There are people who are the last to board trend trains, and I admit I’m one of them. We’re last to get smart phones, last to begin using texts, late in the trend to have our DNA done. A friend posted her DNA over a year ago on social media and I rolled my eyes. It held no attraction to me.
Our son has had mysterious health issues since toddlerhood, and after years of test after unrevealing medical test, he was sent to a geneticist. The search for a suspected genetic disorder began. First the basic DNA tests. Then an advanced panel. Nothing conclusive. So we went for the big $20,000 set, the one that tested for everything. Still, no matches. No clear diagnosis. We did, however, find out everything he didn’t have.
He rolls with laughter at funny memes and videos online. But he also spends countless hours watching educational science videos on youtube. He became a mini-DNA expert. His birthday approached. Could he do his DNA? He wanted to know when his German ancestors immigrated to the US. Before or after World War 2? These were interesting questions. My daughter sipped coffee from her red and white Canadian maple leaf mug, her favorite, and encouraged the endeavor. She would love to see her love for her Canadian ancestors officially backed up. I certainly couldn’t use the excuse that we didn’t want strangers in possession of his DNA. They already had it, a lot of it. So we got a kit and mailed it out.
“Yes!” My son was tremendously impressed to see that his ancestors were in Iowa long before 1942. They were primarily German and there were pages of them on ancestry.com. Whoa!
His ethnicities created a lovely colorful map on his page of the website.
Except that the 50% one-nationality block that represented his mother, that is, me, that wasn’t there.
There is no need to go into the details that led to my daughter mailing me a personal kit for Mother’s Day. She did it to reassure me because we didn’t understand the reliability of DNA until after I got my results back. I was sitting in my friend’s living room, drinking French-pressed coffee (a bit ironic), checking emails. My results were in. She was talking as I changed my focus to opening the link to see my personal circle graph on 23andme.com. It was done in pretty blues and teals. 100% European! No surprise.
Then I opened the descriptive section. Mostly Polish. That’s what it said. A mere 20% French. This made no sense. I closed the app. Something simmered in my gut. I couldn’t make sense of it. Both of my parents spoke French before they spoke English. I grew up so strictly French Catholic that I don’t think I missed church as a child, ever. French, French, French. They are my people, how I grew up. 100%, not a percent less. That’s what I knew. What I was told, proudly. Polish?
I found out a lot in the 3 months since half of me was wiped away, to be replaced by an unknown quantity. My father’s lineage wasn’t represented in any of the DNA connections. And another last name showed up repeatedly, ending in my generation, surrounding me with close Polish cousins that led me to my actual paternal line. Our parents did lie to me. Every day of my entire 55 years. I was devastated. I didn’t know that any event, short of the harm of my family members, could shake my world to the core like this did. And I didn’t know that my reaction wasn’t uncommon for people all over the world who were experiencing similar revelations.
I had so many unanswered questions. My elderly mother has advanced dementia. Her answer that she “doesn’t remember” has to be accepted. My father’s answer that he didn’t know has to be accepted. If I wanted answers, I had to find them elsewhere.
Their comments created a cavern between me, now marked and different, and them, loved and belonging.
I only told a few people about what I found out. The contrast between my depression-causing inner turmoil and the responses of my confidants only increased my anxiety. It was clear that these secure people who had fathers and never doubted who they were for a moment (like me, until this), these morally-confident friends, had no clue how my life had been turned upside down and left in devastation. Their comments created a cavern between me, now marked and different, and them, loved and belonging.
I finally found Facebook groups where thousands of other people were hurting. Deeply. Where the complexities of contorted family dynamics were talked about, and people relegated to the position of shame congregated and encouraged one another.
We constantly hear of the declining moral climate of our country. What is interesting is that many people still keep past indiscretions and liaisons buried deep. Hundreds of thousands of people bury the past to keep themselves or honored relatives looking upright, while pointing fingers at younger generations as more morally corrupt than they were. But in their lying, haven’t they committed twice the sin?
Are we morally compelled to lie about who we are to hide the sins of our parents?
