ALL the names in this diary have been changed, to protect the innocent and guilty alike.
Last April (2016) a man contacted me through Facebook messenger with this note:
Hi, I sent you a friend request a while back, I realize that you don't know me and certainly would not know of me by my Facebook pseudonym (I don't use or transmit my real name over Facebook), however you may already know of me as well my real name, as I did correspond with your mom some 15 years ago and she may have mentioned that correspondence to you over the years, anyway I thought I would send you an old photo that you may find interesting and would welcome your facebook friendship or other correspondence if you should find it agreeable.
The photo he sent was a picture of my Dad when he was around 22. (he just turned 84 this week)
He had my attention.
and my response:
How do you come by a pic of my Dad?
During the next few days and weeks I learned this his mother and my Dad had had a relationship many years before my Mom was in the picture, and that they had broken up within her first trimester.
He was, for all he knew, my half brother.
I was shocked and not shocked at the same time. He was the same man who called the house in the late 1970s when I was around 17/18 years old. Had my younger sister not done to my parents what she was always doing to me (listening in on phone calls — for which I complained about to them ALL THE TIME) she and I would have never learned about the call. Since she had listened in, they felt they had no choice but to tell us.
They sat us down in my bedroom and told us that Dad had had a relationship before our Mom. That this man was claiming to be Dad’s son, but it probably wasn’t true.
They were so grave and serious that my response probably unnerved them.
I laid down on the bed in paroxysms of laughter. Surprised, they admonished me that this wasn’t a laughing matter. But after months and months of them getting after me for being sexually active I found the whole thing more than amusing. I told them that if Dad hadn’t been doing it with this woman then there’d be no chance of a child. I added that I sort of didn’t want anymore flack over how I lived my life and that I was on birth control.
Now on my Dad’s side of the family this revelation wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary. Dad’s mom and dad had to get married because she was pregnant (No Sex Education ≠ No Sex Among Unmarried Teens: My Family is Proof), his oldest sister, Nancy, got pregnant out of wedlock (twice), and so did her daughter (my cousin). Another older sister, Alice, also got pregnant out of wedlock and gave the baby up for adoption. However, given the mystery that now will always surround this pregnancy (because my aunt died last year) there are some of us who think this was the result of rape. She however was sent to Florence Crittenton home for unwed mothers, just like her sister before her.
Adding to the thought that she may have been raped is that Grandpa had forced the boy who got Nancy pregnant to marry her. He also had them divorce almost immediately — and if you knew how bad my Grandparents’ marriage was, you’d know why. This however afforded my aunt a better ability to keep her child. The child had her father’s name, she could never be tagged as illegitimate.
This wasn’t afforded to Alice. Grandpa didn’t or couldn’t force a marriage. Alice didn’t keep the baby (and maybe didn’t want to if it was the result of rape).
I had learned all this “interesting” family history in 1977 (I was 15) because of the TV miniseries “Roots.” One of our assignments was to create our family tree . . . and in doing so I counted. “Hey wait a minute! There's only 6 months between Grandma and Grandpa getting married and Nancy’s birth!?!” After that I counted ALL of my relatives marriages and first child being born, finding it quite common on my Dad’s side and non existent on my Mom’s side.
I also found out about this mystery child my aunt Alice had because of a slip of the tongue and then an attempt to dummy up. Nah, not going to work… I became as dogged and pestering as a terrier, until they finally gave in and told me — swearing me to secrecy in the process. They worried that my cousin Karen, Alice’s second daughter (and 6 years old than me) hadn’t been told.
I kept that promise for about 7 years, then thinking that now that she was in her late 20s aunt Alice had finally told her, said something.
Annnnnddddd I was sooooo wrong . . . . I was on aunt Alice’s shit list for a while.
In the 90’s this first daughter, Ellen, would reappear in their lives, having searched for them. But as sweet as the reunion was in many ways, Karen, growing up thinking she was an only child, finally got the family she always wanted, it was filled with turmoil. Ellen was angry. Angry at her adoptive family, angry at life, angry at our family, angry at my aunt. She’s still angry.
Anyway, while that tangent is important later, I need to get back to my parents telling us that someone is claiming to be Dad’s son. Dad said that he wasn’t or “highly doubtful” . . . a few weeks later we were left with the impression that a blood test concluded that he was not our brother and life went on.
So now, April 2016, this same person, Mark, has reached out to me out of the blue. And he’s told me that a blood test wasn’t done.
