Secrets, Lies, and DNA

I read an article today on Huffpost.com titled: The Death of the Family Secret. In a nutshell, the article is about how, with the use of commercial DNA testing, people are uncovering secrets, lies, and hidden truths about their families. The article discusses the ethics involved in exposing such secrets AND questions where privacy fits into the equation for those who desperately want to keep such secrets. Ethics? 

If you’ve read my book, THE LIES THAT BIND, you’d know that I believe that a secret or a lie that covers up the core of another person’s identity is not okay. Never. Ever.

My story deals with the secrets and lies that go hand in hand with closed records adoption. Other scenarios that cause people to keep secrets include the use of sperm donors, egg donors, surrogacy, or even just flat out lies to cover up an affair. No matter what the reason, lies about a person’s biological origins–heritage, medical history, family legacy, relatives . . . are not OKAY!

This is the quote from the article that got me going:

“Where do your rights to learn these secrets end and the rights of others to keep them begin? What makes a family? What role should your DNA play in your sense of self or identity?”

A right to keep a secret about another person’s identity? I don’t get it. That’s not a right.

What role should DNA play? Well, no one can answer that. DNA plays the role it plays. It’s science. Human body systems, organs, tissues, and cells play roles in identity. It’s the nature vs. nurture argument all over again. To understand where one comes from is to begin to understand one’s identity.

DNA has been, and continues to be, a lifesaver (literally and figuratively) for adoptees. And it’s not going away. Funny thing is, a majority of the states (California included!) are keeping the closed records rules in place, despite the increasing popularity in commercial DNA testing. DNA testing, combined with the growing trend (and big business of) genealogy, are blowing apart the archaic rules and legalities behind closed records adoptions. It’s about time.

By the way, Happy Father’s Day! Thanks to DNA, I found my biological father. Read more about my story in my book, THE LIES THAT BIND. And, I’m celebrating by having a sale  for both the paperback and ebook at Amazon! It’s a shameless plug, I know. But, I would like to know your thoughts on the article and about DNA uncovering our truths.

Happy Father’s Day!

3d mock1

A Never Ending Journey

This “family” thing just keeps growing. Don’t get me wrong . . . I’m not complaining.  Far from it.  On the contrary, I’m celebrating it. Since I met my biological father in 2015, who, if you’ve been following my story here, you know as Jackson, I’ve discovered many more branches on this big ol’ family tree.

Genealogy is an amazing thing.  Especially for adoptees.  From the beginning we’re told we’re not entitled to know our origins or our roots. Well, DNA and the art of genealogy has opened up a whole new world for us.

I owe quite a bit of thanks to others, who are much better at the research and at poring over old documents and putting puzzle pieces together.  For that, I have to thank my friend Nancy. She won’t let a clue go until she’s worked it every which way, deciphering hints hidden in old records and finding hidden meaning in everything from newspaper articles to the spelling of names.

I also have to thank my newfound cousin, Beth. She’s quite a sleuth herself. She uncovered some of the mystery on my biological mother’s side of the family. Things and people I don’t even think my biological mother knows about! I feel so family rich!

Later this week, I’m traveling with Nancy up to Northern California to finally meet some cousins on my bio-dad’s side. At last, I’m finally meeting Heide, Jackson’s first cousin, who is 91 years old. She’s the one who opened the door for Jackson and me to the rich family legacy that we now share. We’re staying with Heide’s daughter (who also happens to be named Nancy) and her husband. I feel so lucky that there generous souls who are so open and kind and willing to share.

What’s all the fuss about the secrets, anyway?

Beating the Odds – And Keeping the Dream Alive [And How to Write A Letter to Your Biological Father Who Doesn’t Know You Exist]

road-to-the-beach-sunrise-facebook-coverI apologize in advance. This is a long post. Since it’s been awhile since I’ve updated my blog and my journey in earnest, I wanted to summarize my story and let readers know where I am on this crazy journey. I also wanted to answer a question that I’m asked often: “What did you say to your biological father when you introduced yourself?” Every journey is different and complicated in its own way (although I’m not sure any journey is more complicated than mine!), but I want to encourage everyone who is curious or is being held back by his or her own fears to move forward. And remember, happy endings are not the goal–the goal is wholeness.  

My entire life has been about beating the odds. Don’t get me wrong—I never felt like an underdog. But given my circumstances, at least with respect to my birth and the inexorable journey I would take, I was more likely to be on the side of defeat than of victory.

I was born in 1963 in a prison. A prison baby. At the time of my birth, my mother was eighteen years old and serving a ten-year prison sentence for drug-related charges. She gave birth to me just four months into her stay at the California Institute for Women.

Given that rough start in life, what were the odds that I’d have an opportunity to live a full life with a loving family in a happy home? Thanks to adoption, I did. I was raised by two loving parents and I even had a big brother, also adopted.

My brother and I don’t remember ever being told that we were adopted—we just always knew. As children, it was a non-issue—something that just wasn’t talked about. We were chosen. Loved. We were taught and conditioned to believe that being adopted didn’t matter. So it didn’t. Until it did.

question-mark-faceI was twenty years old when curiosity got the best of me. Of course, adoptees understand that it is much more complicated than just simple curiosity. It’s a need to understand and know one’s true identity. Identity that includes a sense of belonging and a knowledge and familiarity with family history, heritage and ethnicity. A yearning to find someone who looks who looks like me.

Like most adoptees, as I got older, I understood my adoption circumstances a little better. I may have been chosen, raised and loved by one family, but I was given away, relinquished, abandoned, probably even unwanted, by another. I wanted to know more about that. Wouldn’t you?

