfather. The connections didn’t have the biological link that drew me to the search in the first place. My mother’s side included her mother (maiden name not known), her father, some uncles and a cousin. For years, nothing in the way of records or interested searchers comments showed up. Then things got more interesting.
Over the last two years, the name of my grandmother (my mother’s mother) finally appeared out of the dense woodland records of Upper Michigan. Since then I’ve been able to build a family tree, on my mother’s side, that looks more like a small oak and less like a windblown Monterey pine on the Pacific coast. Even so, there is the question of my father, my biological one. In his place I substituted my stepfather and for a good long while I was content to use him as a place marker. Things changed.
My stepfather began to have medical issues that coincided with forgetfulness. One day, from his armchair surrounded by bags of skittles, chocolate candies and empty coke cans, I was given the boot and told to stay away, with a court order if necessary. TV shows would be his family now and make daily visits. I know and understand that his illness is at the bottom of his behavior. But, that behavior is just the tip of a life borne out of pre and post World War II. Anyway, I removed his name from my family search. Life’s tough enough without doses of sugar coated venom.
My family tree reverted to the lop-sided shape, and the place marker for father was Unknown. It bothered me for a while. On occasion, I would insert the name of my mother’s first husband who I only know as Harris, or Mr. Harris. My stepfather said they’d met and that he was a nice guy. I also saw his last name on a divorce document in my stepfather’s basement. It wasn’t my place, so I didn’t read further. The rest is history.
At some point in the last six months, I became comfortable with Unknown, and the tree’s shape. After all, it was mine and I claimed it. Worry over the size of my family diminished. A sense of self began to grow from my tree. It grew roots of confidence and love, developed new branches of children and grandchildren. The story doesn’t end here.
About a month ago, I noticed that my DNA was shared by an individual who has the markers of a sister or first cousin. Not on my mother’s side. This is a branch that was so unexpected and yet, a welcomed surprise. Now, In the place marker for father is a family surname. It’s my name too. The tree has a new sense of balance that may take some time to adjust to, or not.
The story at the heart of my search is fairly straightforward. Like some other couples, my mother and stepfather separated for a time after their marriage. I am the product of another relationship that formed during that separation. My mother and stepfather were correct on that account. Once my mother was pregnant, she returned to my stepfather. I have no idea why. Times being what they were though, I’m sure it was a difficult path for my mother. Possibly for my biological father, as well. Whatever the case may be, I’m not judging.
I haven’t contacted any family members, yet. I’ll guess we’re both looking at the DNA link in the website and wondering the same things. Should I email them? How will the rest of the family feel about this new family member? And, so on. I’m still orbiting the question not sure if I’ll land on solid ground if I approach them. Eventually, I guess that’s the risk I’ll have to take. “Houston, we have lift off.”