How I Discovered My Biological Dad
This story starts on my 30th birthday. I had returned to Chicago from San Francisco because I thought it would be nice to spend such a momentous birthday with friends and family. I had just started teaching spiritual healing workshops in San Francisco, so I was looking forward to presenting a workshop at a spiritual art gallery that I used to work at in Chicago.
The day of my birthday, November 8th, also happened to be my nieces 1st birthday party. I began the day at my sister’s house, helping her to get everything organized and packed up into her car. The party was taking place in the clubhouse of an apartment complex in a northern suburb of Chicago. I drove with my sister and her son Tavion and her new daughter Zoey.
We arrived at the clubhouse around 11am and started decorating, moving the tables and getting the whole place looking festive. Guests started arriving around 2:00. I didn’t know most of the people but I had a good time. My mom showed up right before the party started and helped kick it off. A few hours into the party my dad showed up to my shock and pleasant surprise. It’s not that I don’t see my dad regularly but it was the first time I had seen both my parents in the same room in probably 12 years.
My parents got divorced right before I started middle school. I grew up living with my mom and sister and eventually my stepdad. My dad initially moved into an apartment in the town we lived in, a southeastern suburb of Chicago, but a year or so after they got divorced, he was offered a promotion that included moving to New Jersey for a few years to manage a project. During these years, my dad came back a few times to visit us and we got to fly out to visit him a few times. This was great because it provided my first experiences in New York City.
After my dad moved back to the Midwest he lived in Chicago and still does to this day. Since the divorce, he and my mom stopped communicating for the most part and didn’t really remain friendly. I was pleasantly surprised to see him arrive at the birthday party and have many pleasant conversations with my mom. We all took pictures and I was really excited to see them together. I like both of my parents as separate people with very different habits, likes, and personalities. They really don’t belong together anymore but there is still some nostalgic charge for me in the reunion of my childhood family unit. I posted a photo of my parents and I on the internet that day and one of my friends commented on how much taller I was than both of them and made a “did your mom sleep with the milk man” joke. Little did I know how much that joke foreshadowed the rest of the weekend.
The next day I had my workshop at the spiritual art gallery. The workshop was entitled Merlin: Myth, Magic, and Energy Work. It was the first time I had given this particular workshop, a combination of ancient Welsh poetry, literary and history exploration and a spiritual energy healing session. The workshop was well attended and well received. I was really really excited about how well it went and I stayed much later than I intended, talking to different people after the workshop ended.
I had dinner plans with my dad that night so I couldn’t linger too long at the art gallery but I was definitely running late, so I texted him to let him know. We were planning to have a nice father-and-son 30th birthday dinner. An hour later, I arrived at the Irish pub that we planned to meet at. Since I was arriving late, he was already there and sitting at a table. I walked in and spotted him in a booth at the back. The booths were tall and I could hardly see him. I was still buzzing with excitement at how well the class had gone and how pleased my mentor was with me after she witnessed my presentation.
When I got back to the booth I was pleasantly shocked to see my mom sitting across from my dad. Two days in a row! This weekend was turning out so wonderfully. I was doubly buzzing now with excitement from the class and excitement to hang out with both of my parents for my birthday. It was such a special way to celebrate.
I sat down and they had a Belgian beer and curry fries waiting for me. My favorites! I quickly relayed to them how happy I was to see them both and how optimistic I was feeling about life and teaching and the healer’s path. They were happy and shared in my joy. They said that since it was such a big birthday that they wanted to be with me to celebrate. I drank a beer and then got another one.
As I started on the second pint, my dad said that they had something that they wanted to tell me. Still buzzing on life’s goodness, I smiled and asked what it was. There was a brief pause so I took another pull on my beer. My dad looked me directly in the eyes and said “I am not your biological father.” I laughed. He said it again “I am not your biological father.” I smiled and looked at my mom. I thought they were playing a joke on me. I said “What do you mean?”
Then, together, they told me the secret story of my birth: In early 1983, they told me, both my mom and dad worked at a newspaper in Urbana. This I knew already. What I didn’t know was that they also worked with this other guy that mom was sort of dating. This other guy had always wanted to be a sports writer and when he got offered a job at another newspaper doing just that, he took it. The new job took him out of Ohio and across the country. It was a few months before my mom discovered she was pregnant. For reasons I have yet to discover, she didn’t try to contact him to let him know. I imagine that she was ashamed.