When my journey of discovery started, I was living and going to school abroad. It was the first time I had lived away from home and away from my adoptive family. I missed them a lot. I wrote letters and telephoned them every other week. They were the only family I knew. During this time, I even wrote and talked to my parents about my curiosity and my desire to search for my biological family. Luckily for me, they understood that my desire to search and learn more about my origins did not mean I no longer wanted to be a part of my adoptive family. I had their support and their understanding.

After graduating from college and returning home, I started to search in earnest. I got in touch with the county adoption services where my adoption was facilitated. They gave me my non-identifying information. What a revelation! I really didn’t think I would learn anything of great value from my non-identifying information, but I was blown away to find that it was packed full of stories and physical descriptions of my biological parents and grandparents and first names of their siblings and their parents (aunts and uncles and grandparents!). I already had my birth mother’s last name from the adoption papers that my parents kept, so I was on my way! I was eager and excited to discover my story.

It was 1986. I hired a private investigator to help me. She started at the prison. She knew my biological mother’s last name and my birthdate, so she checked the records to find an inmate who was in the hospital on or around my birthdate. The names matched up. BINGO! Found.

The finding part was easy. But much to my chagrin, my birth mother was not happy about being found. She cursed the county social worker for giving out the non-identifying information. She cursed the investigator for contacting family members in an attempt to reach her (she had an unlisted number and was difficult to find). She cursed me for . . . well, just being me, I guess. She had no desire for contact. I wrote to her anyway. In the end, we exchanged letters twice, but she was firm in her position that she did not want any kind of ongoing relationship or any continuing communication. She hadn’t told anyone about her pregnancy and my birth and she wasn’t about to do it now. I didn’t even have an opportunity to ask any meaningful questions. I know from the private investigator that she’d never been married and had had no other children. I was confused. And hurt.

rejected

An Exclusive Group!

I tried to look on the bright side. In a weird, twisted way, I had beaten the odds—again. Most birth mothers actually welcome contact from their adult biological children. In fact, research has shown that fewer than five percent (< 5%) of birth mothers who give up a child for adoption reject contact from their adult adoptee child. Despite my disappointment with being a member of this exclusive group, I was able to carry on and live a pretty normal life. I had a great job as a paralegal and was considering going law school. I eventually met a great guy, got married, and we started a family. Everything was normal. Everything was great! Except for one small thing. The questions were still lingering. Who am I? Who do my kids look like?

When I was rejected by my bio mom for the second time, I was devastated. Not so much because I’d never get to know her (I’ve come to realize that I don’t think she is the sort of person I would like anyway), but because she shut down any chance of me getting to know any other family members and finding out who my biological father is. She was the only one who knew and she wasn’t about to give me any answers. I thought I would never learn my truth.

dna_trailLuckily for me (and other adoptees from the closed records era), the evolution of science and technology over the years helped keep the dream of finding answers alive. For adoptees, a DNA test can provide the first ever connection with a biological relative. You may only get distant relative matches at first, but by contacting those relatives and exploring family connections and sharing stories, many adoptees are able to identify close family members and even birth parents. And today’s internet-strong social media makes it easier than ever to connect and make contact. It’s tricky and can even feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack at times, but DNA testing can reveal so much. Even when it feels like you’re fighting against all odds.

Sure, maybe you won’t get that one-in-a-million DNA family match, but there is much to gain from a DNA test. Most adoptees I know, myself included, don’t (or didn’t) know their true ancestry or ethnicity. With the results from a DNA test, we may be able to discover where our ancestors came from. I found out that I am German, French and English. Mind blown.

Some DNA testing services also provide health related information. For adoptees who keep having to fill out medical forms for family medical history with the words “UNKNOWN/ADOPTED,” even a small amount of health related information can be gold. Science is awesome. So do it, even if you think the odds are against you. You may be surprised at what you find.

Back to the relative finding thing. Adoptees have two issues when it comes to finding relatives: (1) we want to identify family members — if not immediate family, then those closely enough related so that they might be able to help identify immediate family; and (2) we’re racing the clock because we want to identify family while they — and we — are still living. Again, we’re trying to beat the odds.

adoption-treeUnfortunately, a large percentage of the distant relative matches will not respond to requests for contact. But because the databases are so large and growing daily, you are still likely to make many important contacts. And here’s the key: you have to be consistent. You have to be willing to tell your story over and over again. You have to talk about your adoption and provide every bit of information you know. Names, places, even stories that may or may not be true. Share and share again. Someone out there knows your truth. Or, someone out there knows just enough of your truth so that you can put the puzzle pieces together. And you never know—you may beat the odds—like I did.

I never imagined that spitting into a plastic tube could reveal the answer to the burning question: “Who’s your daddy?” But that’s exactly what happened. I beat the odds again. My biological father didn’t even know I existed. He doesn’t even remember my biological mother, or the encounter that resulted in my coming into this world (we blame those crazy free-lovin’, drug fueled, beatnik 60s).

When I logged on to 23andMe to check out the DNA Relatives section, I was initially stunned and overwhelmed. 23andMe had matched me with 762 distant relatives (3rd to distant cousins). I had no idea what I was supposed to do with this information. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.

Then I saw it: 1 CLOSE FAMILY. What? Who?

I clicked on the link, but before 23andMe would reveal any details, a warning popped up. I had to confirm that I really, really wanted the information. This was not a game.

23andMe actually asked for two layers of consent before it would reveal my close family relationship. First, a warning was presented via popup that explains how this “new” evidence of a close family relationship can be unexpected and even upsetting in some cases. Upsetting? Been there. Done that (with my bio mom). Of course I wanted to know.

You may learn information about yourself that you do not anticipate. Such information may provoke strong emotion.

Thanks, 23andMe. I was nervous, but I clicked “proceed” anyway.

Father?! My biological father?! 23andMe found my biological father when no one else (except for my bio mom) knew who he was?

I could hardly think straight as I typed out a message to Father.

