A Complicated Web We Weave

The man I call my Dad is not the man who gave half his DNA to create the zygote who became me. The DNA donor didn’t even hang around until my first birthday. The man I call Dad actually married my mom when I was almost 3, and I have no memories of the other guy- actually didn’t know he existed until one day, over a game of Monopoly, I asked my grandma why I was born before my mom and dad got married.

What I remember, and I don’t know exactly how old I was, is the tender look on my grandma’s face, as she picked up the phone to call my mama. Hiding under her dining-room table, I peered out between the woven fringe on her yellow tablecloth, while she pushed the buttons on her goldenrod desk phone, and said “It’s time. You need to talk to your daughter…” I was older than 8, but I honestly don’t know how old. Old enough to hear the hitch in my grandma’s words, and know she was shaken, and that she loved me.

Grandma took me home, and my mom sat me down in the big tweed recliner in the living room, with the TV off (that meant Serious), and told me about the DNA guy. I don’t remember many specifics, but I do remember holding a book over my head, as if I could hide from this unpleasantness by making a house and walls with the pages. While I may be vague on the specifics of exactly what went down, to say this changed my life is pretty accurate.

On one hand, I went along after that day as a regular kid. I had two parents who loved me and a regular kid’s life, populated by good neighbors, hide and seek, bike rides and swimming lessons. But I never looked at the world quite the same again. I remember watching my Dad with suspicion, with confusion. I wondered if he loved me as much as he did my brothers, who were suddenly only “half” and that frightened me. If Dad was half mine, and my brothers weren’t real, and grandma and mom had kept such a secret from me, what else in my world wasn’t true?

Looking back with the wisdom of years, I understand what happened, and why my parents made the choices they made. I don’t see my siblings as anything less than my blood, and I have tremendous compassion for my Dad and my mom. But as a kid, it was unfathomably confusing. It turned out all my parent’s friends knew my “secret” and not only knew it, but knew DNA guy, and some even had contact with him. Once, he showed up at a big camping picnic, and I walked into a tent to find him doing lines of cocaine. I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but I knew it was bad. That was my first (but not last) remembered interaction with DNA man. I ran and told my Dad. I don’t know what was exchanged, but DNA Man left shortly thereafter.

My teenage years were rocky. I’ll never know how much was normal teenage angst, and how much I manufactured in suspecting my dad didn’t love me as much, since I wasn’t Real. What I know now is, a great deal of what I considered offensive was simply my naivete and lack of understanding of a complicated and painful situation. For everyone.

When I was seventeen, I decided I would drive two states away and meet DNA man. I had this idea that if I could only get to know him, things would smooth out in my life. I had arranged to stay with DNA Man’s parents, who had always kept track of my life through photos and cards my mom and other friends would send. (If nothing else good came of that trip, it was getting to know two really wonderful people who were also caught up in a sad set of events.) DNA Man was remarried, and had two children, but his new wife would not allow me to visit them at their home. I had to meet his children at his place of work. It was awkward and sorrowful, and I felt terrible. DNA Man tried to excuse his new wife as simply protecting her own children, but even at seventeen I could see that for rubbish.

I wonder now how my Dad felt about my searching. We’ve never talked about it much. My attempts over the years, and there have a been a handful, to make contact with DNA Man have been ridiculously disappointing and sad. If anything, it underscores the wisdom of my parents in removing him from my life and protecting me as long as they could. They knew it was inevitable that someday I would ask questions. They also knew the answers I’d get were going to suck.

DNA Man is alive somewhere in the west, but I don’t even try to make contact anymore. His parents died several years ago, and he took the wedding ring his mother left me in her will and sold it. That tells you just about everything you need to know.

There’s a country song about a man who marries a single mom, and the boy grows up and thanks his Dad for being a Dad when he didn’t have to be… this pretty much sums up my feelings for my Dad. He was a young man, and he loved my mom and adopted me, and became the Father I would not otherwise have had. He did his best to protect me and raise me, and while my younger self could not understand the complicated curves live throws at you, the me of today certainly does.

Now I’m going to go bake treats and skip church today, because my kids don’t need to even know it’s Father’s Day. My most earnest prayers is to let them be protected from the insane things their DNA Man has done… May we be so lucky to find a man who will love them the way my Dad did me.

14 thoughts on “A Complicated Web We Weave

  1. As always, raw, honest and beautiful. Thank you for sharing yet another part of you.
    Hope you enjoy a peaceful day at home with your kids!

    Love and prayers, K

  2. You will. I never thought I would- but wow, my husband is an AWESOME “dad” and my son is very blessed because of it. If we never are able to have our own children togther, it would not matter. J loves N as much, if not more, than he could love his own flesh & blood.

  3. Thanks for sharing this Tracy. I have a DNA man of my own – even more removed than your own, and no dad, adopted or otherwise, to take DNA man’s place. I found that my mom and grandma kept secrets from me about my father that really shook me to the core and hit me hard when I finally found out: basically that my dad refused to marry my mom when she got pregnant and the whole “divorce” thing was a big lie to protect me from being “illegitimate.” I felt like my life was a sham. Life can be so messy and hard and unpredictable. I wish my mom would have let us skip church on Father’s Day. It would have made things just a little easier.

