When your dad is not your father.
( Editor's note - Due to the sensitive nature of the following blog, some of the names and locations have been changed…
(Editor’s note — Due to the sensitive nature of the following blog, some of the names and locations have been changed or altered to protect the innocent.)
“What’s your name, who’s your daddy?” Apparently, in the era of Ancestry.com and 23andMe, these questions represent much more than just lyrics in a classic rock song. In fact, an astonishing one in 25 fathers in America as we speak are living with children that unbeknownst to them, weren’t sired from their loins. In other words, the next time you hear “dad” waxing poetic about his family and the good old days, and you think to yourself, wouldn’t it be cute if “dad” and I both did a DNA test on either Ancestry.com or 23andMe, you might want to think again. If you thought that buying “dad” a gift for Father’s Day was tricky before, it has potentially become a lot more complex. I mean, what do you get for the man who doesn’t quite have everything he thought he did?
This isn’t the type of issue that I would personally dwell on typically. However, a person I know fairly well recently came across a bit of information that they have found to be most unsettling. A few years ago, this individual, let’s call her “Linda Carter,” did a DNA test through 23andMe. (For those who are not familiar with this process, all one has to do is order the kit from either Ancestry.com or 23andMe, drool into a tube, pour a special solution into that tube, seal it up, and mail it back to whichever DNA testing site you chose. In anywhere from two to eight weeks, you’ll have your results, and you’ll finally understand why Mom and Dad are 6 ft. 8 in., and you’re 4 ft 7 in.) This woman had always believed that she was of an ethnically mixed genetic origin. Her mother’s ancestors she had always been told were from Southern Europe, while her father’s family hailed from Scandinavia. In fact, this woman had even traced her father’s lineage back to the 14th century in a certain Scandinavian country.
When her test arrived, one thing was very clear, there was not a trace of Scandinavian or Northern European blood to be found in her DNA. How was this possible? Well, she did a little reading and discovered that because she was a woman, she did not carry her father’s “Y” chromosome, and that is why her DNA appeared to be incomplete. Her son also did the test, and found that he was approximately 40% Southern European, and 50% Eastern European, which again left out the Scandinavian part. However, the missing “Y” chromosome from his grandfather seemed to explain everything. Ah, but if this was all there was to it.
“Don’t look at me. I kept my secrets for one million years of human evolution. If you’re going to blame anyone, blame Francis Crick and James Watson. They couldn’t leave well enough alone. (You Tube)
For reasons that aren’t really relevant, “Ms. Carter” decided to revisit her 23andMe results recently, and reread some of the information that was provided along with her genetic record. As it would happen, while there is some information that isn’t passed down to a daughter from the father’s “Y” chromosome, ethnicity isn’t one of them. In other words, there was a very simple reason why the cool, calm, neutrality of the Scandinavian people wasn’t coursing through “Linda Carter’s” veins, she was exactly 0% Scandinavian. She was as Southern European as olive oil, red wine, and Vito Corleone. This meant that there was something in her background that her mother obviously omitted. In layman’s terms, this person’s mother at some point in time had “relations” with another man, not her husband, who was genetically Southern European.
This discovery, shocking as it was, lead to several very interesting and difficult questions that this “Ms. Carter” has been asking of myself and others. What would you do if like “Linda Carter” you were shocked into an all-new reality that says all that you knew, wasn’t quite the way you were told. Bear in mind that her mother, her “dad” who raised her, and her biological father have all passed away. What would you do?
- Would you reach out to your half-siblings?
- Would you, or could you just let it go?
- Would you want to know if you were one of her half-siblings?
- What would you do if somebody contacted you with this information and provided incontrovertible proof?
- Would you tell your step-siblings or their children that you are now only half as related to them as you had thought?
Obviously, none of these are easy to answer, and I”m not sure any of us know 100% what we would do until we were actually put into this situation. One thing is for sure. As a result of this DNA test, the identity of “Ms. Carter” has been thrown a little bit into chaos.