Hi,
I am contacting you because 23andMe has identified you as a relative of mine because of our shared DNA. 23andMe has predicted, through our DNA match, that you are my biological father. You won’t recognize my name, because I was adopted and bear the name of my adoptive parents. However, my birth mother’s name is Margaret Michaels. I hope that this name is familiar to you, although it was 50 years ago and I understand that it was a difficult time for both of you. I hope that you will respond to my message and that you are interested in exploring our relationship. I look forward to hearing from you!
Laureen Pittman (original birth certificate reads: “Baby Girl Michaels”).

 

That was over three years ago. My biological father and I first got to know each other via email, then a few Skype conversations. He lives over 1,200 miles from me, so the slow start to our “reunion” was necessary, and good. We needed that time to get to know one another and for him to feel comfortable that I wasn’t some crazy stalker up to no good. We finally met in 2015. I flew up to his home in Washington State and was welcomed with open arms by him, my half-sister, and my sweet little niece.

As with all adoption stories and reunions, it’s complicated. We’re still getting to know each other and we’re helping one another to understand how we fit into each other’s lives and families. Together, we’ve uncovered a rich family history and an understanding of life, love, struggle and the evolution of a complicated, but strong family. My life is definitely much richer for knowing him (and other biological family members I’ve met on this journey) and I’ve learned so much about myself. I believe he feels the same way. Beating the odds has its perks.

My memoir, The Lies That Bind, will be published in 2017.

Spit and Image

Four and a half months!  I apologize, but I’ve been in my own head since I met my biological father.  Thoughts and emotions have been swirling around in my noggin . . . just trying to make sense of it all.  It’s all so simple, but also complicated!  Mission accomplished . . . but it’s just the beginning of something new.

The trip up to meet Jackson could not have gone better.  We met, we hugged, we talked for hours.  We cooked together, had a drink or two, shared stories, pictures and laughter. And I met my half-sister, Megan, too.  Megan admitted that she was reluctant when I first contacted her.  I know she was being protective of her father.  But she said that when she finally realized I was actually coming, she started to get excited and was looking forward to meeting me.  We were able to spend some time together, as well, and talk about life over a glass of wine or two.

And what of physical similarities?  Even before I met Jackson, through photos, I could see similarities between Jackson and my son, Garrett.  But try as I may, I could not see any physical similarities between myself and Jackson.  It’s something adoptees are obsessed with.  Even when I met him, I didn’t have an “Aha!” moment.  He does have a full beard, so I couldn’t really see the details of his facial features. I gave up looking for the physical similarities.  That is, until I got home and analyzed some old photos.

Spit and Image!

Spit and Image!

Jackson believes he’s about 18 in this photo.  I’m 17.

Spitting image is the usual modern form of the idiom meaning exact likeness, duplicate, or counterpart. The original phrase, however, is spit and image, perhaps inspired by the Biblical God‘s use of spit and mud to create Adam in his image. There is no evidence that the origin of the phrase goes back to Biblical times, but its usage has been traced back to the 17th century in England. It was used to refer to someone who is so similar to another as to appear to have been spat out of his mouth. Of course, spitting image has been far more common than spit and image for over a century, but I prefer the phrase spit and image. After all, we found each other by spitting into test tubes.

Jackson and Garrett

Jackson and Garrett

The Grandfather Clause

… you sometimes had to force people to say things they would rather not articulate, just so they could hear their own words. It was interesting the way people could know things and not know them at the same time. Denial, he said, was like a thick stone wall.– Nell Freudenberger

I used to be a paralegal. I spent twenty years with my nose in legal books–mostly the tax code–researching, analyzing, planning, figuring and writing. One thing is constant about the tax code: change.  Every year there is some sort of tax reform–cuts, new provisions, limit changes, incentives, exemptions, inflation adjustments–and you have to stay on top of it all.  And don’t forget to look out for the grandfather clause.

The good ol’ grandfather clause. The exception to the rule.  Sometimes, when new laws or regulations are enacted and imposed, a grandfather clause is an exception given to individuals (or businesses), allowing them to continue to operate under an old law or regulation. What’s old is new.  What’s new doesn’t apply.

Well, guess what’s new?  It’s confirmed!  Garrett and Zach have a new grandfather!  This is a different kind of grandfather clause, for sure.

The Grandfather Clause

The Grandfather Clause

This is a view from Garrett’s profile.  It clearly shows Zachary as his half brother (no surprise) and Jackson as his grandfather (no surprise again, at least to me).

I shared the news with the boys.  They were nonplussed.  They don’t know Jackson, except for what I have been able to tell them.  I wrote an email to Jackson:

Hi Jackson,

Hope all is well with you. Last time we communicated, you had just turned 71! I hope you’re kicking 71’s ass and keeping busy with your jewelry and art.  . I’d love to see any new work you’ve completed.

We’ve been busy with baseball–Garrett’s team were undefeated for the season–first place! And now he’s on the All-Star team! He also just finished his science project at school and he did his presentation at the Science Fair yesterday. His project was in the top 5 for Life Sciences! Straight A’s this year–we’re so proud! His 8th grade promotion is in a couple of weeks. I can’t believe my baby will be in high school next school year.

Zach has moved back home temporarily. His roommate in Los Angeles flaked on him and he couldn’t afford the rent on his own. He’s looking to get back out to Hollywood or L.A. ASAP. He’s still working on his music and has a lot recorded. It’s a tough business to be in.

I just wanted to check in and let you know that I’m thinking about you. I also wanted to let you know that I got the results of Zachary and Garrett’s 23andme tests. I don’t know if you’re still getting e-mail notices from 23andme, but you’ve definitely got 2 new confirmed grandsons!

By the way, I’d like to plan a trip to the community where you and Margaret and Marian grew up.  I’ll be heading up to Santa Barbara in a couple of weeks to do some research at the library. And to just walk around. I’m going with a girlfriend–we hope to get some wine tasting in, too!

