“What a wild year it’s been. Earlier this year was the summer I learned the dad who raised me was not my biological father. I have to admit to you all I have written this up a few different times and ways. It always feels too personal, and as much as I host a tagline that reads, ‘Real life, unapologetically’ on Instagram, I have trouble going too far in it for the masses. Well, I have trouble being too far in this new space of it all for just me sometimes.
In what I do, I find it important to share all parts of my life. Even and especially the imperfect mess. Because for some crazy reason, so many of us see ourselves as a failure by measuring our mess to others’ highlights. I like to make sure we all know we are all imperfect and perfectly made. Everyone has a ‘mess.’ I have a lot of them. But, it’s what life is. A big beautiful mess. And here’s just another part of mine.
I learned this summer I am part of a club called the DNA NPE (#DNANPE); or DNA Not Parent Expected. I have also seen it called Non-Parental Event. I had never heard the term before this August and I hope this can help someone else searching the term who might be in my spot someday. Because I must admit, very luckily and thankfully, I am not now where I was for a portion of this journey. For some time I felt alone and without answers or a clear definition of what I am. Finding others who had written about it helped me.
I also know an article can be much more interesting with a lot of pictures. But, I don’t have a lot of pictures to share for this. And I am sure pictures of my new dad and brothers would be fun for you all to match up (it is for me), but I need to respect all of their privacy and won’t include them now. Maybe someday. Right here I will reflect in photos on some of the life I had with my dad growing up, but I am looking forward to what’s to come with my new dad. I can’t wait to get a picture with him. Actually, with my whole newfound family.
I like to think I’m pretty tough. I mean, I was in labor for almost 3 days with my first child and when they were suggesting a C-section, I was refusing (until they mentioned she could be in danger…then I was rushed in for the C-section). I put myself through school and onto a Master’s Degree. I run a successful business at home I built from the ground up while teaching when I started, raising and toting 3 kids around, and somehow staying married through it. I feel like there’s not a lot you can throw at me I haven’t learned to field.
But, I noticed I was dealing with this one differently, even early on. This isn’t something I had a clue how to grasp or wrap my head around. It caught me off guard, and occasionally still catches me out of nowhere. However, this was especially true when I still didn’t have answers or knew the outcome. My husband would often offer me a kind word that missed the mark completely and I could only tell him back, ‘I just can’t explain to you in words how living in this space feels.’ Again, I just struggle still with what to share that feels comfortable for me and keeps privacy for others involved, but can still help someone ending in my place. However, when I took this Ancestry test, I never expected this to be the outcome. Never in a million years.
I am pretty spiritual. I believe we are here to serve a purpose and I have always known I am here to help others. I am always working to serve my purpose here on earth and grow as I am here. But, now I know HOW I came to be, and I am more sure than ever I have a purpose to fulfill here.
Also, as a part of my spiritual piece, I often think it can be easy to talk to God far too much and listen far too less. I know I spent a lot of years being guilty of it. How many times have you considered doing something before you’ve done it? How many times has something you wanted gotten hard and you quit when maybe you actually were needing to grow to accept higher level gifts? Then you regret quitting? I know because I have been guilty of both. This is one of those things when looking back, I think I was being brought to do and I was ignoring it.
I cannot tell you the number of times I have been told a story about these tests. A neighbor who found siblings (dad was a sperm donor and mom totally knew…this was before DNA was known), a friend found a sister, a woman I worked with found an aunt and cousins, another neighbor just wanted me to do it to learn more about my presumed Native American ancestry because of how it worked for her children. Each time someone said to me, ‘Autum, you should do one of these tests!’ Each time I felt something inside me say, ‘Yes, do one,’ and each time I just brushed it off.
Early 2020 I went to a birthday party for a girl in my then-preschooler’s class. I sat next to what I assumed were two moms. When I introduced myself and we started talking, they told me their story of how they were sisters who had only just met a few weeks previously. They told their story of connection via Ancestry and the parallel lives they had lived in a lot of ways while not knowing about each other. They both again urged me to do a test. I agreed it sounded really interesting. They specifically told me to do Ancestry because it had a better and easier family chart to read. It was great to get to know them, hear their story, and I left the party deciding I really should get a test done after the amount of times this has popped into my life now. Then, I failed to do so for months still!
