I recently read an article about a 59-year-old Australian man who, like millions of others including myself, recently took an Ancestry DNA test hoping to better understand his genealogy. Fascinated by the origins of his parents, he had created a family tree of over 13,000 ancestors and he hoped his DNA results would help him further delve into his family’s past. Instead, he discovered something much more revolutionary. It turns out, his parents are not who he thought they were.
He’s adopted. He had lived nearly six full decades assuming he was the genetic kin of his parents and siblings. When confronted, his parents confessed they never told him because they feared they’d lose him. Really?
I have a friend who, at age forty, took a 23andMe test only to discover that her father was not who she thought he was. Her biological father, it turns out, had rented a room in her parent’s house in the early 1970s. Mom had a dalliance with this tenant and a secret would be buried for decades until these pesky DNA companies made genetic discovery so readily available. Even armed with genetic truth – genes don’t lie – my friend’s mother stonewalled and denied the affair for months before coming clean. The entire family – cousins, aunts, uncles – knew of the “oopsie” but never thought to pull back the veil of lies for fear of bringing shame onto the family. Everyone was in on the game except for my friend. Really?
I have another friend, an adoptee, who found her biological mother yet this mother is anything but forthcoming or welcoming. She demanded that my friend not reach out to her other children (my friend’s biological half-siblings) for fear that they would finally learn of their mother’s premarital pregnancy and subsequent relinquishment of their elder sister. This woman also told my friend to never reach out to her again. My friend feels stuck in adoptee-reunion purgatory. Who is this helping?
Sadly I could go on with scores of other examples, but I think you get the point. We can look through many lenses of this particular prism and witness the systems of fear that infect families and induce them to weave webs of lies for one reason. And this is just the point; lies are in place to protect themselves and their interests not the interests and welfare of those who are lied to or lied about.
The Australian man was lied to for six decades! How many other family members were in on the deal? What if his biological parents passed down genetic diseases to him or his children? Wouldn’t that be nice to know? Further, everyone is entitled to know their biological truth and having this flatly denied them, through lies and secrecy, is pure rubbish. And what of his biological siblings, denied knowledge of their brother? As he says in the article, being betrayed his truth he felt that his life “had been built on a lie.”
Speaking of betrayal, the one my friend experienced would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic. For over four decades everyone in her family knew dad wasn’t who they said he was. She was to be kept in the dark. Raised Jewish, my friend has pale skin and lovely red curly hair that stands out in family photos like a roaring fire in a stone fireplace. It should come as no surprise then that the man that lived in her parents house is Welsh. How does she begin to re-engage with her cousins and other family members now? After she had made this discovery, her maternal aunt told her to put it to rest as she didn’t want this unsavory news to spread through town in hushed whispers. My friend pressed forward undeterred. It turns out she has a paternal half-brother and they have since become as thick as thieves, talking weekly.
And my dear adoptee friend, neither welcome by her biological mother nor known to her younger half-siblings, is feeling rather adrift. The double rejection stings and not having contact with her siblings hurts just as much. Worse, she’s seen their faces through social media and this brings yet another layer of torment. I’ve encouraged her to damn the torpedoes and directly reach out to the siblings if mom is going to be such a recalcitrant stick in the mud.
In my case, I was told of my adoption at a young age as was my sister. Our adoptions were frequent dinner conversations and we were supported to find our biological families if we so desired. To date my sister has little interest in pursuing a search and I hadn’t had much interest either until a near fatal heart attack in 2016 prompted me to strike out to see what other risks might be lurking in my genes like alligators in a shallow swamp.
I have been working with adoptees and advocating for our cause since early 2017 and I am continually unsurprised by the lies, fears, and secrecy that penetrate families. I find them to be unhealthy and a complete disservice to those at the other end of them. They also expose vanity. Don’t forget the truth always surfaces, welcome or not, and DNA companies are accelerating genetic justice.
It is my casual unscientific observation that all of this is systemic, and I suppose it is human nature to protect ourselves and our families from uncomfortable realities. But in the end, by attempting to protect our families aren’t we in fact hurting them? It’s time to break down these systems of fear and to allow genetic truths and realities to be celebrated, not buried under cloaks of secrecy.
That’s my opinion. What’s yours?