I hope I’m not overwhelming you once again with too much information.  I just need to tie up this journey that I’m on. I’d love to stay in touch and share what I find, if you’re willing.

Yours,

Laureen

I was relieved that it didn’t take Jackson too long to respond:

Hi there, Laureen,

It is good to hear all is well with you and you are able to help Zach. It is a difficult world for the younger ones today; I see so many qualified (in their field of study, talent or interest) who are trying to find work that is fulfilling and will bring in enough for a good life.

Jackson didn’t actually acknowledge or react to the “news” about having two grandsons, but it was comforting to me that he acknowledged Zach’s endeavors and struggles.  He talked about his daughter (my mysterious sister), as well.

I find that having my daughter’s family living nearby to be wonderful. As long as I am not living in the same space it is a joy to have them all part of my life.

*Sigh*

About my plan to make a trip to his old stomping grounds:

I haven’t been there in years. The street and the home where I grew up didn’t look like it does now. Until I was five the street that I lived on was a small dirt road. If you do cruise up there and if Franceschi Park is open, It was my little playground so to speak when I was very young. I remember being able to pick fresh guavas, and other wonderful fruit that at that time where not in the stores.  Mr. Franceschi brought many of the rare trees to Santa Barbara. The park was where he lived and worked. He was a very old man when I lived there as a child.

Things have changed.. A  great deal….. I don’t think I would recognize some of the places now although I just used Google Earth and their “Street View” to take a look at Mission Ridge and Franceschi Rd. I was surprised at what I did remember.There are so many new homes all over the ridge…. I never would have thought it would turn out like that. That area, although there were some big houses…. it looks so covered with buildings. Yet I am sure it is heaven for those living there now.  I hope you enjoy your trip. You have my cell number, so if you want to call about anything about the area when you are there, I am happy to tell you what I can.

I love hearing about his memories; his history.  My history.

Jackson told me he’s spending more time with his art and has actually found a venue to sell it. He sold several pieces, which gave him a boost to get back to creating.

That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  Doing what you love and making the most of each day.

I know I am exactly where I belong in this world. So why do I struggle with this weird feeling that there is more?  More of something. Maybe this is the struggle that I’ve been dealing with all these years.  More of what?

Real Life Unfolding . . . Be Patient

We should not be so taken up in the search for truth, as to neglect the duties of active life; for it is only action that gives a true value and commendation to virtue. — Marcus Tullius Cicero

I’ve neglected this blog.  I apologize.  “Real life” has kind of taken over.  Wait . . . that’s not accurate. Or fair. It’s all real. What I mean is, some things going on in my life have taken a priority over other things. I haven’t been able to keep you properly updated on everything that’s been going on. Nothing earth shattering . . . but that’s okay.  After all, it’s just real life.

I’m currently re-reading Richard Hill’s book, Finding Family.  I devoured it quickly several months ago, at that time I was mostly interested in how DNA testing fit into the search for his biological family. It’s a fascinating story that begins before the internet even existed and continues through the evolution of science and technology. I won’t spoil the story for you (you should read it!), but I keep thinking about how patient he was.  His search over the decades was methodical and creative at times.  Before the internet appeared on the scene, “research” was done with a lot of legwork (especially difficult if you are researching something that happened in another state or another even another country), hit and miss telephone calls, and dogged determination.  Understandably, there were periods over the nearly 3-decade time period when nothing happened.  No progress was made. Sometimes years  went by with his search just sitting on the back burner.  He got busy with “real life.”

Real life includes it all: your health and the health of your family members, your marriage (or your relationship with your significant other), family, friends, kids in school, kids in sports, adult kids moving back home, aging parents that need help more and more, career, hobbies, etc.  At any moment, the juggling act to keep it all going can be thrown out of whack. Throw in a search for biological family members and all of the emotional ups and downs that go with it.  Something has to give.

Needless to say, my real life has gotten a little crazy lately.  I know I don’t need to explain it to you because I know that each and every one of you have experienced some sort of personal crisis or something that seemed to suddenly throw your life into chaos or elevated stress mode. So I apologize for the lag in between posts.  Enough said about that.

There is good news.  I’m happy to report that Jackson and I are communicating again. Apparently the communication “breakdown” was caused by a new e-mail address and a problem with e-mail servers not accepting mail from certain domains. We’ve figured it out and all is well.  He’s still the open-hearted, sweet man he always has been.  We even video chatted!  It was totally by accident (my son just pushed the button and handed me the phone and there he was!) and I was totally unprepared, but it was really fantastic to talk to him “face-to-face.”  He still has questions and still wants to know more about Margaret. I wish I knew more.  He’s written a few letters to Margaret, but hasn’t sent any.  He’d rather talk to her in person (he’s brave).  I told him I’d help him out however I can.  Who knows . . . maybe a road trip is in our future!  Okay, that’s a long shot.  I still haven’t even met Jackson.  I hope to soon.

Jackson does want to go ahead and re-submit DNA to another company to confirm our father/daughter match.  I’m fine with that, so hopefully we’ll be doing that soon.  I think I will also submit samples from both of my sons at the same time.  Perhaps a double dose of an instant grandson matches might convince him beyond a reasonable doubt that he is my biological father.

If you’ll recall, a few months ago when Jackson suggested sending in another sample he thought it would also be a good idea to have his other daughter submit a sample, too.  I thought that would be cool–a sister.  But apparently she’s not interested.  I don’t know exactly how she feels about my arrival on the scene, but she is not interested in sending in a DNA sample to help her father out.  It’s also apparent that she isn’t interested in developing a relationship with her biological half-sister.  At least not yet.  That’s okay . . . remember Richard Hill’s story?  These things take time.  And I know from past experience you just can’t rush (or force) these things.