  4. It’s sad what a common story it is. Thanks for sharing it.

    My niece tried to meet her real dad when she was a teenager and living with us. I mean, she did meet him–over both my parents’ and her mother’s objections. She found out she had half-siblings she didn’t know and went to stay with her half-sister for a week (in another state). While there her father came over, offered her a beer (she was 15), and she noticed her half-sisters young daughter’s acting a certain way while he was there.

    She recognized the signs of abuse, having been abused herself by her step-dads, and mentioned it to her half-sister, who questioned her daughters and found out he’d been molesting them. Before she came home my niece testified against her father–don’t remember the exact details, but he was out of prison on parole at the time, and was immediately sent back to prison because of her discovery that he was molesting his granddaughters.

    I think she stayed in touch with her half-sister. Her father later died in prison.

  5. oh tracy. add this to the long long list of things we have in common. on my gosh. we need to get together sometime. truly. except my stepdad, the one a i grew up knowing as “dad” since age 7 was not as kind as yours. abusive alcoholic. i hate this day, today, father’s day. it is a non-day for me. a holiday recognizing all i’ve missed. yippee. my only celebration is that my daughters (and son) will never know this pain.

    you, my dear, will find love again. and you, my dear, will provide that “dad” to your children. you know what it looks like. you will find it again.


  6. This was absolutely fascinating – because I went through the same thing. My mom and stepdad married when I was 3.5 and I can still remember living with my mom, just us, and living with my mom and grandma and aunt before we moved out of my grandma’s house. I remember the wedding. I never really figured out that I had a DNA donor, but when I was 8, my grandma told me in the line to Splash Mountain and Disneyland that I was adopted. What an awesome place for that story!!

    I met my biological dad and family when I was 19. I think back to my teenage years and I wonder if there was fabricated angst for me… but I don’t think so. In my case, my step dad really DOESN’T like me, he really DOES treat his biological kids much differently (and much better) than me, and he did hurt me when I was young. I always wanted a Daddy, but in my case I had a father and a DNAdonor.

    I got to see my DNAdonor a few weeks ago, for only the 4th or so time ever (he lives out east, so I don’t see him much. I do get to hang out with his parents/extended family at least once a month, as almost all of them live in Utah and get together once a month for family dinners.) Anyway, I finally opened up to him and told him just how crappy I felt about the whole thing, and how sad and depressed I am that I will never have what his kids now have – a daddy. I cried and cried. But you know what? He was so awesome about it. He hugged me, and he gave me a blessing, and he took special care to spend as much time with me as he could. It was so healing and so wonderful. I am excited to see him again when he comes back out in November.

    Anyway, I just thought it was kinda neat and weird that our stories are similar – at least with the whole being 3, and then being 8, and that stuff. I am not allowed to talk to my mom about my experiences with my paternal family because she is still very bitter about what happened at my conception 23 years ago (grandparents shipped bio-dad off to Hawaii, then he went on a mission and they all lied to the stake president to get him to go, etc.) But I am grateful that I finally met the guy, because it’s creepy how much alike we are. And I am even grateful for my step-dad’s treatment of me, because it taught me what NOT to look for in a mate, and it taught me that I do not ever want to adopt a child after having biological children, because they will always perceive preferential treatment. Or something.

  7. seems there are too many of us to whom this story isn’t shocking, but reality. With that in mind I am reminded of two things:
    “I Nephi being born of goodly parents…” This used to bug the heck out of me. I would secretly bemoan the fact that, not only did I *not* have goodly parents, but there seemed to be a revolving “father” door at our house. oy.

    Then one day while reading the above verse for the gillionth time it occurred to me that, um duh S’mee, you *DO* have goodly parents, Goodly Parents! MY *real* Dad is the Father of the universe, and that would never change, no matter who forgot to thaw strawberries or who got too drunk.

    “…and now we’ll sing great praise, and reverently recall- The Holy One who gave His Son, the Father of us all! Fathers are so special, with a very special love. They watch us and protect us, they guide us, and direct us back to our Home above.”

    Happy Father’s Day Tracy. We have a pretty great “Dad” don’t we?

  8. I think a lot of people are hoping the same hope for your family. With that many hope and prayers I think it’s pretty likely to happen. Whenever the time is right, you know…. whenever the heck that is.

  9. I’m kind of surprised how common this is, as Susan M said. Growing up, I thought I was the only one who had such “tragic” beginnings. Of course I don’t see it that way anymore- but as a kid/teen I was pretty myopic and thought I was the only one with such issues.

    Thank you all for your kindnesses and continued loving support. I hope you’re right, Em. I sure do…

  10. Thank you for sharing this.

    Your heart is awesome – to understand why skipping church this day was good. Healing at your own pace, and allowing your children the same.

  11. Bless you. My respect deepens and deepens each time I read a new post. More than just a talented person and writer, I think you have the talent for perspective and putting that all together, it touches my heart often.

  12. Dr. Laura is always telling people to not look for the sperm or egg donor. One she doesn’t think children should look for a birth mom that put them up for adoption, and two, most sperm donors have nothing to do or want anything to do with their offspring. It is better to leave them be, and remember who raised who, and who loved through years and years. Fantasy very rarely will become reality.

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