Monday, March 16, 2015

New Connections

Now that I knew who my father was, as well as two of my half-siblings, I wanted to figure out the least intrusive way possible to reach out to them.  I also wanted to find donor conceived half-siblings, who I thought might be more likely to be open to talking with me than my father and his real children (I sound like the Velveteen Rabbit calling them "real" -- is there a proper term for the biological children a man raises and acknowledges as his own, as opposed to his "donor offspring"?).  To both those ends, I joined more online DNA databases.  Since I wouldn't be able to track down "donor siblings" through internet sleuthing the way I had my biological father, the only way to find them would be if we tested with the same company, so I cast the widest net I could -- I joined ALL the DNA databases.

Then I got a surprise.  I recognized my closest match on GEDMatch.com as the name of one of my father's brothers, Franz Von Trapp*.  I had already figured out how I was related to a few more paternal cousins on 23andMe, all from different branches of the family tree, so I was 99% sure of my paternity at that point, but the uncle match was what convinced my close friends that I had gotten it right.  I also knew from my limited but intensive experience with genetic genealogy that a match of that closeness was quite likely his closest match yet and would be bound to catch his eye.  If he contacted me to ask who I was and how we were related, I didn't want to lie.  Even saying I didn't know would be a lie.  But I wanted to give my biological father a chance to disseminate the information first.

I started drafting a letter to my biological father, Joseph*, letting him know who I am and that I'd found him through a mass-market DNA test and deductive reasoning.  I didn't want to email him because emails are too easy to delete.  I didn't want to call him because I didn't want to put either of us on the spot.  I wasn't sure if anyone at his office opened mail for him, so I opted to mail a letter to his home address, which was listed on whitepages.com. 

My first draft was brief and nonchalant.  I even toyed with asking if he'd donated sperm while in medical school, but since I already knew the answer was "yes," his answer would only tell me whether or not he was a liar.  My final draft was about a page long, straight-forward, honest, and probably a little bit creepy since I wanted to tell him how I'd seen the resemblance in our bone structures from old photos and could only explain, "Everything is on the internet."  I told him nothing of my parents or how I grew up.  I skipped to my college degree, my profession, my hobbies.  Benign topics, possible common interests.  I asked his hobbies, his favorite book, and how tall he is because these were the things I wanted to know.  I asked if he would please consider telling his son and daughter, Hans and Simone*, about me in case they would be willing to exchange emails with me.  I knew it was unlikely I'd get a second chance to ask him another question or favor in the future, so I wanted to cover everything the first time, no matter how unlikely he was to respond. 

I hand copied my letter onto carefully selected, high-end stationery embossed with golden flying pigs.  I wasn't sure if he'd get the joke that the impossible had finally happened, but it amused me, and I wanted to give some indication that I have a sense of humor since it's one of my better selling points and it was already unlikely he'd ever listen to me tell a story or make a joke.

In the end I felt good about the letter.  I knew it would be kind of weird and might be very unwelcome, but it said everything I wanted to convey, and it was polite and straight-forward.  Even if he never replied, knowing that he knew I existed and that I had represented myself well gave me a certain amount of peace.  My best friend had suggested I let loose and list every way that I'm angry about being put in this situation, but I would have been embarrassed to bare my emotions to a stranger who, at worst, would be defensive about his life choices and, at best, probably wouldn't care.

I mailed the letter, and I waited.  About a month passed.  I wasn't completely certain he'd received my letter since I hadn't sent it certified, but I didn't want to hound him in case he was consciously ignoring me.  I waited for my DNA results to go live on the Ancestry and Family Tree databases and hoped one of my half-siblings would be listed.  I tried to think of a good way to introduce myself to Franz, the uncle on GEDMatch.  He'd listed his email address on GEDMatch, but some people are open to new genetic connections and some are not, and I didn't know where he stood.  Then one night as I was about to shut down my computer, an email popped up in my inbox with the subject line "Hans Here."  The sender field said Hans Von Trapp.  It was from my brother.

*None of these are their real names.

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