I also knew I had dreams about taking this test. I would wake with it being the first thought in my head some mornings. I would be cooking and the thought, ‘I should do one of those Ancestry tests,’ would pop into my head. I started to feel divinely led to take one. So, the day I ordered I had both databases my friends had used; 23andMe and Ancestry open to order. I quickly asked, ‘If I am supposed to do this test, which one should I do?’ ‘Ancestry,’ was put on my heart quickly, so I didn’t falter and ordered then. I honestly knew in my heart I was to be learning about my dad’s side of the family. Since he had passed, I was sure it was just learning more about his ancestors I never knew. I wished I knew more. So, I was excited to learn more about his family, make a tree, see some history. This is what I decided I was doing.
My husband thought I was ridiculous for ordering. He thought it was a waste of money and my time. I told him it’s entertainment while I was going to be resting a knee post-surgery. I even made a joke to him, maybe I’ll find some sibling from my dad’s Navy days. This joke is kind of wild now, considering I was the found sibling.
When the results came, I didn’t even open them the first day. This is how clueless I was about how this would be in the least bit interesting. A day or two later I remembered they were in my email and opened them. Initially, the cultural breakdown didn’t make sense. I thought it was wrong. I sent a few joking messages to some relatives. But, as I started to get back to work, the creeping feeling that had led me to the test came back and told me to dig deeper. So, I revisited and started really looking at the lists Ancestry provides you. Not only did my cultural breakdown not match, but there were a lot of names on the DNA match list I didn’t know. And I wasn’t finding anyone with my maiden name on my list.
Then the fateful message from a cousin telling me to find her. She was in the database (you will only be in there if you have taken the test) and I couldn’t find her on my list. Then she gave me her user name. I looked her up, ‘Not a DNA match’ it said next to her name. Her grandmother was my dad’s sister and she wasn’t a DNA match.
I spent some time on my own researching this after I got the results. Things weren’t matching but, I didn’t have any indication my dad who raised me wasn’t my biological dad. My parents were married when I was 9 months old and I always knew this. But, this knowledge and now a list of a bunch of people I have never met being somehow my distant cousins were the only two things I had to go from. I was raised thinking I had a half-sister, two half-brothers, and a full brother. I actually have 5 half-brothers.
This is when I began to feel alone. And maybe a little angry. But, the tough part of me kicked in. Maybe my dad was adopted? THAT is probably it. And I WILL solve this for him! THIS must be why I was divinely led to test and to learn more about my father’s tree! I started the research full on.
But, one afternoon I found where two families I was tracing met. Two families I knew I was related to. At the time, I thought I found the clue to the adoption. The woman had to be my dad’s mom. For sure. Then I saw the ages didn’t align to the dad who raised me, the states didn’t align to where he was born, and she had only one son. THAT was the first time I saw my biological dad’s name. I didn’t know it yet. A last name I didn’t know…and super ironically, a first name I considered naming my son but my husband vetoed.
I clicked open his high school yearbook records and saw a face looking at me that looked like my 6th grade picture. In this moment, it felt like my heart stopped. My world stopped, honestly. It’s a moment I will never forget. Then I clicked another picture. That one looked like a picture I had of me when I was 14. Then I clicked a record, it said he was in the military. My dad who raised me was in the military. My mom lived on military bases. I kind of couldn’t breathe and I just sat there and stared.
I knew. All alone, by myself, I knew. I told Travis (my husband) instantly. He honestly didn’t believe me. He admits this now. He thought I was really mistaken. I told my best friend. She saw the pictures and just knew also. I told a few others very close to me and I was met with the mixture of what my husband and best friend thought.
I debated what to do. I spent about a day thinking about it before I decided I would not tell my new dad or his family. I decided I had a wonderful life, I had a great dad – this new dad was unknown and the last thing I wanted to do was cause a problem for his life, be a huge pain to his sons, and definitely did not want to hurt this wife and intrude on her family.
One night, as I wrapped up a conversation on this with Travis, he fell asleep as I sat there and thought about my own children. They were honestly the only reason I continued the search I started in the first place. When it got hard or stressful, when I felt betrayed, confused, lied to, at a loss or a dead end – I thought of them. What if they are here some day and I knew and never told them? What if they had to relearn their identity? I needed to continue for them. So, I laid there listening to Travis sleep and I prayed for further guidance.