(Yes Rafiki, you are cruel but correct in your brutal exposition of the truth. (getyarn.io)
There are of course pros and cons regarding the idea of reaching out to your newly found family. For example, it is always possible that these people would want to know if they had family out there, somewhere. They may wish to embrace this individual, and want to at least get to know them in a somewhat more than tertiary way. However, it is also just as likely that these individuals don’t want to think about their father having an affair and cheating on their mother, and they may become angry and resentful at the idea that this information was hoisted upon them. They may also know that their father wasn’t a saint, and simply acknowledge to their new half-sibling that they understand, but there’s really nothing here to discuss.
Not surprisingly, as DNA testing has become more and more common, these types of discoveries have become more prevalent as well. For example, there’s a Facebook page for people like “Linda Carter” called Not Parent Expected. This group allows those with similar stories to those of “Ms. Carter’s” to have an opportunity to share their experiences and receive advice and feedback from those who find themselves in similar situations.
Were you thinking of Thomas Jefferson when you looked at this picture? Too bad, because they are all descendants of the 3rd president, and author of the Declaration of Independence. In 1998, DNA testing proved that Jefferson sired children with his slave Sally Hemmings, and those who were gathering to honor their ancestor, Thomas Jefferson, had to order more coleslaw for the picnic, because the guest list just grew exponentially. (New York Times)
Some would argue that there’s little to gain from this kind of information, and that we’d be better off not knowing too much about ourselves and who we are and are not related to. However, for people who are adopted, or perhaps were never told who their father’s were, DNA testing on sites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe can provide answers to the questions that have plagued these people their entire lives. For example, “Linda Carter” has been able to track down several 1st and 2nd cousins on these websites by seeing who shares her DNA. If these people are not known cousins, then one can ascertain that they may be the offspring of an illicit affair from many years ago, or from a birth to a teenage mother who couldn’t possibly be expected to raise a child on her own 50, 60, or 70 years ago.
When you get back your DNA information from Ancestry.com or 23andMe, anybody who is a DNA match to yours will show up as matches for your own DNA. It will tell you the probable relationship, (First or second cousin) as well as the probability level that you are related. If you want to gain a more precise level of certainty over whether somebody might be a DNA match to you, you can upload your DNA results to a website called GEDmatch for free. GEDmatch will compare your DNA to others that you share traits with, and break down for you how close each match is. You can literally find dozens of people who you never knew you were related to, and perhaps even forge a relationship with these nice people, or perhaps, learn something about your family that you either may or may not have wanted to know.
One of the features that 23andMe offers its customers is a complete DNA profile of your genetic risks for certain diseases. Do you want to know if you’re at risk to get Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, or any other malady that can be passed down genetically? Yeah, neither do I. I’m waiting for my 23andMe results, but I passed on the treat which would have included finding out what I’m most likely going to die from. Fortunately, my genetic predisposition for cheapness saved me from freaking out from whatever the results would have shown me about my health risks. The medical test was more expensive, and why pay more just to have a psychological meltdown over the results. (You Tube)
The search for your true identify is a result of an impressive scientific and medical breakthrough. As it is with all scientific achievements that may bring about impactful change, we often have to ask of ourselves, just because we can, does it mean that we should? Is there such a thing as too much information? Can we in fact be brought down by our need to know? Any student of classic Greek literature knows the story of Oedipus, the brilliant but flawed, and ultimately tragic hero who was brought down by hubris, as well as his self-righteousness. His downfall in fact is his never-ending search for truth. He is undone by his need to know.
Still, for others, the need to know can bring with it a kind of peace. So often the problems and issues that we deal with throughout our lives are a result of not necessarily knowing who we are. There are some in this world who appear to literally be uncomfortable in their own skin. Perhaps websites such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe can bring a kind of peace for some who seek out their true background, and now through modern science, have found the answers to that which has plagued them. As for me, I don’t have access to my parent’s DNA since they’re both deceased, but I somehow doubt I’m related to Brad Pitt or Derek Jeter or anybody cool like that. I will say this, if there’s a guy out there with a receding hairline, doesn’t like heights, has a poor sense of balance, loves pizza, ice cream, and seems to be drawn to sports teams that wallow in futility, all I can say is, I feel you brother, I feel you.