The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter. — Paulo Coelho, Veronika Decides to Die

 

Invisible

All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible. –George Santayana

I am used to being on the outside looking in.  It’s not a new feeling.  What was new to me was the openness of a complete stranger that happened to share enough mitochondrial autosomal DNA with me to be my biological father.

When I received the results from 23andMe indicating that my biological father was a fellow client, I was stunned.  I knew that it was likely that my biological father didn’t even know I existed.  I also knew nothing about him.  I didn’t know if he had a family–whether or not I had siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews.  I didn’t know how I would be received. Would he ignore me?  Would he even respond to my message?  Would he deny our relationship (unlikely, I thought, with the DNA being what it was).

I was surprised at his initial response.  He was certainly open and willing to communicate via e-mail.  He eventually even suggested several times that we try to Skype so that we could talk “in person.”  We exchanged photos.  We “friended” each other on Facebook, allowing each other an insight into each other’s “virtual” lives and photos of family and friends.  He was eager to “show me” his art studio and the museum via video.  I was so happy to be allowed into his world.

He was confused about the DNA match, however, and wondered whether there could be a mistake.  He had (and still has) no memory of Margaret.  In his mind, he had never met her, let alone had sex with her.  I gave him every spec of information I had– all the details about my “story.” I even gave him copies of the photos I had of Margaret, hoping that the images would help him remember.

He talked to old friends and looked at old yearbooks and photos . . . still nothing in his memory connected him to Margaret.  In the meanwhile we exchanged e-mails.  We talked about everything–cooking (he loves to experiment with exotic ingredients), his art (handmade gold and silver jewelry and masks, etc.), his daughter and grand daughter, my boys and husband and his love and fascination with antique radios.  I was excited about his jewelry and told him about Etsy and suggested he could try to sell some of his jewelry and art on-line.  Guess what?  He now has an Etsy store!

I think he knows in his heart that I am his daughter. So I’m sure you can understand my confusion now. Our communication has stopped. Completely.  For some reason, I’ve been shut down.  The last meaningful message I received from him was before Thanksgiving.  I told him of my plans to travel to Texas to visit a nephew and his family.  I wished him a Happy Thanksgiving and asked whether he had any big plans with family.  I didn’t hear from him before Thanksgiving, but I assumed that he was busy with work and getting ready for the holiday.  I e-mailed when I returned from Texas.  No response. Finally, before Christmas, I sent a simple message telling him I was worried (he’s 70 years old and although his health is good, I could not fathom why I wasn’t hearing from him) and to please just let me know he’s well.  I also apologized for feeling a little paranoid about our “relationship,” I was worried that I had somehow offended him or scared him off.  I didn’t want to be an intrusion.

I got a short e-mail from him with no real explanation–just that he’s been busy and that all is well.  That’s it.  Nothing else.  I e-mailed him before the New Year and told him I hoped he had a nice Christmas and Happy New Year.  No response.

I have a hunch that maybe he saw his daughter, who is 37, over the holidays and perhaps he shared our correspondence with her.  I don’t know–maybe she was shocked at his openness with me.  She got protective.  Maybe jealous.  She has no idea who I am.  Who is this person claiming to be a daughter–just appearing out of thin air?  She could be scamming you! What does she want from you?  He had written to me about some pretty intimate details about his past.  Perhaps his daughter felt violated somehow.

I’m disappointed.  And sad.  Really sad.  Don’t get me wrong . . . I know I have many wonderful friends and family in my life that know me and love me.  I appreciate all of you! It’s difficult to explain.  It’s a familiar feeling, but I honestly did not think I would feel this way again.

I am not sure of my next move.  I never made it to the library in Santa Barbara.  They never responded to my e-mail, but I still plan on trying to get information and details about Margaret’s arrest when I can get up there again.  But I think my next move will be to send a letter to my sister–Jackson’s daughter.  I should introduce myself.

Rewriting The Past

Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation. — Edward R. Murrow

I had answers to some of the most basic, vital questions.  I knew the identity of my biological mother: Margaret Michaels.

I knew the identity of my biological father (thanks to DNA): Jackson Summer.

As you know, I have never actually spoken to Margaret.  The last “contact” I had with her was the self-bloated letter I received from her over 20 years ago.  She has no desire to meet me or to even carry on a conversation via letter or e-mail.  I have respected that.  She never disclosed to anyone, including her mother, my biological father, or her siblings (4 of them) that she was ever pregnant.  The only people in her “world” who knew she was pregnant and relinquished a child were the prison personnel (and presumably other inmates), social workers and hospital personnel.  It is also possible that her stepfather knew.  According to the story from the social worker (my non-identifying story), he was the one who turned Margaret in to the authorities, which resulted in her arrest.

So was it true that none of Margaret’s family came to visit her during her stay at the Greybar Inn?  She was there for 3 1/2 years (sentenced to 10).  If anyone came to see her during the first 3 months of her incarceration, they would have surely guessed she was pregnant (or she really liked the prison food).  I guess they could have come to visit after December (she was arrested in September) and not known she was ever pregnant. That makes a little bit of sense.  Margaret’s mother (my grandmother) was actually pregnant at the same time as Margaret (let’s get all the complicated details together, here). Remember this tidbit from my non-identifying story?

Baby Christopher is the 3-month old half brother.

Margaret’s mother (my maternal grandmother) gave birth to Baby Christopher (my uncle) about the same time that Margaret was arrested.  And it was Baby Christopher’s father (Margaret’s stepfather) who turned Margaret in. Margaret’s mother was busy raising 4 young children while Margaret was out partying, getting pregnant and getting arrested.  You follow?

