IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Found My Birth Father And Was Threatened With Legal Action

Why would someone get upset with a person who is looking for their family?
Publish date:
August 31, 2015
closed adoption, adoption law, family drama, IHTM, birth parents

From the age of 13, I have known who my biological father was.

One day, while I was pilfering through my mothers "important papers," I discovered a marriage certificate between her and my dad, dated 2 years after my birth.

By this time, my parents had been divorced for 4 years, and my dad was completely out of the picture. I took the marriage certificate to my mother and demanded an explanation. She didn’t even try to lie about it. From what I’ve read, most parents in these types of situations have a story prepared, all in the name of protecting the innocent.

She told me that she had an affair with a married man.

I was knee-deep in hormones at the time, so I can’t really remember if I cried, screamed, stomped out of the room. I just knew that I was confused, and I felt worse about myself than I ever had.

My now step-father was not a good man. He was an alcoholic, a serial philanderer, and he had sexually abused me. I was not sorry to see him exit my life. What I did believe about myself, however, was that I was born legitimate, and that I had two older half-brothers (from my stepfather’s first marriage) who seemed to really like me.

It was all a lie, and it also explained why I had an amended birth certificate, because my stepfather had legally adopted me when I was 6 years old.

My mother gave me as much information about my father as she could. She had known him as a friend for a number of years, and then when she was going through a divorce, they reconnected and I was the result of that happy reunion.

He was married with 3 children at the time (a fact that my mother claims she found out about AFTER she became pregnant), and when my mother confronted him about her pregnancy, he told her he had had a vasectomy, therefore I could not be his child.

She did not contact him again, other than to send him some baby pictures.

Until I was in my mid-30s, I didn’t give the situation much thought. With such limited information about my birth father, I had decided it was not worth the effort to find him.

That is, until I discovered the power of the internet. I fished around for a while and got some good leads. I mailed some letters and received phone calls from people wondering why I was sending these types of letters. That always perplexed me. Why would someone get upset with a person who is looking for their family?

Three years ago I jumped on the family-finder mothership – I began building a family tree and used their search resources to hopefully find my birth father.

Again, I compiled a list of likely candidates, mailed out letters, and received only 4 responses stating that I had contacted the wrong person. I started a Facebook page and reached out to websites that helped adoptees (even though I was only half an adoptee) find their birth families.

I just couldn’t gain any traction, and once again, laid the search down. I had a family of my own and I didn’t have the time to devote to this search.

As my children got older, they asked more questions about my father. I had never hidden anything from them, and their curiosity never waned. They had lost their paternal grandfather and really wanted to meet my father.

I knew deep down that those sorts of reunions rarely result in sitting on grandpa’s lap in front of a fire reading a book, but I did understand their desire to just KNOW. I believe that it is a God-given right to know where you come from, and I did want to give that to my children.

In a bizarre twist of events, my husband found out this past Father’s Day weekend that the man who raised him was not his biological father. Due to the work I had done on our family tree at Ancestry, we were contacted by someone working on a genealogy project and they asked if my husband would be willing do a DNA test to confirm some matches on his paternal side.

We were excited about it, and the test would be at no cost to us. The results came back, and revealed that my husband and his older brother (who he thought was a half-brother) actually shared the same biological father.

While that was a shock to our family, it gave me the idea to have a DNA test done. This opened up a whole new world of possibilities in my attempt to find my father.

I ordered the test from Ancestry, submitted it, and three weeks later I had my results in front of me on my computer screen. My ethnicity was Western European, which was surprisingly comprised of a large percentage of Irish.

I scanned through my "matches" and immediately felt overwhelmed. I shared DNA with about 400 people, but I had no idea how. I uploaded the results to some other DNA websites and was contacted by a match.

She was a genealogy guru and helped me navigate through the terms and chromosome segments. I was encouraged to join some Facebook groups that help people find their birth families, which I did.

Within two weeks of doing my DNA test, I had located my father by contacting his cousin Gerald through Ancestry. We exchanged emails, I sent pictures, and proved that I knew information about my dad that no complete stranger could possibly know.

He felt confident that I was who I said I was, and promised to contact my father. He even mentioned that I looked a lot like his other children and my grandmother.

Two days passed, and I had not heard back from Gerald. His wife Doris sent me a friend request on Facebook, with a message – "I know the family you are looking for."

