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.

Seeking Ever More Accuracy

Years ago, the phrase NPE was coined to generally mean when the expected parent or parents weren’t.

  • NPE means nonpaternal event, also sometimes nonparental event.
  • Some folks didn’t like that term and began to use MPE, misattributed paternal event or misattributed parentage.

Of course, today, this situation could arise as a result of an adoption, a donor situation, either male or female, or the more often thought-of situation where the father isn’t who he’s presumed/believed to be based on the circumstances at hand.

There is one in my family. My sister never let on, even though I was supporting her through an unplanned, unwed pregnancy and was aware of her decision to surrender her child to adoption and was in on her thoughts as she made a decision on which hopeful adoptive parents to chose. For many years, I had a little lockbox in keeping for my nephew which I finally gave him in late 2016.

Imagine my own shock when his adoptive mother informed me that they were questioning the official paternity on his birth certificate. The DNA didn’t seem to add up. She was one of those good adoptive mothers who supported her adopted child’s search for the truth of his origins.

The actual father, proven by advanced DNA testing due to some uncertainty over which brother the father actually was, turned out to be my dad’s friend and former co-worker. What is worse is what I learned subsequently – that my sister actually did know who the father actually was. She informed him 6 months after the boy was born as though he had only just been born. Then, when the father indicated he was going to sue for custody because he never agreed to the adoption, very early in the morning on one Father’s Day, she called to tell him his son and the adoptive parents had been killed in a car accident. Imagine his father’s shock when this son turned up on his doorstep already in his 20s.

So, my sister is genuinely mentally ill. I don’t excuse this behavior even so. One can’t make these things up and it happens more often than one might think.

So, as the whole adoption related community (adoptees, original parents and adoptive parents joined by a whole host of friends and related family) seeks more accurate terminology, NPE has now been replaced by MPE – misattributed paternal event.

Inexpensive DNA testing and matching sites like Ancestry and 23 and Me are bringing truth into many adoptees lives, and in cases such as my own as the child of two adoptees, and has made all the difference in making us whole, in contact with our genetic origins and often with family members who’s lives continued to unfold, unknown to us, due to the rupture forced by adoption on the original family trees.