Jackson Summer didn’t know Margaret was pregnant.  Jackson claims he doesn’t even know who Margaret Michaels is. More likely, he doesn’t remember. There were drugs involved. Drugs can alter memories, for sure. But Jackson does remember Marion Michaels. His first love. He’s still in touch with her.  Jackson even told Marion about me and our curious DNA match and about this mysterious Margaret person who has the same last name as Marion.  According to Jackson, Marion was not able to provide any information that would be helpful to us.

If you’ll recall, I mentioned that I have been in touch with one of Margaret’s siblings.  We even talked about getting together to meet and talk.  I was hopeful that she could fill in some of the odd-shaped blanks hanging out there.  She was very clear that Margaret did not want to discuss the matter and did not want to be involved in any contact with me. She also confirmed that their mother (my maternal grandmother) still did not know about me.

Well, our meeting has not happened (yet).  Real life and busy schedules got in the way.  In the meanwhile, I started this blog to help me sort through it all.  My aunt read the blog.  She expressed her disappointment with the information I was putting “out there” in the cyber-world for anyone to see (even though I’ve changed the names of the key players).  We had an e-mail exchange about it.  She asked me to “Please stop.”

And you know what’s ironic?  Before the blog, this aunt had asked me to share the information I had discovered about my biological father through the DNA match. She wanted to know what I had learned about my biological father.  I believed she was sympathetic to my plight and genuinely interested.  Without hesitation I told her about the DNA match and gave details that Jackson had shared with me, in the hopes that sharing the information may lead to more sharing on her side of the family.  Absolutely not.  I’ve since asked my aunt specific questions about Margaret and their mother, and I’ve made a request for some specific health information that would aid me in making a decision about my future. She never answered any of my questions.

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that she owes me nothing.  I’m beginning to see a pattern.

I think perhaps Margaret is “bullying” her siblings. Maybe not in a schoolyard, overt kind of way, but definitely subliminally.  From what I can figure out, they are worried that the knowledge of my existence will “crush” their mother (my grandmother).  What information exactly, I wonder, is going to crush my grandmother?  The fact that Margaret had a child?  No . . . that can’t be. Seriously, I haven’t lived the kind of life that can be deemed a disappointment to anyone, in my own humble opinion. It’s gotta be the 50 year old lie. That her daughter, Margaret, never told her she had a child. Surely, she knew that Margaret had been in prison. That “disappointment” had already been felt, processed, and dealt with.  I would think. Perhaps there is more to the story that I don’t know. Margaret’s sibling wrote:

We do not know the circumstances leading to her pregnancy; it may have been quite traumatic.

She also mentioned several times that some of the information I’ve published wasn’t even true.  What!?  Not true?  You mean the story that I know and live every day about my identity and how I came into this world is riddled with untruths, cover-ups, and lies? Imagine that.  No seriously, why don’t you try to imagine that? I’ve lived this way my entire life.

So tell me something new.  Like the truth. There are people that actually know the truth, but won’t tell me.  Imagine that!  

So here are some theories.  These theories, of course, include questions or lead to more questions.  They were either drummed up by me, or by friends and relatives of mine in an attempt to fill the odd-shaped holes. Anyone out there good at solving mysteries?

About Marian

  • Is Marian is somehow related to Margaret?  A half-sister?  Remember–they have the same last name, and Margaret never really knew her biological father.  Her mother and father were separated and/or divorced (perhaps she wasn’t even married when she gave birth to Margaret at age 18!) when she was just an infant.  Marian and Margaret grew up in the same town.  Marian claims she knows nothing about Margaret or me.  It is unclear whether Margaret knows Marian.

About Margaret

  • It’s clear the story she gave the social workers about my biological father was not true.  It could have been an outright lie to mislead, or she could have simply not known exactly who the father was, so she described several individuals.
  • Why did Margaret’s stepfather “turn her in” and have her arrested?  How and why was he involved to the degree of having her arrested?  I have not mentioned this before, but Margaret’s stepfather was a well-known and recognizable figure in the community where they lived.  He was probably in his late 30’s at the time of Margaret’s pregnancy and arrest–and his wife (Margaret’s mother) was pregnant and about to give birth).  Did he know Margaret was pregnant?  Perhaps he suspected she was pregnant and knew about the drugs and didn’t want Margaret to continue with the drugs while pregnant? I wish I could contact him.  He passed away in 2006.

About Jackson

  • Jackson says he was never arrested.  So who was the man who was arrested with Margaret?  Was that made up, too?  I suppose that was something that Margaret could have told the social workers, but I assumed that they would have checked that fact–the arrest records would have been easy to find and confirm. If they knew his identity, wouldn’t he have to sign the relinquishment papers?  Apparently not.  The information I have simply states, “We have no information about your birthfather following his arrest.”

About “The Deed”

  • How did Jackson and Margaret come to meet and get together?  They lived in the same town, but went to different schools.  Both were obviously exploring the counterculture of the 1960’s via drug use. They most likely knew some of the same people. Obviously, Jackson doesn’t remember knowing her, let alone having some sort of relationship with her (even if it was only a one night stand).  Perhaps there was some sort of coincidental meeting “up North” when Margaret claims to have gone to San Francisco for a short time and Jackson was living and working up in Big Sur (hibernating up in the mountains to detox).
  • Perhaps my aunt was right about there being some sort of traumatic experience that led to Margaret’s pregnancy.  Rape?  Yikes.  I don’t even want to consider that.  I don’t know Jackson very well (hardly at all, actually), but it just doesn’t add up. Of course, Margaret was most likely involved with more than one man (who was she talking about when she described my biological father to the social worker?). Perhaps there was a traumatic incident of some sort and Margaret thought I could possibly be the product of it, and she made up a good portion of the information to hide the awfulness?

I suppose that’s enough conjecture.  Do you have any ideas?

The self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.  ~Thomas Szasz, “Personal Conduct,” The Second Sin, 1973

Next up: Something interesting about Margaret.