My mom didn’t have a great relationship with her own mother and I don’t think she really liked the way her childhood went. Her mom had dumped her onto her grandmother and continued to live a wild and free life. It was nothing personal towards my mom. My grandmother was a wild woman until her elderly years. She had 7 or 8 children and didn’t seem to raise any of them. They all grew up in different houses, raised by dads or grandparents. I can only guess that when my mom found out she had gotten pregnant, she felt like she was reiterated what her mother had done. She had been irresponsible and now she was pregnant with no husband, no help and no support. I can understand why she might be ashamed at what she would have seen as such a huge life mistake.
She got more and more pregnant. During that time, my dad (who for this story and in life, I will continue to call dad) moved to Chicago to help take care of his sister who had just had brain surgery. November came around and my mom birthed me in Springfield. My dad was living in Chicago and my biological dad was living in South Carolina. It was just my mom and I now.
I think she got a small apartment in Urbana and we lived there together for two years. During this time, love sparks were happening between my mom and dad. They were sending letters back and forth and my dad was occasionally coming to visit my mom in Urbana. On one of these romantic visits in 1985, my mom got pregnant again. My sister was born in April of 1986. By this time, my parent must have decided that they were going to be a proper family. My sister was born at my great grandmothers house, the house where my mom had spent her lackluster childhood. She was born right on my great grandmothers bed. My dad delivered her before the ambulance arrived and I watched as the paramedics wheeled my mom out on a cart holding my sister in her arms.
I knew that my parents hadn’t got married until after I was born. I had always thought they got married because my mom had gotten pregnant with me but what I learned was that they actually got married because of my sister. At this point, my dad decided to legally adopt me. They added his name onto my birth certificate, which previously had no fathers name on it. We had become a normal family and there was no way I could ever discover my true paternal origins. Not only did the birth certificate hide the story, but by a strange coincidence, my parents both had the same last name before they were married, so my birth last name and my dad’s last name were already the same. There is no way I could have traced it. From this point, the family story became the one I already knew.
Back in the bar, I was in stunned silence. I felt like that moment when Luke Skywalker finds out that Darth Vader is his father or when Harry Potter discovers he’s a wizard. I wasn’t mad or upset, just surprised. A lot of things went through my mind at that moment and for days I continued to realize new aspects of what this new truth meant. My sister was only my half sister. I wasn’t related to my grandparents. Or my cousins. My genealogy is completely different than what I thought it was. They sat nervously waiting to see how I would respond. I can imagine how they must have felt in that moment. Unsure if I would be devastated or enraged or lost. They should have known me better though because I’m such a happy and optimistic guy. I took the whole thing in stride. I didn’t see this news as anything I had lost but everything I had gained. My life story had suddenly become even more interesting than it already was.
The funny part was that I had made some jokes to my dad in previous years about my birth story. I was jokingly convinced that I was born from a virgin and archangels had come down to deliver the good news of my arrival. My dad laughed off the idea of me being the messiah but he must have gotten a little nervous on the inside. And again when I had asked for a genealogy DNA test for my birthday he must have felt nervous to know that I might accidentally discover something.
After the story, my parents continued to illuminate me about the more subtle aspects of the situation. Since all my aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins were older than me, everyone in my family knew this story except for me and my sister. Somehow no one had ever said anything. What really shocked me was the my dad’s parents were dead and had never indicated in any way that I might not actually be their relative. No one had ever treated me as anything but a loving member of the family and that’s pretty amazing.
My parents also explained why they never told me this story before. They said they considered telling me when I graduated from high school but since I would be going off to college, alone and far from family, they didn’t want to give me any news that might shatter my world. Then, they considered telling me in my 20’s but because of my unstable, nomadic life, they didn’t think I was in a good place to receive it. Finally on my 30th birthday, I had been living stably in San Francisco for two years with a proper job, apartment, and girlfriend, and they felt like I was in a steady place with proper emotional support to receive such life changing news. I personally think they could have told me at any one of those times and I would have been fine but I’m quite happy that the news came to me in that moment of my life. I really was living as stable as I’d ever been. I have a keen interest in genealogy, blood lines, and family trees that I didn’t have when I was younger so this revelation becomes even more interesting.
