Childhood, Stories

You In Others

In the summer of 2020 I took a DNA test through Ancestry. There were a few things that I hoped to accomplish with the test: to find out which African countries were in my DNA (mostly Nigeria); to learn more about my maternal, West Indian ancestry, which has been very difficult to research; and to find my biological father. For most of my life I have known that I had another parent out there somewhere. Small, tentative attempts to find him with the few crumbs of information I had were made; however my mother had never been forthcoming, and I hesitated to look too closely on my own without more solid information. Her track record when it came to men was not good. I had no idea who I might find. I was scared, rightfully, that I could potentially be inviting another violent, dangerous man into my life. Once you open that familial box, it’s rare that you can just have a little peek inside. When you make connection, it can be very difficult to close the box back up again.

That said, in the summer of 2020 I turned 47 and by guesstimation, I figured that the man who is my biological father would have to be in his 70s, at least. The window for finding him was closing or may have closed already. If I was going to open the box of my paternity and find answers to the questions that have plagued me through my entire life, it was now or never. Despite my chronic illness, I am not frail. I am mentally strong and knew I could handle whatever and whomever I found. I had questions and was willing to risk whatever I could be inviting into my life to get answers. I was going all in.

By late summer, my health took a sudden and intense nose dive, and not long after, when I was at my absolute rock bottom worse, the DNA test came back. Since then, all of the items on my wish list have been miraculously met, the most life-altering of which was finding my paternal family and my father, who, to my amazement, is still very much alive.

I’ve written briefly about this and won’t get into it much further except to say that I have had the best outcome I could have hoped for. He is warm, considerate, thoughtful, caring, intelligent, and an all around lovely person. We share much in common, enough that I’ve had to once again reconsider my lifelong belief in nurture over nature. Genetics, at least in my case, have proven to be a greater force than I could have ever imagined. Almost 2 years have passed and I still can’t believe how fortunate I have been. I also feel a sadness at times for younger me and all that she could have had, but didn’t. How different my younger life would have been had I had this person in my corner. But I can’t change the past. It is already done.

On top of it, I have gained relatives who are also wonderful people. As I get to know them as individuals, I am struck by what a gift I have been given and how well this has gone considering how badly it could have turned out. In general, most people aren’t happy about being found and most families aren’t so keen to invite strangers into the fold. I was quickly and generously accepted as one of their own. It speaks to the kind of people they are that they’ve so gracefully embodied the old adage, “The more, the merrier.”

Yesterday, after some emails back and forth, I talked to my older, half brother on the phone for the first time. I won’t get into the details here either because I don’t have permission to share other peoples’ lives and because I’m happy to keep this part of my own private. But I will say that even though I’ve had a lot of time to get used to the knowledge that I have a second brother, it was still something to hear his voice and connect in that way. I was told a long time ago that I probably had a half brother out there in the world somewhere, and even though I was never sure if I could trust that information, I also couldn’t help wonder now and again, if it were true, what sort of person he might be. And now I know. My questions are answered, and as we get to know one another and move past initial niceties, I suspect more of who he is will be revealed. With time, it will become a normal, average thing that I have two brothers instead of one, and in addition, all of these other people: aunts, cousins, uncles, faces and names… people who look a little like me, share some of my DNA, and remarkably, surprising traits too.

I’ve always believed that we make family and that the most important people in our lives do not have to be related to us by blood. Still, there is something undefinable, something transformative that has shifted inside having had questions answered about both sides of my ancestry, and finally being able to locate my place on a human continuum where I am able to see myself in others.

“And now listen carefully. You in others-this is your soul. This is what you are. This is what your consciousness has breathed and lived on and enjoyed throughout your life-your soul, your immortality, your life in others. And what now? You have always been in others and you will remain in others. And what does it matter to you if later on that is called your memory? This will be you-the you that enters the future and becomes a part of it.” – Boris Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago)

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