The Lies That Bind . . . and Other Truths

“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked…The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on…There are no white lies, there is only the blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of all.”
― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

My story so far, provided to me by the great Mr. Witt, San Bernardino County Social Services, was my truth.  I clung to it.  It was mine.  I believed that it was all true.  Margaret, a beatnik wanna-be hippie, started experimenting with drugs at age 17 or 18.  She had a boyfriend, a couple of years older than her, who also dabbled in drugs.  It was the 60’s, after all.  Hell, it was her own mother who introduced Margaret to smoking pot.  But the party didn’t last long.  She was arrested, along with her boyfriend, on felony drug charges. And this was an interesting tidbit: it was Margaret’s stepfather who “turned them in.” Margaret’s mother had been married to Joe since Margaret was very young.  She respected Joe and considered him to be a fine father figure.  According to my truth.

Now I have a new truth. The truth as told to me by Jackson Summer, my biological father. The DNA evidence can’t lie–he’s definitely my father.  Unless he has a twin that shares his DNA, which he doesn’t.  Of course, with that DNA match, he could be my son.  He’s 70 years old–he’s my father.

But here is the troubling part:  I’ve been in contact with Jackson for months now via e-mail. We’ve been taking things slowly.  He admits that he’s an “old hippie” and dabbled in drugs back in the 60’s (some pretty powerful drugs, at that).  Yes, he lived in the same town as Margaret and her family (just a few blocks away).  Yes, he’s the right age, exactly.  But the description of my biological father and the information provided to me in my “non-identifying information did not describe Jackson (according to Jackson) at all.

In high school, your birth father was the editor of a literary magazine.  He was also on the debate team and participated in political groups.  He and your birth mother enjoyed talking about literature, intellectual subjects and and attended classes together at the city college in their community. . . Your birth father was also working at a pet hospital . . . and had access to narcotic drugs. . . .  Both of your parents were arrested on drug-related charges. . . . We have no record of your birth father after his arrest.

That’s the birth father I knew from my non-identifying information.  Consider, however, that all of this information was taken directly from the social services file on Margaret.  All of the descriptive information about what happened and who was involved is based on what Margaret told the social worker(s). Remember, Margaret told no one in her family she was pregnant, plus, she was in prison at the time, so no one spoke to social workers or prison personnel about Margaret except Margaret.  Margaret could have said anything.  She was 18, ashamed, up against a wall (4 prison walls, actually), and being questioned and pressured for information, and also to make a life-changing decision about the baby growing inside of her.  She didn’t name my birth father.  She said he “didn’t know [I] was pregnant, for sure.”  The information indicated that Margaret “signed sole custody relinquishments on December 20, 1963.”  Sole custody. My birth father did not know.

Or . . . perhaps Margaret didn’t know the identity of my biological father.  Maybe it could have been one of several?  Or maybe she didn’t remember the encounter.  Or maybe she knew, but she decided to describe something different in order to throw off the authorities. The fact is . . . the information provided to me in the non-identifying information did not describe Jackson Summer.  And not just by my comparison.  By his own.

I sent Jackson copies of the photos I have of Margaret. I also sent him copies of the letters we exchanged some 20 years ago (which were really no help at all, since Margaret said nothing at all about the time surrounding her pregnancy, except that it was a handicap that needed to be fixed). He contacted several of his long-time friends, including Marian Michaels, and told them about my contact and the “odd coincidences” (as he called them) of my story.  No one recalled a Margaret Michaels.

Jackson did not back away; rather, he opened up considerably and told me everything he could remember.  I believe what he told me. He has absolutely no reason to hide anything.  If he had a secret to hide, why would he continue to tell me his story?  The odd part was that Margaret Michaels was not a part of his story.  He was also never arrested, as claimed by Margaret. He was not interested in literature or politics and he did not attend any classes at the jr. college. Jackson and Margaret didn’t even attend the same high school!  Margaret had claimed that my birth father was the editor of a literary magazine in high school.  Nope.

Jackson's Art . . .

Jackson’s Art . . .

Jackson was known for his art.  He was a jewelry maker and metal worker.  He used to sell his art and jewelry at the beach every weekend. He had a small studio/shop on the corner near the beach and hung out with other artists and “creative minds,” as he called them.  He told me stories about how his community was a great artist mecca back in the 1960’s and there were even some artists who traded their art for real estate and other valuable items.  He never worked at a pet hospital. That’s not where he got his drugs.

Jackson has been very open with me about the drugs.  He admitted that from about age 15 to 23 he went through a period of rebellion against his mother (his mother raised him alone; his father had died when he was very young), exploration, and searching for the “truth,” or meaning of life. He told me stories of experimentation with mescaline and LSD, inspired by his reading of Alex Huxley’s The Doors of Perception.  He was, and still is, great friends with Dale Pendell, a contemporary poet, author and expert on pharmacology, ethnobotany and neuroscience.

The 1960’s.  What a decade, right?  The pharmaceutical industry exploded with research into new drugs. Drugs were legally developed for every ailment.  Thanks to the industry’s aggressive media campaigns, every medicine cabinet filled up with drugs for every sort of ailment. The phrase “better living through chemistry” actually came from a legit DuPont advertisement. Drugs were portrayed as wonders of modern technology. In the early 60’s, drugs were not seen as evil. So, of course, young people, as young people are want to do, experimented. Jackson wrote to me about his drug use and experimentation with mescaline and LSD. For him (luckily), it was all a positive experience.  Except for one thing: he believed his drug use was the reason he lost the love of his life: Marian Michaels.

He and Marian went to the same private high school (not the same high school as Margaret). They met when she was 14 and he was 16.  She was 1 grade below him in school.  They fell in love as teenagers–Jackson tells a sweet story of their young love. Jackson’s drug use continued into his late teens (and escalated) and this is where the problem started between Jackson and Marian. I believe that Jackson was being completely honest with me when he wrote:

The sad part to all this was that because of my drug use I broke the trust which I had built between Marian and I.  I was no longer the person she had grown to love.