At this point in the evening, my mom gets up to take a break and use the bathroom. In my startled state, I hadn’t yet considered what my parents must be feeling as they delivered this hard truth to me. My dad tells me that I should show extra love and comfort to my mom in this situation because she truly is ashamed of the story they have now revealed to me. I ponder this and when my mom comes back, I tell them both that, if anything, this story only shows me how much my parents love me. I’ve discovered that my mom was a single mom, raising me with no support for two years. That’s an incredible demonstration of sacrifice and motherly love that I’ve never been able to appreciate or be thankful for and I let her know. For my dad, he voluntarily chose to take emotional and financial responsibility for me when he was only about 23 years old. This is incredible and something I don’t think I would choose for myself even at age 30. He sacrificed so much of his life and freedom to create our family and he didn’t have to. This is an amazing demonstration of love and I thank him for it at the table.
There’s a lot of love and tears going around the table now. We eat fries and I finish my beer. I ask a few questions to clarify the story and then the next part comes. They pull out the phone and show me my biological dad. What I discover is somewhat incredible. The photo I’m seeing is almost a mirror image of myself. I can hardly believe it. I had always thought I kind of looked like my dad and only slightly looked like my mom. When I saw this picture, I understood. Same nose, same eyes, same pattern baldness, similar smile. I had never actually seen someone that looked like me before. It was incredible and undeniable. This was my biological father.
I’m happy to say that my parents had done their homework before having this meeting with me. They had prepared many internet links including my biological dads LinkedIn profile, a YouTube video of him giving a lecture, and some blurbs about him from company websites where he worked. They summarized all this and told me my biological fathers name and what city he lived in. He worked as a sort of CEO and manager of several health care related companies and he also travelled around and gave motivational lectures to companies about whether or not that we’re working in alignment with their company mission statements. He had also just released a sort of book in parts online about business success.
My mom told me that he was tall like me and he was naturally optimistic and sunny like me. She said it was pretty interesting how I was now coming into the realms of public speaking and motivational lectures because that’s what my biological dad was doing too, though in different spheres of life. They told me that if I wanted to contact him that they wanted to make first contact and tell him the story. He had never known that he had me as a son and he might be shocked by the discovery.
I think this was about all that happened that night. I went back to my dad’s place where I was staying in Chicago. For the next few days, I would wake up in the mornings and remember “Oh yeah, THAT happened.” I was adjusting to the shift of my place in the world and how I saw myself in relation to my family. No extreme shifts happened but I just needed time to process it all and fully explore this entire story in my mind. My dad was kind enough to invite a friend of his over who had a similar thing happen to him in his adult life, so I could have an opportunity to externally process the events with someone else who could relate. I spent a week at my dads and by the time I returned to San Francisco, I was pretty well adjusted to the news.
I shared the news with my closest friends, especially the childhood friends and my ex-wife who knows me and my family well. This helped to relieve the burden of pressure that this new realization left me with and within a month I was perfectly acclimated and at ease with the situation. I told the story fondly as “the wildest thing that ever happened to me.” As a person with a lot of crazy life stories, this is a good one and has led to a lot of really deep conversations with different people about their own family secrets and later-in-life revelations.
By the time Christmas came around, I had spent a few months looking over the links my parents have given me. The LinkedIn profile perfectly confirmed their story. He was working at the newspaper with my mom and dad until he moved to South Carolina to take the sports writer job. The dates perfectly match; when he moved, my mom would have only been 3 months pregnant and very likely might not have realized what was going on yet. From sports writer he went through eight different job titles to eventually become Executive Vice President and Senior Partner in what seemed like some pretty large companies. Pretty impressive. I’m not sure if that’s as big of news as Darth Vadar, but it’s more interesting than “your real dad is a drug addict or a worthless layabout living in a government housing project.” This was a respectable guy who obviously knew how to get things done. I decided that I was ready to meet him and in my mind, New Years morning would be the perfect time for a life changing surprise. New year, new start, new son. I told my parents that the time was right but they then revealed to me that they actually didn’t know how to get a hold of him. They didn’t want to contact him via LinkedIn or Twitter because those are both work related and not appropriate for such news. My dad said he would do some digging online and see what he could find.
I put all that to the back of my mind and continued on with my normal life. Back in San Francisco, I went through my own rotation of job titles and continued my spiritual healing workshops. Every once in a while I would check in with my dad but he had no progress to report. I was suspecting that they weren’t really that motivated to make contact but it didn’t concern me too much. I figured when the time was right it would happen and I had no real need or urge to speed up the process.