I called my little (well as much as a 50 year old is little) sister, Margaret and told her about Mark’s contact. We discussed how we were going to deal with for the time being. Our biggest concern was that we were going to be dealing with another Ellen. We decided that we would protect our parents at all costs if this was the case. I would continue to talk to Mark, but we would keep this contact between us two (and our spouses) but that was all. We also hoped that when this eventually came out that we could enlist Karen to help us through the mine field.
A month later Karen died. She hadn’t been in great health in the past few years and that combined with a growing depression caused by aunt Alice’s (her mother) death 8 months before didn’t help. She died of a heart attack getting ready for a family dinner not two miles away, called because my middle son was in town. Sometimes she’d beg off family meals, but she’d always called later, when people didn’t hear from her in 24 hours everyone became concerned.
To say it wasn’t shocking and heart rending is an understatement. My cousin Mark had been in her kitchen talking to her the night before. He was also the one who gave the police permission to break down her door.
Ellen was left everything in Karen’s will. The family hoped that Ellen, her daughter and grandchildren would become part of the family, we all want that. But all entreaties have been rebuffed.
Mark, the man who claimed he was my brother (yes I know there are two Mark’s in this story) and my communication stopped during this time. He knew there had been a death in the family, the family he believed was his. Karen’s death meant that we wouldn’t have her wisdom, through experience, to draw from. She was also Mark’s age, only 4 months apart. She was wonderful and funny, and this would mean another relative that Mark would never meet, if he did turn out to be my brother.
He and I began talking, emailing, sharing video about our lives, a lot. I began telling him about the family, my crazy uncle (Dad’s brother) and other crazy stories of the family. I learned that his mother was now deceased, but she was adamant that unless it was intervention from the Almighty Himself, my Dad was also Marks biological father.
I also learned that life with his mother and maternal grandparents was different. His grandparents were moonshiners and when they moved on from that they would manage motels until the spirit moved them, then the whole family would move to another state and manage a motel there. It was Mark who had had enough of the nomadic life style and forced them to finally stay put. Through these exchanges we both began to understand that a DNA test was going to be a necessity.
During this time my daughter started to work on her genealogy portfolio (she’s studying to be a genealogist) and asked all of us to submit DNA to test through Ancestry. She had done this a year before to help her break through a brick wall her paternal great grandfather posed. Now to help validate her research she was asking us to submit too. I submitted DNA and about a month later so did my Mom and Dad. (The interesting results of this are being held for another diary) .
I shared the results of my DNA test with Mark. To show him what at least half of his DNA looked like (my last contact with Ellen’s daughter — who graduated from the same high school I did just a couple of classes back, was to also share this with her).
Mark sent in his DNA.
Some how Dad’s DNA was corrupted and a new sample had to be collected so that delayed everything for corroboration from my daughter’s point of view (his DNA does fully corroborate Mennonite migration) but it didn’t really delay a match between Mark and me. I saw the report on Ancestry before anyone else.
I sat there and looked at it for a few seconds, feeling a hundred different emotions with tears welling up.
I have a living brother.
We were matched. There was no other way to be that close, no plausible permutation that would yield that.
I texted Mark — “Yo Bro! Go look at Ancestry — BRO. ;-) !”
I texted Margaret — “We have a brother!”
Margaret called and we decided not to tell Mom and Dad until Dad’s DNA came back.
That was the plan anyway. Margaret slipped up and everything came spilling out, and I was summoned in both email and phone call that I can only describe as emotionally draining. Which is better than what I felt like going into it — like this was the inquisition, and I was in the Star Chamber.
And then we began to let Dad comes to terms with it. This is not 50-60 years ago. No one is upset with him, no one is ashamed of him. His daughters and grandchildren love him, support him and don’t think any less of him. Mark himself holds no ill will toward him. Our many conversations bore that out. He just wanted to know who his father was, and he wanted, if possible a relationship with him.
At one point in our many conversations he told me he wanted to finally say something he had never gotten to say before:
Those two words, something that I had taken for granted caused me to cry (I still do). They also caused my sister to get emotional.
Dad’s second DNA test came back as a match.
We let Dad come to terms with this slowly, but with the objective that we were not going to stall. We were going to move forward and do this positively. We were going to be welcoming and accepting and be a family.
We began to plan on a meeting of just the 5 of us for early Jan 2017.
