Yet Another Story of Misattributed Parentage

Mark Overbay

Story thanks to the Right to Know people.

Every MPE (misattributed paternal event or misattributed parentage) story has a starting point. The discovery comes entirely by surprise for many, whereas it confirms others’ long-held, conscious or subconscious, suspicions. If there truly is one, the typical story involves submitting a direct-to-consumer/recreational DNA test yourself or being contacted out of the blue by someone who has. Mine has a little of each with an added twist.

One afternoon, a friend of mine called me with what he described as “interesting news.” He told me that he and his older sister had taken DNA tests and found something unexpected. He informed me that both had discovered the man they thought their father wasn’t. Their research afterward led them to believe that my father was their BF (birth father). Additionally, they had reached out and somehow convinced my father to submit a DNA test. The results confirmed their research findings. “We,” he informed me, “are half-brothers.” He sent me a screenshot of the DNA evidence to prove it. Because I was already aware of two other half-siblings from my father, this news honestly wasn’t that surprising. I remember laughing with him about the strangeness of our new situation.

What my friend didn’t know, however, is that many years ago, I had also taken a DNA test from the same direct-to-consumer company, primarily because I was ethnicity curious (as both of my own parents were adopted – this was originally my own motivation). When I told him about this, he informed me that I wasn’t on his match list and followed with the question, “You are the adopted one, right?” “Adopted? I was not adopted.” I quickly replied. Confused, he told me that my father had told his sister I was adopted. He must have misunderstood. I was 58 years old and was confident that I wasn’t adopted. My birth certificate listed my father and mother. I had seen it many times. I called his sister to see where this part of the story originated. She repeated her brother’s claim that my father had told her I was adopted. Further, she explained, he had married my mother, knowing she was pregnant with another man’s child.

When I learned the adoption news, I was more than two hours from home and my laptop. I wasn’t laughing anymore. My head was now cloudy and confused. The drive home was a blur. “Could this be possible?” I asked myself, “Was I adopted?” Once I arrived, I quickly checked my DNA matches. Neither my father nor these two new “half-siblings” were there. As I surveyed my 80,000 + matches, none matched my surname. I found that it was 100% confident regarding the connections tied to my mother. However, most of my “close” matches were surnames utterly foreign to me.

It was true then; I had been “adopted” by my BCF (birth certificate father). But, unfortunately, my mother had taken her secret to the grave. My BCF had told a stranger rather than me. I found out I was an NPE from a friend who was a completely unrelated NPE (nonpaternal event, also sometimes nonparental event). My friend was right about the adoption but wrong about the two of us. We were not related. In a nutshell, that’s how my story began.

Life does not prepare you for such moments. As abrupt and shocking as it was, this revelation explained so much. My physical appearance, personality, and temperament differed significantly from my father’s. I was athletic; he was not. We had little to nothing in common and even less to talk about. We have not spoken in many years. Those who knew both my father and me well commonly joked that I must be “the milkman’s child.” My wife has known my father for more than 30 years and never once thought we were related. I laughed these comments off, but I really couldn’t disagree. The differences were problematic to me. I knew enough about genetics to know that much of what defines our identity, the sense of who we are, is inherited. I feared that I would start to see undesirable attributes of my father revealing themselves in me one day.

The realization that I was adopted lifted an incalculable weight from my shoulders. The fear that I would someday become my father was a burden more significant than I had previously appreciated. Yet, strangely perhaps, as the reality set in, this genetic enlightenment was validating and liberating for me. The truth had freed me.

You can read the rest of his happy ending family reunion story here – Mark Overbay.

It’s A Fundamental Human Right

I certainly understand the need to know. I believe one of the purposes that I came into this lifetime was to heal some missing family history. I believe because I was aligned with my dharma, doors opened and answers revealed themselves. That black hole void beyond my parents became whole with ancestors stretching way back and into Denmark and Scotland as well as the English and Irish.

I believe in the principle that it’s a fundamental human right to know one’s genetic identity. I remember once talking to a woman who was trying to understand why it mattered that both of my parents were adopted if they had a good life. As I tried to explain it to her, she suddenly understood. She took her own genetic ancestry for granted because she knew that if she had any reason to want to know, she could discover all the details.

Not so for many adoptees with sealed and closed records (which was the case with my parents adoptions) and not so for donor conceived people whose egg or sperm donors chose to remain anonymous – many doing it for the money – and walking away from the fact that a real living and breathing human being exists because of a choice they made. Today, inexpensive DNA testing has unlocked the truth behind many family secrets. Some learn one (or both) of the parents who raised them are not their genetic parent from a DNA test. A family friend might tell a person mourning the death of their dad at his funeral, that their father suffered from infertility and their parents used a sperm donor to conceive them.

These types of revelations can be earth shattering for some people. I’ve know of someone recently who was thrown that kind of loop. The process of coping with such a revelation is daunting and life-changing regardless. Even for my own self, learning my grandparents stories has changed my perspectives in ways I didn’t expect, when I first began the search into my own cultural and genetic origins.

There is a term for this – misattributed parentage experience (MPE). It has to do with the fact that you did not grow up knowing your genetic parent.  That word – experience – best describes the long-term effects. It is not an “event,” a one-time occurrence. The ramifications of MPE last a lifetime to some degree.  I know how it feels, trying to get to know people, who have decades of life experience that I was not present for or even aware of. It is not possible to recover that loss. One can only go forward with trying to develop a forward relationship and whatever gems of the past make themselves known are a gift.

There are 3 primary communities with MPE in their personal histories.

[1] Non-paternity event (NPE): those conceived from an extramarital affair, tryst, rape or assault, or other circumstance

[2] Assisted conception: those conceived from donor conception (DC), sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, or surrogacy

[3] Adoption: those whose adoption was hidden, orphans, individuals who’ve been in foster care or are late discovery adoptees (LDA), etc.

There are also 3 primary topics for raising awareness and developing reform efforts – education, mental health and legislation. Right To Know is an organization active on all of these fronts and issues. They are advocates for people whose genetic parent(s) is not their supportive or legal parent(s). They work to promote a better understanding of the complex intersection of genetic information, identity, and family dynamics in society at large.