Am I making the right choice not telling him I exist? I could have the wrong person anyway. Am I keeping my children from a relationship with a grandfather? Should he know not only did he have a daughter but 3 grandchildren? If I do tell my kids as adults, will they resent me for not telling them this now? Will they resent me for not allowing them this relationship or at least presenting the information to this man?
As I wrapped up the prayer full of questions, I just asked for guidance. Just then my phone began blasting a very old song. I grabbed my phone and turned it down. Then closed my only open app; my alarm app. Travis jumped up and said, ‘What the hell was that?’
‘I don’t know…’ was all I had for him. I sat there and looked at my phone as he rolled back over. I double checked that my alarm app wasn’t hooked to any music or any ads. I went into my music to search for the song and it wasn’t there. I didn’t have any other windows open. HOW did it happen? ‘Okay, God. I’m listening,’ I thought. (I finally had the courage to ask him if the song had any meaning to him. It did. A childhood memory.)
Again, to spare the things that need to stay private for all the reasons I need them to for now, I will say it was days later and someone reaching out to me before I decided to once again listen and not control. A message came to my Ancestry inbox after I sent a ton out when I was blindly searching. I kind of dismissed it as I then had the knowledge I thought I was okay with. Then a message on Facebook:
‘Hi, I think I may have figured out who your dad may be? I have a cousin who was in the Navy in 1979 and probably stationed in CA at XXXXX. He is the only one I can think of that fits the timeline. He is very handsome and looks like you.’
I still needed convincing after this even. But, when I did decide to tell him, I also decided to stay detached from the outcome. It was just information. It does not in any way change me, who I have become, the life I lived. ‘It could be an extension…’ I would catch myself adding on and then stop myself. ‘No. Just information for him to have.’
I wasn’t going to ask for a DNA test (he was not in the database, so this was a bit of a speculation, although there seemed to be no other likely outcome), I wasn’t going to reach out in any way if it wasn’t welcomed. The mutual relative who sent me the messages offered to present the information to him. Honestly, if it weren’t for her urging, I wouldn’t have told him. Now I know she gifted me this new relationship with my dad, but at the time I didn’t know what was to come.
I know this can be confusing, as I’ve called the man who raised me dad and I am now calling my biological father my dad. They are both my dads. This is just where my heart is on this now. My first dad was incredible. He worked his fingers to the bone giving us all everything we wanted. He did not have a good example of a dad in any way growing up, and still he gifted us with honesty, tons of love, encouragement, support, generosity, a great sense of humor, and a lot of life lessons. He was a blessing and I am honored to call him dad. He passed in 2009.
Losing my dad 11 years ago was really hard. Lucy, my oldest, was not quite two when he passed away. He passed on a Saturday morning and the following Sunday afternoon Travis and I were to go to a BBQ at my parents so Travis could meet them. So they never met. And obviously my younger two never met him. I have spent the last 11 years wishing I knew more, said more, did more. Wishing I had more time.
Then this test says a whole different man is my dad? He’s alive? It was emotional to say the least. Again, I like to think I’m tough, but I must admit this whole thing got me in a way I don’t think anything else ever has. In so many different ways. At first it was just a name. And a face of an old picture resembling mine. Then we had a phone call. I don’t know why, but I remember my heart racing and my breath caught the first time he called. I just enjoyed talking to him right away. He pointed me to where I’d see another picture, and again, when I saw it I knew I had one similar of me. And now this happens almost every time. I see a new picture of him and I’m reminded of one I have where I see my face making a similar expression.
Then there was some time and another phone call. Some time and another. Each time I felt like I was talking to someone I just kind of already knew. Something familiar right away. There was time and space between these phone calls and it allowed me to place a lot of emotions. It also allowed them to be everywhere sometimes. But, during this time is when I heard of DNA NPE and a couple of books, and although they were not exactly like my story, shared some of my sentiments. And I read a lot of articles and blogs that helped.
