This weekend my mother, father, and I traveled to Asheville, North Carolina for a once-in-a-lifetime event: we are meeting two of my father’s biological siblings.
My father is 59 years old and will be meeting members of his biological family for the first time thanks to something many of you may have tried: a commercial DNA test—an Ancestry.com DNA test to be exact.
I found out my dad was adopted at a young age—I don’t remember just how young but certainly before 2nd grade. Beginning in earnest around 5th grade, I attempted to find his biological family—this mostly consisted of combing through digital copies of newspapers or making posts on discussion boards.
I’m a naturally curious person and have always loved to do research but I can’t really tell you why I wanted to find his biological family. I know a big reason was my desperation to have a culture. Growing up in Hawai’i I always felt so, so left out and lesser than for not having a culture, language, or group to belong to—I thought if I could find my dad’s family that would be the key to unlocking my culture and all the amazing things that come along with having one. I was in 5th grade and obviously didn’t understand the larger implications of this but none the less it motivated me back then.
I was extremely close to his adoptive parents, even closer than I was to my own maternal, biological grandparents. They liked movies and music and were well educated. I was able to go to their house and listen to cool records, read interesting books, watch films, and hear all about politics and history. My father’s adoptive father died when I was in 5th grade and his adoptive mother came to live with us shortly thereafter. She was dying of brain cancer at the time and was also suffering from several chemical dependencies. During her time living with us and during end-of-life care she told my mother and father details about his biological family that no one had known. She told us his biological family was from South Carolina, that his mom’s husband was a Postman who had been killed in an accident, and that she had several other small children to care for alone.
My father was born at Saint Joseph’s hospital in Savannah, Georgia on December 28, 1959. His adoptive mother was a nurse at the hospital and after struggling with infertility she and her husband began the adoption process through the Catholic Church. The hospital contacted them immediately when my father was born and they were connected with a social worker who relayed details about his biological family and finalized the adoption. During that time, the State of Georgia “blacked out” all birth certificates of adoptees so there was no way for anyone to gain any information about my father’s biological family.
After adopting my father, his parents relocated to Athens, Georgia, finally settling in Carrollton, Georgia in the early 1960s.
Throughout my life, I begged my father to find his biological family but he was never interested in doing so. He never presented any objections beyond saying he felt he had a good childhood and didn’t need a new family.
When he became a grandfather in 2009 I asked again and he relented. After a couple of years of back and forth, he agreed to hire an agency to find his family. The agency successfully found his 80+-year-old mother. He was permitted to write her a letter and he did so but her response wasn’t what he had hoped. She responded to his letter and while the agency would not pass the letter on they agreed to read the letter to my father: his biological mother was not interested in establishing a relationship with him. They relayed a few other details over the phone but since my father didn’t have a way to record, reread, or take down the details, that was the end of the line.
I had been pushing him to follow through with this process for 20 years and when he finally agreed he was met with further rejection from someone he’d never met. The one friend I confided in said I should have just left things alone and that things happened the way they were supposed to in the past so I shouldn’t have pushed to change them now…I felt extremely guilty.
A year or two afterward, I asked my mother to buy DNA tests in a last-ditch effort to find some additional information. My mother and I ordered Ancestry.com DNA tests. My father lives and works overseas so we planned to get him one at a later date. We spit into the tubes and mailed them off.