We discussed purchasing a DNA test for years. We thought it would be a fun thing to do, find out who we are and where our families come from. Finally, my husband and I gifted each other a kit for Christmas last year. Curious and eager, I was looking forward to knowing how I got my dark features. Both my parents are very fair. My father is Anglo-Australian with tallish blonde hair, crystal blue eyes, and fair skin. My mother is a fair-complexioned Balkan woman. My father and I were both excited to get a breakdown of my ethnicity. We were looking forward to seeing where our British heritage was exactly from.
Ever since I was a little girl, I quietly questioned my identity. Gazing deeply into the mirror I was puzzled how I inherited my Croatian grandfather’s olive skin. I also have thick, wavy, dark hair and high cheekbones, yet my sisters didn’t. During my teens, I started to ask my mother how I have olive skin and why my sisters are so pale. My mother would brush it off casually with confidence explaining I inherited my Croatian grandfather’s genes and left it at that. I even asked my mother a couple of years ago if my father was my biological father. She was completely bewildered I would ask her such a thing.
Something, or someone, nudged me to dig deeper to find out the truth.
Seven days before Christmas, I received a text. My DNA results were ready. Gingerly, I opened my results. As I scrolled down through each result, I saw I had a big chunk of South-Eastern European. Then, I came across a surprise ethnicity—Sicilian. I instantly thought it was from my Croatian grandfather, and it all made sense as to why I had olive skin and thick dark wavy hair. I continued to keep scrolling to see what British ancestry I had, but I couldn’t scroll further down. Nothing appeared. Not even one percent. Just a bit of Eastern European and German.
Knots tied tightly in my stomach. Anxiety fluttered through my veins so fast. Barely breathing, I was convinced my results were a huge mistake, I concluded that maybe my father was mistaken, and he was actually Sicilian and German. Frantically, I grabbed my phone and called my father. Barely breathing and scrambling to form words, I managed to tell him there was no British ancestry from my results, and perhaps he was mistaken.
There was a long silence from my father. He eventually said he is definitely British and there is no Sicilian or German lineage in our family. I started to get nauseous and felt faint. With my fingers shaking uncontrollably, I managed to text my mother about my results. My mother never responded to my text.
That’s when I knew my father was not my real father.
The last half of December was spent drowning in pools of depression and anxiety. My mind and heart raced. I was all over the place. I was hurting. Why didn’t my mother respond? Was she contacting my real father? Every moment, I waited for a response from her. On Christmas day, I sat on the couch by the Christmas tree looking outside my window fantasizing that my real father would knock on my front door. In high hopes, I could just imagine we would unite. He would tell me why he was out of my life and now he is ready to be in my life and tell me all about my identity.
On Christmas day, my biological father did not visit. There was no knock at the door. Disappointment and rejection shadowed over me and I drowned deep into my grief.
My mother never reached out to me. She cowardly made her partner contact my husband to set up a face-to-face meeting a couple of days after New Year’s Day. I learned I was a product of an affair. My mother told me my biological father died 13 years ago. I have four older siblings. My mother said she had no idea of his ethnicity other than that he was of Jewish faith.
Enraged by the years of deceit and hurt, I exploded at my mother and informed her I never wished to speak to her again.
During January, I felt so alone. Knowing nothing about my biological father’s side, I was determined to find out. After hours of research, I found his online obituary and reached out to my older sister. Within a few weeks, I completely learned my father was a product of a World War II love affair. This is the “story” of how it happened. His father, my grandfather, was Sicilian, and my grandmother who was of German, Ashkenazi Jewish and Middle Eastern descent met in Vienna, Austria. Apparently, their tryst ended when he found out the Nazis were invading Sicily, so he went back to his wife, and five children. Discovering this story sliced my aching wounds deeper than ever. My sister has given me photographs of my biological father and his parents. I look exactly like them. And it all now makes sense where I get my olive skin and dark complexion from.