Fast forward a year and a half: I had done my own set of searches and hadn’t found out much more than my parents had. I had explored all the company websites that my biological dad had worked for and done all kinds of word combination searches on Google with not much success. During the times that I visited Chicago, I had gotten a little clarification on the foggier bits of the story. I had also gone through all my mom’s old baby photos of me and discovered for the first time that there are no photos of me and my dad together until late 1985. I had never really noticed this before. I never had a reason to notice. All the early photos are with my mom and her sisters and grandmother.
Back in San Francisco, I decided I was ready to force the situation a little. I decided to “Friend Request” my biological dad on LinkedIn and see what might happen. I also did some more Google searches and had some success. I remember it was a Sunday and I didn’t have to work so I spent the afternoon in bed with the laptop. I struck gold that day thanks to GooglePlus. Evidently my bio dad has a Google email and GooglePlus had created him a profile page that he had obviously never played with. It had no information at all except for his frequently contacted “circle” of online friends. This was a list of about 4 names. All of them were girls names with the same last name as him. Could these be his mother? His wife? Daughters?
By this point in time, I hadn’t been able to figure out if he was married or had kids. I figured that would definitely change how he received the information. If he had lived as a single business man with no wife and kids he might be very happy to discover that he had a long lost son somewhere in the world. If he had a family it might be more complicated than that. Either way, there is always the possibility he wouldn’t want a new son in his life or might reject the reality of the situation as some sort of trick. Just as my parents didn’t know how I would react, there was no way of knowing how this man might react to discovering he had a 31 year old son.
I started doing Internet searches for these new names. LinkedIn became my savior that day. Two of the names produced LinkedIn profiles; two girls younger than me that lived in Georgia. Daughters? I still wasn’t sure until YouTube gave me the answer. The older of the girls had a YouTube account with only one video on it. I played it and was excited to discover that it was her university graduation video. It was a collage of photos from childhood to graduation. The video immediately confirmed that the two girls were sisters but I still didn’t know what their relation to my biological dad was. I watched the first two minutes with excited anticipation. Then the magic moment happened. At 2:34, the video revealed a family photo. I recognized my own, older mirror image face on my biological dad next to what I now knew was his daughter and his wife.
It was an ecstatic moment. I think I might have even jumped up and down and cheered. After a year and a half of no news, I had hit the motherload. I had two sisters! The older sister looks incredibly similar to my biological dad and I in the face. The younger daughter looks similar but not as obviously similar to my own face. All this was so exciting and striking to me because I bear no resemblance to the sister I grew up with. It was incredible to find long lost relatives and see such similarities in their faces. It was also exciting to find out I had two more sisters. I love my sister a lot and we are close friends, so to find I had more family out there was just awesome. A few more Google searches and I had found both of them on Facebook and Instagram.
Thanks to LinkedIn I knew that the older sister was graduated from college and seemed to be doing an internship in the medical industry. The younger daughter was in her final year of college and was also working at a brewery. Instagram and Facebook photos allowed me to view lots of pictures of my biological dad and his family. Until this point, all the photos I’d seen were work photos of him in suits. Through his daughters, I discovered a whole new man who obviously loved his life, his wife, his daughters, and the family dog. He liked to drink oyster shooters and go out for beers with his daughters and have fun. There were so many smiles in all these pictures.
If all that wasn’t good enough for one afternoon, my biological dad accepted my LinkedIn request later that day. I assumed he probably just accepts anymore since it’s a business networking site. Then an amazing and maybe quasi-mystical thing happened. I went back to his LinkedIn page and since we were now connected as “friends,” it showed me his email address and phone number. The information that my dad spent a year and a half searching for, I had found in a few hours and a few clicks of mouse. Later, when I went back and looked the LinkedIn profile, I was never able to see that contact info again!
I immediately copied this info and emailed my dad. I called him, too. He said he had sent an email to an old email address and nothing had happened and then more recently he had sent an email to his Facebook account. I hadn’t been able to find a Facebook account for my bio dad, so this surprised me. I asked my dad if they were Facebook friends and he said no. I said “DAAAAADDDDD!!!! If you aren’t Facebook friends with someone they can’t see the messages you send them!” He then agreed to send my biological dad an email to this new address I had found.
Nothing happened at first. Two weeks went by and then on a Friday evening my dad called me while I was at work. Luckily, I can easily talk on the phone while I take my bike deliveries around downtown San Francisco. My dad said “I just got off the phone with your biological father.” The hair stood up on the back of my neck. “What happened?” I said. He told me that he had emailed him earlier in the week and asked him to please call him about an important matter.
