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Not Parent Expected (NPE): DNA, Identity, and Changing More Than My Family History

You might want to think twice before submitting your DNA

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The side by side my DNA angel sent me.
The side by side my DNA angel sent me.

Like millions of other Americans, I took a DNA-ancestry test and was eager to learn more about my roots. When I got my testing results, I was surprised to learn that my biological father was not who I thought he was. 

“Not parent expected” – NPE – is a surprise that thousands of us have gotten as a result of the rise of consumer ancestry DNA testing. We discover that we are the offspring of a sperm donor, sexual violence, a fuzzy night at a party long-ago, an affair, or a single experimental partner-swap since long forgotten.

It is expected that 7-10% of the population in the United States is an NPE.  Taking into account that 32% of all paternity DNA tests come back negative, this is the birth of a large population identity crisis. The identity crisis that follows along with the disenfranchised grief, and shame is only a part of the story.

For six weeks I anxiously waited for the results. The day finally came, and I got an email notifying me that my results were in. I was excited to learn about my origins and find the cousins I had always longed for. Instead, I was hit by a wave of denial and disbelief. Then the grief took hold.

There was only one match that was 25% or more.  Siblings have a 50% match and parents are 100%. Surely something must be wrong.  I researched the number of false negatives.  Then I sat and stared.  After 50 years of life, always feeling like an outsider and shortly after my younger sisters’ death, thee it was.  I had a half-brother named David Rubin.

To say I was anxious is an understatement.  This newfound brother obviously shared the same paternal DNA as I did and without a gap in time that meant I had found my biological father.  I asked David via text in the site a few questions and his answers verified that he and I had the same biological father.

Then he ghosted me.  No explanation, nothing, he vanished.  The searches I did to find our father went nowhere.  I knew he had the last name Rubin and had been a student at Penn State University in 1964.  For 2 years I searched and prayed.  My lost identity, shame, and grief grew.

While browsing through the Facebook Groups for NPE’s, I found an angel.  She was a gift like no other and offered to help me.  In less than 48 hours, I had answers.  My DNA angel asked me for a picture of myself at 3 years old.  

Allen and Shari circa 1968

Within minutes I had a picture side-by-side with my biological father.  There was no doubt.  This was the right man.

If I am being honest, I was excited.  I never looked like anyone before and here he was – a man that I shared a face with.  What to do now, I wondered.  I waited, I researched everything I could about him.

His name is Allen Rubin.  My birth certificate father and the man that raised me, name is Alan.  Coincidence?  Wait until I tell you how strange of a coincidence their relationship is.  But first – learning about my bio-father was easy.

A simple google search and I was off and running.  Dr. Allen Rubin is the Bert Kruger Smith Centennial Professor in the School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin, where he has been a faculty member since 1979. He served as an editorial reviewer for 14 professional journals, was a founding member of the Society for Social Work and Research and served as its vice president from 1996 to 1998 and then as its president from 1998 to 2000. He is the recipient of many awards, including the co-recipient of the Society for Social Work and Research Award for Outstanding Examples of Published Research, the 1993 recipient of the University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work’s Distinguished Alumnus Award, and the 2007 recipient of the Council On Social Work Education’s Significant Lifetime Achievement in Social Work Education Award.

You might recognize the name Rubin from the widely used social work research text “Rubin and Babbie,” or as it is officially known, Research Methods For Social Work. In addition to the Rubin and Babbie text, he has authored well over 100 publications, most recently focusing on evidence-based practice.

After weeks of agony, I wrote to him via his professional and publicly available email. Days went by and then, a response.  He learned about my existence two years earlier when David ghosted me. I was heartbroken.

How can a man with the knowledge and understanding about trauma, grief, shame, and more have no sympathy for me?  I mean c’mon this is the same man that taught people like the famed shame researcher, Brené Brown. 

Allen cc’d his older sister Leah in his message to me.  She was an absolute godsend in this situation. Leah, also a social worker, wrote back to me immediately and said I was a gift.  She went on to share that her adult children would be happy to know me and her daughter was excited.  What more could I have wanted?  Nothing.  All I wanted was to learn about the family history and see if I shared any traits, quirks, looks, etcetera with anyone.

I learned that she had written a book about her family history and I immediately downloaded it to my kindle.  Holy Shit!  The information about their father’s lobotomy and garment business in Pittsburgh was riveting.  I learned that their origins were from the same village in Russia as my dad’s family, and that they had another sister whom had died years earlier from colorectal cancer.

In the meantime, she had asked me to share stories about my upbringing and photos of my children at various stages in their lives.  I included Allen, foolishly believing he would care.  Then the hammer fell.  Not only did Allen, my biological father want nothing to do with me, but he told all of the relatives not to associate with me and told me not to contact any of “HIS” relatives.  The man must have an enormous influence over them because any ties I had started to establish were immediately severed, and once again I was ghosted.

As a human, this behavior mystifies me.  Why in the world would anyone not be interested in knowing someone that shares a primary amount of DNA with?  Was my mother raped and he is afraid of the shame?  50 years later, does it really matter?

My heart is heavy, and my identity still disconnected.  My middle son coincidentally shares the same name as my brother – Josh.  They are both middle children.  My youngest and his youngest are named with the letter D, a tradition in Jewish naming conventions.  I would love to know whom David is named after.  Danny, my son, was not named after anyone particular but I had a nagging pull to use a “D”.  

I shared the story with my dad, and he remembers going to my biological father’s garment store with his parents as a child.  The coincidences are many and coincide long before I was conceived.  There is so much I am curious about and so many loose ends.  I have been fortunate to meet a few distant cousins and they have been super helpful in sharing the family tree and other little tidbits.  But that does not make up for the absence and shame that I carry.

I have done a lot of grief work and no longer check the databases for new relatives or information.  It is really too hurtful.  Ready to release my shame, I have let go of the blame surrounding this and I even tried one more time to reach Allen and Leah.

See, I wrote a book, My Skeletons Have Names, that is being published in October, and out of kindness, I wanted to let them know.  There is only a small chapter that discusses my genealogy, but I still felt it was my responsibility to share with them in advance – NO reply.

My second book has been started and is called Skeletons on Parade.  This book has many more DNA references and stories.  It includes how this simple DNA test that I took changed my maternal history and we learned that we are bi-racial.  Imagine discovering that not only is your father not your biological father, but your grandfather was not your biological grandfather?

If I could put the genie back in the bottle, I am not sure that I would.  My mother on the other hand, would put it back and seal it shut!

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