Being a product of an affair is a hard pill to swallow and even harder to swallow now knowing my biological father too was born out of an affair. Disgusted that I derived from a lineage of affairs, I felt constantly dirty. Numerous times a day, I hoped I could be flushed out from this dirty, hidden secret that has been brought into the light.
Aimlessly, I would wander around perplexed and numbed by it all. Questions ticked and circulated around in my head. I have brought a little boy into this world, how am I supposed to tell him? My son thinks the man who raised me is his grandfather. How a parent could completely betray their child, pass off their child as someone else’s, deny their biological fathers’ family, and live a life of lies was beyond the morals and values that were taught to me. When growing up, I got into trouble over the littlest lies, and here is my own mother—my flesh and blood—who has created the biggest lie ever.
This secret, this truth, has emerged into grief that has never been felt before. I grieve for time lost.
I grieve for 35 years I have lost getting to know a half of myself I never knew about, and that it was deliberately kept from me. I grieve for my biological father who I was deprived of knowing. I grieve for his death. I grieve for never being able to know my older siblings. I grieve for never being able to meet my paternal grandparents.
What I have learned, through this profound grief I have experienced, blooms esoteric love. It is a unique love that many will and will not comprehend. I never got to meet them and know them, but I will always love my biological father and his parents. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about them and look at their photographs. I think about the could-haves and should-haves. By learning to not dwell on these fantasies, I delicately store them in a special place in my mind and heart.
While I navigate through this complex time of mourning, I hold onto the solace that Pandora’s box has opened. My father, the man who raised me will always be my father. He showed me gentle, delicate, and beautiful fatherly love that my mother and biological father did not provide me.
My mother treated me differently from my younger sisters. She always favored them, and she made me felt like I was not good enough. Her behavior toward me makes sense, I was a daily reminder of her affair. She injected her shame and guilt onto me to make herself feel better.
People make mistakes. But I am not the mistake. My mother made a huge mistake keeping the truth from me, and she will need to live with that consequence.
Allowing myself to accept I am of Sicilian and German, Ashkenazi Jewish and Middle Eastern descent connects some of my broken pieces together. Acknowledging all details of myself has granted me access to the power I would have otherwise concentrated on denying who I am and what I am blooming into.
Finding out the truth about my identity has resulted in teaching me valuable lessons about love and grief. No matter where I go, how much I will run away, what path I choose in search of that shiny light, I will always be the person I will meet when I get there. Because there are no greener pastures, there are no brighter rainbows. There will only be little pockets to retreat when it sporadically rains and thunders.
Instead of desperately clinging to false realities, I choose to center on what I adore about my life and what I deeply love about my truth. Parts of me have been cracked open, where millions of broken pieces have been thrown around, scattered everywhere. I am crawling and desperately searching to collect each piece and put it back together.
As I continue to heal, I know it is completely OK to come into contact with more of my pain, my hardness, my melancholy, and my grief. How I am intensely piecing together my life does not indicate I am gravitating backward–they are the ebbs and flows of each season I encounter with my newfound self.
There are numerous and yet intricate layers to my being, assembled together by the years and experiences I have garnered.
There are delightful layers of joy on top of thick burdens of shame, guilt, and fear. All are interwoven within my past, present, and what is to come. What the past has witnessed does not define who am I, and yet, none dictate what I am growing into. It all informs me that all are part of the fabric of my life. Each thread is a part of the tapestry that stitches me together and makes me who I am.
In spite of the heartbreak and deception, there is beauty in the brokenness. There is magic in the mess. There is light in the darkness. I thought I lost myself when in fact I have found myself. Finally, I can share my ethnicity, my identity, my truth with the younger version of myself. The little girl who was so confused and disconnected now has clarity and feels seen. She has returned home. We laugh, we cry, we dance and celebrate together. I clutch her hand and we journey together in this new world with openness and love.
No longer do I have someone else dictating who I am. Now I have reclaimed the power, and I can define and redefine who I am. My DNA discovery shattered me, but it has taught me to be an even better version for my son and my descendants, but most importantly for myself.