Anyway, we had a paternity test confirm what I had been pretty sure of and I think he agreed it seemed to be. The tests really leaves no doubt and it came back a solid yes. He was loving and accepting from the very start. I think that has been the biggest blessing in this all. As I stated; I was detached from the outcome because I mostly expected there would be no interest in knowing me. But, I have been pleasantly surprised by the kindness and warmth from the whole family. My dad, his wife, my brothers, their wives. I even have an adorable new nephew and new niece. A whole new family has opened up from this and they are lovely. He could have easily walked away and I would have obliged. But, the way this has been accepted has been a huge gift to my whole family.
So, the thought of calling him ‘dad’ at first seemed very foreign. Calling him by the name he introduced himself to me seemed normal. But, as I spoke to him more, emailed, FaceTimed (none of the new family is local, so we have not been able to meet in person yet), met my brothers virtually, talked to them more about ‘our dad,’ I realized it felt normal now. My first dad was given the title before I knew any different. My new dad wasn’t offered the opportunity to have the title until almost 41 years later. It seems right.
It’s actually amazing to me the instant connection you can feel to a biological family. Maybe it’s not always the case, but it is for me and I admit it caught me by surprise. I’ve had amazing cousins share family history. I already shared the familiarity in the first phone calls with my dad. The first time I started messaging my brothers, it felt like I knew them. The first Zoom call with my brothers and their families, we talked for two full hours and it seemed like no time at all. I’ve seen old photos that literally swell my heart. I honestly just want to hug my new family now.
Life is crazy. I sometimes still catch myself wanting to be sad about a part of this, being confused, being frustrated, but then I have to remind myself to take life as it comes. I have a gift now. Two loving dads. Two great men. One I got to know for 29 years and another I will take every single year I can get.
I am divorced from Lucy’s dad. I have always told her she is blessed with more family to love because she has two sets of parents and siblings. She reminded me recently, now I’m blessed with more family to love. Isn’t life interesting?
Being a part of the DNA NPE ‘club’ isn’t something I hope for anyone. And from what I can understand, unless you truly are in it, it’s hard for others to comprehend the weighty feelings that can come and go. But, I want to remind anyone who comes to this on their own DNA Not Parent Expected journey, life gifts us in many ways. We may not always understand, but we can always be open to it. However we choose to perceive life is the view we will get. Look for the blessings. You don’t have to let go of the hard things you are needing to process, just don’t make them your main focus.
I also want to remind you to consider everyone’s feelings. It could have been easy for me to be wrapped up in mine. But, what my mom is feeling, my new dad, his wife, my brothers on both sides, everyone really – that was also important for me to look at. Of course my feelings are valid, but so are all of theirs. Of course there would be a whole other layer if my first dad was still living, but I guess he probably knew before we all did.
And if you are reading this thinking maybe you should take a test like this; maybe you should. But I am not telling you yes, you definitely should. I must tell you to consider all possibilities, and don’t be attached to an outcome, however it lands. I need to also tell you there were days I wished I never did this test and I didn’t know. There were days I was mad I knew. This has absolutely passed, mostly because I have learned what amazing humans were on the other side of this test, but this might not always be the case in everyone’s test. I love my new family now and am SO GRATEFUL to know. But, I want to be fully honest with you, the range of feeling can be pretty broad.
Because I am able to get to know more about him, I’m learning more about why I am me. My temper when I was young, my constant problem with being on time, my love for fitness, my smile, my constant list-making, the foods I like no one else in my family liked. The way my older brothers used to joke I must be adopted. The knowing I always had—-even when I was very little— that something didn’t fit…
It’s heavy. It’s a lot. But, I absolutely love my life and what a gift I have been given to live it. All parts. This was quite the rollercoaster for sure, but in my case it’s turned into such a blessing. If you seek blessings, you can find them.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Autum Chetock, originally posted here. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories like this:
‘I’ve been looking for you my whole life, Papa, and now I get TWO dads for the price of one!!’ I welcomed her with open arms.’: Man discovers daughter after ‘life-changing’ DNA test, ‘She is so incredibly beautiful, inside and out!’
‘BAM. There it was. ‘50% DNA FATHER.’ I knew he was out there, but he had no idea about me. He got the surprise of a lifetime.’: Woman meets biological father 35 years later, ‘He opened his heart and his home’
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