Obsessed with tracking him down, one woman came to have mixed feelings about doing the DNA test that revealed who her real dad was.

When my husband gave me a DNA test kit for my birthday, I thought it would be fun to find out the results.

At first, it was fun. It was cool to discover that I am 70% European and Irish, and that I’m genetically prone to being underweight. I enjoyed messaging back and forth with a few distant cousins I never knew I had on my mom’s side.

Months went by and I forgot about it entirely. Then one day, I clicked on the app and was notified of the name of a first cousin on my dad’s side. It stopped me in my tracks. Seeing his last name, I instantly knew I had stumbled upon a family secret.

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"Not that guy"

I’ve always known my dad is not my biological father. He married my mom when I was four. I had grown up knowing that my mom’s first husband, who she wed when she was 17, was a military man she quickly divorced because he was so abusive. My mom told me that I am the result of an affair she had after that first marriage ended.

Now I knew that wasn’t true.

I called my mom. I tiptoed around the conversation, first telling her about my exchange with cousins from her side of the family. Then l blurted out that I had been matched to a cousin who had the same last name as her abusive ex-husband. That would make her ex-husband my biological dad.

I was met with dead silence.

“Not that guy,” she finally said. She couldn’t even say his name.

I tried to explain that DNA tests don’t lie.

“There’s no way,” she insisted. “He had bad skin and two different colored eyes and you don’t. He can’t be.”

She was in denial. The next text I got from her was from the grocery store asking me what cake mix I like.

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Obsessed with tracking him down

I wasn’t mad at her, and I didn’t want to bring her any more pain than she’d already endured. But at the same time, I wanted to know the truth. The DNA results set me off on a detective spree. When my kids were at school, I got sucked into a Facebook rabbit hole and spent days nonstop, staying up until 3 in the morning, searching for a man with the name that matched the man I now knew was my biological father.

When I found one who seemed to be the right age, I zoomed in close trying to see if his eyes were two different colors. He lived in a mansion on five acres in California. I imagined myself reaching out to him, going out to see him.

I sent the photo to my aunt, my mom’s sister, to see if she recognized him. “I need to see a younger picture of him,” was as close as she could come to verifying his identity.

I was on an adrenaline high trying to solve the mystery. I felt like a private eye, a stalker, a character in a bad TV movie that I was watching. I went through so many emotions—frustration, anger, woe-is-me—that it became overwhelming. I drove myself crazy.

I felt like I was holding in a big secret. My aunt told me not to bring it up to my mom anymore so I wouldn’t upset her. And I kept it from my kids out of respect for my dad who raised me. I don’t want them to look at him any differently.

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How DNA kits can upend families

I put out a message on my neighborhood Facebook group to see if anyone else had uncovered a family secret through a mail-in DNA kit. Immediately I heard privately from eight others. One guy found out he had a daughter and a bunch of grandkids. A woman met all of her half-siblings and they’re now one big happy family.

I spent two hours over coffee with another woman who is in counseling to process what she discovered. She wasn’t really conceived by artificial insemination like her single mother had told her; her real father was a married family “friend” who had been like an uncle to her. I showed her the Facebook picture of the man I thought was my father and we laughed as we zoomed in to see if he had two different colored eyes. It was therapeutic to share our stories with no fear of judgment.

Finding my real dad was all I could think about. I continued my obsessive searching, switching gears from Facebook to Google. Then I hit on the exact name of my biological father, including his unusual middle name. Even though he lived across the country, his former residence was my hometown in Tennessee. A newspaper article reported that his son, who was two years younger than me, enlisted in the military, just like his dad. I knew I’d found him. I stared at a photo of his house and at his phone number.

I had so many questions racing through my mind.

Was he as horrible as my mom made him out to be?

Why didn’t his son have photos with him on his Facebook page? Was he that much of a monster?

Was he a violent criminal?

Did he know about me?

And then…

Do I even really care?

The adrenaline rush plummeted, the emotional roller coaster came to a crashing halt, and I sank back to reality. I’m almost 53 years old and I have my own life. I have a great dad and family. I’ve never felt this huge void. Just because a DNA test finds someone who shares your blood doesn’t mean they’re family.

Mixed feelings about the test

In some ways, I wish I wouldn’t have taken the test in the first place. I’m just thankful that when I was in the frenetic search stage, I didn’t act without thinking and do something I regret. For now, I put it all behind me so I could get back to my real world. If that first cousin ever does return my message, the only thing I’m going to ask him is to see a photo of his uncle. I want to see for myself what my biological dad looks like, just out of curiosity.

*Name has been changed for privacy

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