She and I spoke on the phone, and she revealed why I had never heard back from Gerald – my father didn’t want to meet me right now. He told Gerald that he had always known about me, and that he did want to meet me eventually, but now wasn’t a good time.

He is 76 years old, and I knew those opportunities were fading quickly. I also discovered that he had been the recipient of one of my letters from three years earlier. The old man was putting me off, therefore I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I Googled the names of his kids and quickly found Facebook pages and email addresses. I composed a long detailed email to my two sisters, revealing who I was, the circumstances of how I came to be, and that I would like to meet.

I must have read it over and over a thousand times before pressing the send button. It wasn’t long before I received a response from one sister, which read, “I don’t know what your intentions are, but do not contact me or anyone in my family.”

I froze. What was that all about? Did she think I was some sort of scammer or weirdo? I presented her with some cold hard facts, gave her information on how to contact me, and also information about my family. I was completely transparent.

I wasn’t after an inheritance or a chance to have a spot at the Thanksgiving table. I just wanted to know who my family was, and I had hoped that they would want to know me.

I cried into my pillow that night, feeling the sting of rejection from someone with whom I shared a genetic bond. I knew that relationally we were strangers, but genetically we were sisters. I thought that meant something.

The next day I received a call from Doris, Gerald’s wife. In her thick Southern accent, she said, “All hell has broken loose over here” which meant my sisters were extremely upset and had probably been making some phone calls.

The second email response I received was the piece de re¢sistance – my oldest sister had been appointed the family spokesperson, and proceeded to inform me that “It is unfortunate that you have come to the point in your life that you would feel the need to connect with people with whom you believe you are related.”

How is that unfortunate, exactly?

She stated that there was only an "alleged" paternity, and assured me that we were not related. She then began to threaten legal action if tried to contact anyone in their family, either by phone or personal contact. I believe her exact words were, “appearing on anyone’s doorstep will not be tolerated” and “any further persecution will be considered harassment and I will be forced to contact my attorney.”

At that time in my life, I couldn't understand what would cause someone to respond so vehemently to a person who was only trying to connect with their biological family.

I could understand getting upset, feeling shocked and disillusioned. If I had received an email like the one I had sent her, I would certainly investigate the claims. I would not, however, respond in a hateful and litigious manner.

I wanted to respond with many words…bad words. I was enraged at how someone I knew I was genetically related to could be so cruel. I concluded that they were all psychos and there was probably some weird family dysfunction that I didn’t want any part of.

I also realized that my father had obviously denied being my father to my half-siblings. Over 40 years had passed, and he still couldn’t own up to it. I thought that was very, very sad, and knew that he would have to live out his remaining days with that on his conscience.

I took the high road. I responded to my sister and very pointedly stated that there was no "alleged" paternity, because I had DNA evidence. I told her that it was unfortunate that she wasn’t willing to explore it further, and that I would respect her wishes and cease any further attempts to contact any of their family.

I wished her the best and apologized for any harm this may have caused her. Then I blocked them from all of my social media accounts and minimized my online presence as much as possible.

In my mind, they were the crazy ones, and there was a possibility that they might show up on MY doorstep someday, blaming me for ruining their happy family.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I realize that their reactions were probably more normal than not. I went online and read about others’ experiences with these secret revelations, and gained some perspective from the legitimate children.

They are innocent too, and to have a secret sibling contact you out of the blue is utterly traumatic. It causes them to question their entire lives, and in the beginning they find a way to blame the half-sibling for it.

If daddy has a love child, they worry that their place in the family might be threatened. I’m sure they ask themselves, “What right does this (innocent) person have to come forward and upset my life?”

There is a phrase that Dr. Phil uses that I really like, where he tells people that when they do something stupid that affects their kids, almost always the kids pick up the tab. He’s right.

One night of drinking and partying resulted in a life; a person with feelings and a need to feel like she’s connected to something. For many years I did pick up the tab for my mother and father, but now I’m sliding it back over to them.

I will keep the door open to a possible meeting with my father and half-siblings. I’m glad that I exercised some restraint by not responding to my siblings with an equal amount of contempt and hostility.

In time, perhaps, they will come to terms with this revelation and want to find out more. I hope that my father will obey his conscience and tell the truth. In the meantime, life will go on and I now have closure about who my father is. That will have to be enough….for now.

**all names have been changed to protect their identities