In the past five years, I have been contacted by my biological father and my three biological half brothers. Before this contact, I knew little about these people who shared my DNA and had no idea of their whereabouts. In the case of my father, the experience was overwhelmingly positive and turned into a wonderful friendship. We communicated for the last 18 months before his death, so it was the last chance in this lifetime to know each other. We each got some closure, and my father went as far as to write our relationship had given him “a chance at redemption.” I was honored: one has few opportunities in life to give such a thing to another human being.
With the brothers, things didn’t go so well. It ended with a long message from one of them that was downright malicious. This experience has gotten me to thinking about the pitfalls and promise of reconnecting with biological family. Most articles written on this subject are from the point of view of people who are trying to contact a biological parent or sibling. This article will look at the issue from the other perspective: the point of view of the person who is contacted.
I hope to write for the benefit of people on both sides of the equation:
- to help those who want to contact a sibling, parent or child understand what the experience is like for the contactee
- to help contacted people sort through this complex situation
Why are they contacting you?
To put this simply, a relative who contacts you wants something. What they want may be perfectly reasonable: medical information, a piece of their life history that is missing, and that only you can supply. Or they may want something more intangible: the validation they have not achieved in any other way, attention, unconditional love. Perhaps they don’t know what they want. Perhaps they are driven by anger and hurt. When first contacted, you don’t know what motives the person has, or if he is even aware of his motives. You don't know how stable this person is.
My friend and her birth sister
A few years ago a friend of mine was contacted by a birth sibling, in the most dramatic of ways. My friend got a call from a television show, saying that a relative she didn’t know wanted to meet her, but the condition was that the meeting had to be taped for television. My friend was game, and she went on the show to learn some really astounding facts about her origins: she was the result of her mother’s extra marital affair, and to hide the evidence from a husband on his way home from an overseas deployment, her mother gave her up for adoption. But the mother already had a daughter, and this little girl never forgot the baby sister who was given away and then never talked about. As an adult, my friend had a touching reunion with this older sister in front of a television audience. All of that went well. The sister was a very nice person. But after a few months, my friend said, “I’m going to have to limit contact. She’s very needy. I can’t give her what she wants right now.” My friend’s husband had left her, and she was adjusting to single parenthood of two elementary age children. The older sister wasn't able to be a support during this trying time; instead she was seeking validation for herself. It was too much for my friend to carry at that time.
What is this person like?
At initial contact, the only thing you know about the person is that they were stirred up enough to track you down. Since you didn’t track them down, this means there is some unevenness in what the relationship may mean to the two of you. Depending on how much time they spent looking for you, they may bring a long history to the first contact. They have had time to process: you have not. They wanted to find you badly enough to do it: you did not.
My high school classmate and her birth father
Around the time my father contacted me, a high school classmate I had reconnected with via FaceBook found out she was adopted. She decided to find her biological parents, and came out of a meeting with her birth mom gushing, “She’s an amazing person!” I remember thinking, ‘Slow down. Things are never that simple.’ The reasons people give up biological children are many and complex, and so are the emotions of all parties. This classmate, perhaps emboldened by a positive response from the birth mother, went on to contact her birth father. And here she got a very different reception. He refused contact: he would not so much as provide a family medical history. At the least this was annoying to her, and I think it was even painful. But I found myself seeing things from the birth father’s perspective. The adoption took place at a time when such things were understood to be confidential. He did not expect to have to face his daughter, or her questions, or her possible recriminations. Perhaps after the youthful mishap of an out of wedlock baby he pulled himself together and built a good life, and this phone call was a painful reminder of something he wanted to forget. Perhaps his present family didn’t know about the relinquished child, and he couldn’t imagine telling them. Or maybe he never did ‘get over it,’ perhaps he had a few divorces and estranged children in his past, and this was a painful reminder of how it all began. Whatever the reason he turned his daughter away, I find myself in silent sympathy with his predicament. It is one I found myself in twice, and I know that no matter how you respond, regret crouches at the door.
My biological father and mother
Reconnecting with my biological father was a great experience for me. I would go as far as to say it changed my life. I didn’t have any illusions about him: I knew he was troubled in the extreme; that he had done wrong and received his share of wrong too. Before any contact I knew some pretty bad things about him. “He’s an amazing person!” would not come gushing out of my mouth. But I found a kindred spirit in my father, in perhaps the most unlikely of places. His life was a series of jobs, women and children he couldn’t hold onto, and he was broke and alone and sleeping on his brother’s couch when he first dialed my number. My life had all the stability his didn’t, but somehow we found each other and connected beyond all such things. I accepted him for who he was; he accepted me too.
I had experience with troubled parents. My mother was an alcoholic mental patient who has been in and out of psych wards her entire life. She also loved me, and I loved her. Somewhere along the line I had already come to terms with managing a relationship with a messed up parent. When my father came along, we forged a connection in spite of all that he had done and not done in the 38 years of my life. Somehow, all that seemed beside the point. But I’m making it sound like I threw caution to the winds. I did nothing of the kind.
The precautions of connecting with my father
My father called my house, but he talked to my husband, not to me. He wanted to talk to me, but I was in no hurry. I took over a week to decide if I would respond at all, then more time to decide I didn’t want phone contact. I was willing to exchange emails, and a separate account would be set up for just that purpose. I would open a door, but the room he was allowed into would be as separate from the rest of my life as I could keep it. I told my children nothing, and read and sent emails when they were in bed or occupied with something else. I decided from the beginning that whatever happened with this venture, their lives would be shielded.
My father, as it turned out, was very respectful of the boundaries I set. I expect this was a large part of why it all worked out.