In preparation for this Dad told cousin Mark about brother Mark at a dinner in December. Dad has been to his nieces and nephews that father they didn’t have, and as such my sister and I have more regarded them as siblings than cousins. This is the most evident in my cousin Mark, whose parents (aunt Nancy and her husband) divorced when he was little and he never had a relationship with his bio dad. He and my Dad have a father/son relationship, and we were worried about how cousin Mark would feel about all of this. If he’d feel displaced -so we have tried to make sure he doesn’t feel that way.
Now at this dinner was not only cousin Mark, but my brother-in-law Mark too . So we have Mark^3 (Mark cubed), and they were all born the same month too. (AAAH!)
The logistics were worked out. I would fly back to Denver from Boston, and brother Mark would drive up. Since it was on his way he would stop at the graves of the people he now knew were his grandparents, the house Dad grew up in, and pick up a special bread for Dad. (Dad requested it)
I arrived just a few hours before he did. He and I met and I got him settled in his room. Because we didn’t know how this would go it was decided that he’d have a hotel room for 3 days. Then if it went badly he could leave, but if it went well he’d stay with relatives.
The next day, Saturday, Margaret, Mark and I had breakfast.
We were doing this by degrees.
Lunch was when Dad, Mom, Margaret, Mark and I would all get together. (I have this meeting on video)
Each meal, each meeting kept getting better.
By dinner Mark met the other two Marks. Brother Mark, likes cousin Mark — they are both Nam Vets. I think the feeling is mutual.
The next day Dad introduced Mark at his church as his son!
Then after church Mark got to enjoy something that Dad’s daughters and my children have all enjoyed — Dad’s/Grandpa’s pancakes. Mark wiggled in his chair for joy that his Dad had made him pancakes.
Little things that we took for granted.
Monday came and Mark moved his stuff to my parents home, where I was staying. Dad took out the photo albums and the family genealogy books and began to teach Mark the family history. This is something we are all schooled in, some of which I’ve related here in various diaries.
My Mom deserves a medal. She has been totally supportive of her husband. I learned that 15 years ago when she and Mark last had exchanged letters she told him that if DNA proved that he was Dad’s son, the family would accept him with open arms. And that has proved to be the case. It was never a thought to do otherwise.
It has been a tradition that when I come back to Denver to visit my parents that Dad and I sing a duet at their church. This time however no plans to do this were made. Thursday night, almost a week since this odyssey began, Dad and I began singing and goofing somewhat on the song we’ve sung at church, the Judds “Love Can Build a Bridge.”
I’m a soprano and Dad’s a tenor. During our goofing Mom joined us. She’s an alto but hasn’t sung at church for the longest time. And then Mark joined in with a full rich tenor! An idea was born. Dad called the church quickly the next morning to see if we could sing on Sunday. It was a go and so we practiced.
Sunday came and Dad, Mark and I sang (Margaret recorded it) The guest minister, Paul Kottke’s*, sermon was entitled “Strength to Love — Beloved Community.” It was on choosing love, not fear, to welcome the stranger, the refugee, not push him away, to not devolve into hatred and fear. It was very much the social justice, activist sermon that I remember in the United Methodist Church and I was heartened and grateful for it.
Our song dovetailed nicely with the message. In fact he borrowed the words and put them into his sermon.
But this was special, especially to my Dad, to sing with his children.
It was a lovely week and we are trying to get together with EVERYONE in May or June.
Brother Mark now had his life’s dream realized at age 60. To know for sure who his Dad is, to meet him and then hopefully. have a relationship with him. And to have a relationship with half sisters, their families and his cousins.
I now have a living brother, plus my cousin/brother, and 2 brothers-in-law, all but one name Mark. My Mom has a step son who has taken to her quickly and calls her “Mom.” My Dad has another son, this one tied directly to him and who is living (my full brother died 2 years before I was born at 3 days old from what is now called infant respiratory distress syndrome). My kids have a “new uncle,” I have some new nieces and their families to get to know, Mark’s girlfriend to get to know (he’s a widower). His girl friend as well as his other sister from his Mom’s side and I are all friended on Facebook. I think we’ll be alright.
The books Rev. Kottke (*the only name in this diary that wasn’t changed) used in his sermon:
Strength to Love. Rev. Dr, Martin Luther King Jr.
Massacre at Sand Creek, Gary L. Roberts
(Kottke believes in owning up to the darkness Methodists [and the nation] were part of, like slavery, so they can be a better socially active and just church)
Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker J, Palmer