“I have been a foster child since I was 6 months old. A lot of people ask me if I know my biological mother, to which I usually answer ‘unfortunately.’ I know that sounds bad, but it’s never been easy knowing her or having her in my life. I think it has been hard for her to even be a loving parent to any of us. I am one of six kids. Five of us grew up in the foster care system, and my youngest brother was adopted at birth to a loving family. My three sisters were taken in by their grandmother, and my older brother and I were taken in by my foster mom Charlene when I was 2. We were both in many homes before, together luckily, and it was very difficult for us.
My brother has severe mental disabilities and many other diagnoses, so it affected him more than it did me. Most people say you can’t remember anything before three years old, but I have memories from two occasions and they’re not good ones. One of them is the physical abuse of my brother and me, and the other one was just me. Being taken in by Charlene—I call her mom and my bio mother I call Mary—was a blessing.
In foster care, you can have your stay threatened for any reason. It was always scary not knowing what could get us taken away from our home and our mother. It was difficult growing up without knowing my biological parents. Kids can be very mean, and a lot of kids would bully me by saying my parents didn’t love me and I didn’t mean anything to anyone, especially them. Adoption was always a dream I had, but it can be very expensive. Although Mary’s rights were taken away, she was never stripped of them, so adoption was not on the table.
I met Mary and her husband when I was 13 years old. My foster mom Charlene decided to help them get clean and sober so we could have a normal relationship with our parents. They got clean and eventually were able to live on their own in the same town as us in California. When they moved out a couple of months later, they filed for custody of us with the Sacramento courts. It was one of the worst times of my life. I had no desire to live with them, I didn’t know them, and I didn’t trust them. We went back and forth to court for over a year, and eventually, I was the one who had to come up with the decision.
I said no, and our relationships just got worse and worse with each other and have never really healed since. I always had questions about my biological father. My foster mom didn’t have too many answers other than what was told to her by Mary, which we found out recently were all lies. I was told from a young age that I was Mexican, my father was a one-night stand in Mexico, and no one knew who he was. So, I lived my life believing I would never find my father and never know anything about him.
In May 2020, my fiancé got me a 23 and Me DNA kit, so I could find out my health and ancestry. This was something the two of us had talked about for the last couple of years when this became a bigger thing. I was so scared to find out everything and I never even thought of what the results could be. At this point, I had just turned 24 and would be graduating with 4 Associates. Life was already going better than it ever had been. I was working, finishing school and transferring to a university, and in a loving and stable relationship. Everything I wanted, except my dad. Except answers.
I checked the results every morning, all day, for as long as I can remember; I just kept checking and checking to see if they had posted yet and what they would be. When I got the results, I learned I am not Hispanic at all. This was really shocking to learn and gave me a feeling like I never knew who I really was. It was hard to cope with at first. I felt like I was just told my whole life was a lie. It was the most confused I have ever been. When I found this out, I just sat there wondering if anyone else just always knew. I cried because my identity, a part of me, had been stripped in a matter of seconds.
After searching all the results, I decided to reach out to some of the relatives I was linked to through the app. Before the app, I was given my birth certificate which had a father’s name on it that no one knew. Mary told me it was a fake name. Through my own investigations, I tried to get answers from the family. My second cousin began to talk about someone on his father’s side who married someone with the last name Billingsley. Now the name on my birth certificate was Geoff Billingsley, but I had never mentioned that. Through all the information, I decided to ask Mary more questions and let her know what I had found. She was absolutely no help, and I decided to take a risk and reach out to a man I found on Facebook who was in her area.
With the help of my boyfriend’s mother, I nervously sent him a message. It took him a while to respond, but he eventually did. It was scary at first, but he just asked Mary’s siblings’ names and for a picture of my birth certificate. Very quickly, he believed I was his daughter. When he said that, after putting some pieces together on his own, I cried. I was told to expect denial. I thought I was going to get turned away, not accepted. He never once denied me or declined any information. Eventually, he asked if I would do a paternity test. He wanted proof for everyone else because he never believed it wasn’t true.
I was totally okay with this, but I had this weird anxiety of, ‘What if it’s not him?’ I remember searching all the Geoffrey Billingsley’s I could come across, just so I could put myself at ease. At the same time, I was also pretty sure he WAS my dad. The paternity test came back, and he is my father. This experience was a rollercoaster for me. I found out more information in the last three months than I could find out in my entire life. It was so bizarre and hard to keep track of my feelings during that time.
After all of that, his lovely wife contacted me and asked if I wanted to surprise him by driving up to Washington State. This would not only be an amazing surprise, but the first time I would meet him. I was totally calm and fine the whole trip, but when we got there, I was a nervous wreck. The first day we talked was June 6th, and the first day we met was July 17th. My fiancé Kyle drove the whole way there and kept me calm. He asked how I was feeling or if I had any expectations, and we talked about the different outcomes of the situation. He was and is so supportive, and has been my rock the entire way. I don’t think I could have gotten through all of this without him. I wouldn’t even have found my dad if not for him.
It was a two-day drive. We surprised him and it was full of crying and laughing and smiles. When I first saw him my heart dropped in a sense of, ‘Is this REAL? Like, am I actually doing this?’ It was so surreal. All I could do was hug him. We hugged for about 2 hours that day. He took me for my first ATV ride and taught me how to shoot archery. We took the gondola up to Mount Rainier, and it was absolutely stunning. We stayed there for 1 week, and it was full of father-daughter firsts and adventure. We had some deep talks, he cried as he apologized for not being there, and I just reminded him it wasn’t his fault. He told me about his time in the army, I told him some stories about my growing up, and about Kyle and I.
Before I left, he surprised me by giving me a bracelet he gave his mom when he graduated from flight school. This bracelet has a pair of silver wings from the school’s symbol, and it was so sweet and unexpected. Although I am sure knowing my father would have been great as a kid, I wouldn’t change the experience for anything. It was truly remarkable and life changing. This year we will have our first holidays together and next year we’ll have our first birthdays. I can’t wait for the life we will get to share together. He is coming down to my school to visit me, take me on some cool hikes, and just hang out with Kyle and me. This is something I thought I could never have. Quarantine has been tough, but it brought the greatest gifts I could ask for.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Makala Morgan Wright. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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