After some reminding on the phone, my new blood relative remembered working with my dad at the newspaper 32 years ago in Ohio. My dad told him the whole story and told him that he had a son. This was obviously shocking news but he didn’t seem to react negatively. None of us were sure what would happen when he found out but he seemed curious. I’m not sure if he was skeptical at first or not but my dad said he sent him to my Facebook page to see some pictures and I’m guessing that’s when he saw my face and had the same affirmation as when I saw his. It would probably be stranger if we WEREN’T related considering how similar we look. My dad said he told him all about me and who I was, what I was like, etc. He seemed pretty agreeable but obviously needed time to process all this information and think about it. They agreed to talk again in a week.
The following week my dad called me again. “I just talked to your father again” he said. After all this time of only having a picture and a name, it was really surreal to be interacting, however indirectly, with this person. It’s kind of like if you were following an online celebrity and then they just called you on the phone and wanted to hang out. It’s a weird feeling but very exciting. I was happy that thing we’re finally starting to move along. My dad said that they talked more about me and who I was. I found out through that conversation that my biological father’s family is Czech and Dutch which was a surprise. After my 30th birthday I had gone ahead and done the genealogy DNA test and it said I was 23% Eastern European. I had no idea what influence that was until this conversation made it clear.
After much back and forth conversations, my biological dad said he was going to take time to really think about all this and consider how it would affect his life and his families life before he decided to make contact. He also wanted to speak with my mom, who had very consciously stayed out of this searching and communication process. I think her own shame and embarrassment was keeping her distant from the situation and I hadn’t tried to push her at all when I had gone back home and looked at photos. I hadn’t tried to ask her too many personal questions because I could sense that it made her uncomfortable. I just wanted to keep reminding her that I loved her and that I was happy with how everything had turned out.
After this second phone conversation, not much happened. As my dad pointed out, I had been given a year and a half to really consider all the angles of the truth of the matter and he might need just as much time. Again, I wasn’t too worried and I knew that everything would happen when the time was right. I was very busy in my life at that time so it was easy to put it in the back of my head. I was preparing for a very extended journey into the wilderness of the UK to do research for a book I was planning to write in the landscapes of the Arthurian legends and specifically the stories of Merlin. I was researching, reading, buying plane tickets and also working two jobs to save up all the money I needed, so I had a lot to distract me from this exciting development in my family life.
Every once in a while I would think about it, but now I had Facebook and Instagram to satisfy my curiosity about my distant biological family. I was able to watch at the younger sister as she went through her final semester of college, excited and joyous with her sorority sisters. It was really special to be able to have such an intimate and personal way to experience her life. I unfortunately couldn’t have the same experience with the older sister because her Instagram is private. I didn’t dare message either one of the girls because I didn’t want to say anything or do anything that might disturb the balance of the situation. I got excited when every once in a while, one sister would go home and post a photo hanging out with her mom and dad or go out to the bar and share oyster shooters with our mutual father. I was able to get a real time peak into the world of his life. It was incredible but also a little spooky to realize how much you can know about someone through the internet.
A few months later, I left for my UK trip. No developments had happened since the second phone call and I didn’t mind at all. I was busy and excited to get into my trip and start work on this book that had been my personal research quest for over a year at that point. A month into the trip I got a joyous surprise. As I came out of one of my camping immersions in southern England, I turned on my phone and received a Facebook friend request from my biological dad. This was great because it was the first connection that he had made with me and gave us a way to slowly get a glimpse into each other’s lives without too much danger.
Over the next few months, he made his presence known by liking some of my posts and photos from my journey. I also went through his photos and liked a few of the really wonderful family shots. I was also able to see a photo of my paternal grandmother, who I sadly discovered had passed a way a year or so before.
My UK journey continues until late October when I will return to Chicago for a wedding. I will stay in Chicago for a week and celebrate my 32nd birthday with my parents, sister, and girlfriend. I will also be celebrating the two year anniversary of the discovery of my true parentage. I hope that once I’m back in the states that my biological dad and I will make our first direct contact through email, phone, or Skype.
I am enjoying the slow build up that this story has had in my life. I’m happy to discover new things about myself through this journey and I look forward to meeting this new side of my family which now seems like a very realistic possibility. The whole experience has given me a new dimension of appreciation on how wonderful life is and how great family connections can be. I can’t wait to see what happens next…
Read a much shorter Pt 2 here to read about our first meeting.