The kindest people have said boldly to me, “These people are digging up skeletons. If they find one, it’s their own fault!” Yes, I have heard versions of this blame-the-victim opinion many times. We have all looked at our genetic heritage with pride, only to find out we have different parents than we were told we have. Is it the next generation’s job to keep the sins of our parents secrets? What have we done to cause this imposed shaming? Are we morally compelled to lie about who we are to hide the sins of our parents?
I have been in many doctor offices over the years. I have gone over the medical histories of both of my parents over and over. This last week I was asked detailed questions about my mother’s medical history. The doctor asked for more information than was on the form. Clearly her history impacted his decisions. Then he looked at the blank column that was my father’s history. “And your father?” he questioned. I told him I didn’t know. And when he asked why, I told him my mother never told me. It felt good to not be part of those lies anymore. How ridiculous to have written useless information over and over again my whole adult life.
I have done hours and hours of DNA research on many sites, and though I have a good idea of who my father was, I’m not sure. Whoever he was, he is dead. I’m not one of those people who have to, or even will have a chance to, risk rejection by attempting to contact the person behind half of who I am. I think I had a half-sister, and she’s dead, too. It’s very sad to me. I wonder how my father laughed, if I looked like him, what he did. I don’t have a “whole” sibling. My dear brothers have been technically downgraded to half-siblings. That one really hurt. The truth stole a lot from me.
Why on earth did God reveal all of this to me? I did not go looking for it, and even if I did, it’s fine with Him. I prayed and asked God if this is wrong. First, I was reminded of all of the overwhelmingly, life-changing happiness of reunification of family members that I daily read about on my FB DNA groups. Families found. Siblings laughing as they get to know one another. Adult children hugging elderly parents who never knew they existed. Then God reminded me how he started the New Testament. Genealogy. Yes, DNA is fine with God.
Truth is so much more important to God than mistakes and skeletons in closets.
Can it be that God is advocating for truth? That He’s had enough of the games we play, pretending to be who we aren’t? He cares deeply about relationships and connections. There are many, many people who will have the truth knock on their doors in the years ahead. It can be overwhelming. I’m still spinning. But after 3 months, I figured out that I can see this as calamity, or I can embrace the adventure, because it’s certainly been one. Who knew I’d ever know what a centimorgan (a DNA measurement) or haplogroup (DNA lineage group) are? Or that I’d care?
If I didn’t write this article, it would have been because I was shaking hands with deception. I would have been accepting a label of shame. As I write this, August of 2019, I’m riding the crest of this DNA wave. It’s coming, people. You don’t have to do your DNA to be pulled into it. Your son may, or your cousin, but we are all connected. One person’s deception touches countless people. None of us should fear this, but none of us should pridefully categorize ourselves as above it. My brothers said those magic words that absolved me, completely: “You’re always 100% my sister.” That got me through to the place where I can let go of my mother’s mistake, forgive her and love her as she finishes her life. I wonder at God’s timing. But I know it’s always perfect, and I trust that.
None of us are less because of who our parents are, or aren’t. We are simply different, with varying kaleidoscope maps on our DNA pages. Maybe one day I will know 100% who my biological dad is. I may know what my paternal grandmother looked like. But I haven’t gone without. And this is the hardest part for so many people: finding out that they aren’t genetically connected to the people they thought they were biologically tied to. It can be seen as adoption. Only now do they know about it. Once you get past the connections that never seemed to be there physically or personality traits that never seemed to match, life can go on, and it can be OK. Family is family, and the ties that bind can’t be taken from us. But it’s a process and we need to be patient with ourselves as we grieve, adjust, decide what we will do with the new information, forgive and begin our lives as newly defined people.
It turns out that I wasn’t late on this DNA bandwagon. I’m finding out that more and more people are effected by it every day. If you’re reading this and are one of the people who have been shamed, accused, judged, called a liar, diminished, pushed away, denied, shattered, shocked, belittled, sermonized, called a bastard (yes, I indirectly was), literally made illegitimate, rejected, or devastated, this is not on you. I repeat. This is not on you. You were born. That’s all you did. You are precious, you have a purpose and a destiny. You are part of a huge family and God is our true, wholly safe Father.
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”