Jackson explained to me that at that point he “went into the mountains” and stayed there for several months until he was “no longer addicted.”  But when he returned home it was too  late.  Marian had moved on.  She eventually married and had 2 children. Jackson also eventually married and had a daughter.

Later communication with Jackson revealed what “into the mountains” may have meant:

You were born when I was 20 and looking back at that time I was in Big Sur living and working at Deetchen’s Big Sur Inn. I think I had started working there sometime in 1962…… at least I have a few photos of me there which are dated 62.

My math indicates that I was conceived in April 1963 (born mid-December, one month premature), so perhaps it was a fleeting encounter (possibly drug-fueled) with Margaret in the Big Sur area.  My “non-identifying” information indicates that Margaret “moved to San Francisco for awhile, and then returned to her parents home to finish high school.” There is no further detail about her move or visit to “San Francisco,” but remember, the information in that report was put together from the interviews the social worker(s) had with Margaret while she was incarcerated.  She could have said anything, true or not.

Jackson and I are still communicating, although it has slowed down a bit.  He had indicated a desire to submit DNA to another company (or resubmit to 23andMe under another name) and to ask his daughter (who is 37 years old) to also submit a sample to see what kind of a match is revealed between the 3 of us.  I understand his trepidation.  But DNA doesn’t lie.  I believe he is my biological father.  He’s not so sure.

Laureen . . . I want you to know that I would be proud to have you as my daughter… I have no negative feelings but I am very confused about all of this.  It seems so unlikely that our DNA would be so close and then the connection to the community where I grew up . . .
What I would really like to do is talk to Margaret . . .  That would settle things . . .

Even back then I doubt I would have been drawn to someone like that. All of the women that I had any relationships with (there were not many) I still know and we are still  friends, including Marian.

I provided him with the address I have for Margaret.  He told me not too long ago that he started to write several times, but started over.  He wanted to say just the right thing.  I know the feeling.  I don’t think he has written to her yet.  I don’t even know whether he still intends to.

Next: We’ll explore the crazy possibilities . . .

Hope Springs Eternal

Hope itself is a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords; but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain.  -Samuel Johnson

So I had embraced the science–DNA genetic research and testing as a tool to reveal or predict health risks.  Everybody was doing it.  I jumped on the band wagon.  Why not?

I had also embraced the technology side of things.  The  world-wide interweb was my friend.  My silent partner.  My lifeline, if you will.

I was sure Margaret was relieved not to have heard from me for more than 2 decades and I wasn’t about to try to reach out to her again, but I still had questions.  What about my birth father?  I was pretty sure that Margaret was the only person who knew who he was.  But I knew Margaret wasn’t about to give up that information.  I knew Margaret had no other children, but what if I had siblings on my father’s side?  And what about Margaret’s siblings–my aunts and uncles–some of whom were closer to my age than Margaret’s?

Thanks to the internet–that wondrous gem of technology and my personal lifeline–I was able to keep track of Margaret’s whereabouts–not in a stalker kind of way–more like a “lets-see-what-she’s-up-to” once a year kind of way. I was keeping hope alive. The internet also made it easy to find Margaret’s siblings. She had 4 half-siblings–I knew this from the non-identifying information. Over the 2 decades since I had received the non-identifying puzzle pieces, I had been able to roughly put the pieces together.  Facebook made it even easier to find them. I found them easily, but I was actually terrified to reach out. I knew how Margaret felt and that scared me. I wondered how they felt, or if they even knew about me. How much did they know? How close were they to Margaret?  How would they react if I did reach out? Would they even believe such a story?

As I waited for the health results from 23andMe, I crafted a way to reach out to the siblings. It was also a rogue attempt to reach out to the world wide web to see if anyone would be able to help me find my birth father. A focused rogue attempt.  I got the idea from the internet, of course. There was a growing trend of using social media to find people. People were “advertising”  for all sorts of reasons: missing persons, locating people after natural disasters or after terror attacks, and there seemed to be a growing trend of adoptees and birth parents searching by posting pictures and pleas for assistance that pulled desperately on heartstrings.The power and reach of social media was undeniable. Like a cheesy 80’s shampoo commercial . . . I told two friends; and they told two friends, and so on, and so on . . . (okay, so I’m dating myself with that one).

As I said, my attempt was quite focused.  I figured if anyone knew anything about my birth father, it would be Margaret.  And perhaps her siblings. Margaret was not on Facebook, but most of her siblings were. With the mention of her name and circumstances of my birth right out there in Facebook, someone would have to connect.  Maybe they had information–maybe they knew things about Margaret and even my birth father!  Maybe the door would be opened so that Margaret and I could finally connect.  I had no delusions about a relationship, but I still had hope for answers.

So, I prepared my social media plea, which included the photos that appear in my header for this blog, along with a simple plea requesting help in finding my birthfather.  I disclosed my date of birth, location of birth (California Institute for Women in Chino), my birthmother’s name (that would get the attention of Margaret’s siblings, for sure) and some other incidentals that would pretty much leave no doubt in the siblings’ minds that I was legit.  I posted it in July.  I simultaneously sent friend requests to the siblings who were also on Facebook.  That way, they were sure to see my post.

It worked.  The siblings accepted my friend requests . . . and I started a meaningful conversation (via e-mail) with one of Margaret’s sisters.  I was hopeful.  They had known nothing about me (my post on Facebook was how they found out about me).  And Margaret’s sister made it perfectly clear that Margaret was still not open to contact and really had no interest in discussing the “situation” (past or present) with them (or me!).  I wasn’t surprised.  But I was still hopeful.

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. -Albert Einstein