Enter the brothers
So why did things go bad with the brother? I don’t know what happened on his side. He asked me to do him a favor, I wasn’t comfortable and said no, and that resulted in several pages of rage from him. Probably I should have just deleted it once I realized where he was going, but I read the whole thing. There was more to it than he couldn't handle a 'no.' He said I had been a disappointment to him. What expectations did he have which were disappointed? I have no idea. I had sent him multiple messages which he hadn’t answered, so messages weren’t what he wanted. I don’t know what he wanted.
From my experience, and that of friends and aquaintences, here are some problems that can happen when biological family contacts you:
1) They have expectations you won't find out about until you have fallen short.
2) Their feelings are strong, or they would not have overcome the obstacles to finding you in the first place, but who knows if they can handle these feelings appropriately.
3) They have a sense of entitlement that they don't even recognize as entitlement. To put it more baldly, they think you owe them. My high school classmate mentioned above wrote on Facebook that if only her birth father had been willing to know her family, they could have gotten free copies of the textbooks he wrote. She moved from wanting him to be in contact with her, to being in contact with her husband and kids, to giving them free merchandise. From her perspective I think these jumps were easy, probably unconscious. This is a reason to tread very carefully when connecting with unknown biological family. They may have different ideas about boundaries than you do
One reason I wanted to publish this hub is that most of the information out there is from the point of view of the person who searches for birth family. Sympathy certainly seems to be on the side of this person. I haven't heard anything about people who are going along in their lives and receive attention from a birth relative, and they are less than thrilled with this attention. Sometimes their ambivalence has reasons, but this is another story seldom told.
Situations can be more complex than the person contacting you knows. In the case of my brothers - well, they may not have been my brothers, at least not from a DNA standpoint. My father is listed on their birth certificates, but he was only one of many partners of their mother. To my knowledge, my father was married to yet a different woman (not my mother) through all of this, throwing yet another kink into an already tangled web. The oldest brother remembered that his mother was often gone for days at a time, but he believed that she was holding down three jobs, and didn't have time to come home in between. His mother died when he was little, and I wasn't going to tell him the facts about a woman he remembered fondly. All his anger was directed towards my father, the man he believed to be his biological father, who he had last seen when he was 5 years old.
People who contact you generally think they have the facts. And they form strong judgements on what they know. Small wonder interacting with them can be a minefield.
Some suggestions when family contacts you
Take your time: As the saying goes, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. A slow beginning is the best foundation.
Keep expectations reasonable: It always works out for the best.
Share contact information slowly: My brother only had my Facebook account, not email, phone or anything else. At this point I’m very glad. After the message he sent, I’m still a little nervous when I see something in my Facebook inbox, and I’m glad he doesn’t have access to anything else.
Remember you are under no obligation: People who contact you may have an opinion about how you ought to respond. They may or may not tell you what they want. They may be needy, or angry, or in denial. On the other hand, they may be willing to respect your boundaries, and something amazing may be about to happen. You won’t know until you wade into these waters and take the chance. But I want to tell you that the choice is yours.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
graceomalley (author) on January 27, 2021:
You wrote "I could have gotten mad, mailed letters to every family member I could find and smear my father's name from here to eternity"
That is exactly why contactees are hesitant about contact. They don't know this person, or what they will do if angered.
You mentioned therapy. That is the correct place to seek resolution for powerful emotions, not from someone who does not know you, did not seek you out, and and whose only connection is DNA.
Alifair on May 31, 2020:
I was matched through DNA test with a niece who I never knew I had. I contacted her and we talked on facebook and then we met. A lovely girl, we have a lot in common, in fact she looked a lot like me when I was younger. We made arrangement to me at my house and we had a nice visit. I have been to her apartment a few times. She suffered from depression and only works to support herself. She has 3 grown children and 2 failed marriages. I have encouraged her to get out more. I made arrangements for her to meet 2 of her 1/2 siblings but the effort has not been made to be introduced with the other two. She is on facebook with 3 of the siblings. The youngest seems to have an attitude and is indifferent. We converse on facebook and she asks questions about family health and recently has issues with high blood pressure and I have given her suggestions on how to deal with this as it runs in out family along with diabetes. She is great when I have visited with her and we get along really well I have gone over to her apartment a few times but I think visiting is a two way street and I have not had a visit with her as I'm waiting on her to come to my house. I have asked her if I'm pushing too hard for a relationship, maybe she doesn't want the same thing as I do and she will quickly say "Oh no it's me and the depression that prevents her from getting out and being with people and doing things." She made the comment to her older sibling who lives out of state that she finally feels like she belongs knowing our family. I thought this was pretty profound. Anyway, I don't know if I should put the visits to my house aside and continue to go to hers but it's frustrating to know we could have a much closer relationship, which she appears to enjoy but doesn't act on it. Any input would be appreciated.
Allum on December 03, 2019:
This article helped me so much. I just found my grandfathers family and I'm eager to know more. But this part has calmed me "Depending on how much time they spent looking for you, they may bring a long history to the first contact. They have had time to process: you have not. They wanted to find you badly enough to do it: you did not."
I've been searching for over 10 years..I've had plenty of time to process this. My new uncle may be very hesitant to learn he has a new niece and an older brother.
Sapar on July 10, 2019:
Hi, I am motivated to write my story. I had a baby brother who I loved verymuch. I remember gazing into his beautiful blue eyes and I never forgot those eyes. I was 3 years old when my little brother was sent away for adoption. My mother told me he had died. Later when I was in my 30's she told me the truth. I began to bite my nails at the age of 3 which I did until Christmas of this year. I am in my 60's now. About 20 years ago I met him by accident. I was in the moors and he was the owner of a mobile van shop. I recognised his eyes immediately and his name was right, he had used a shortened version of his original name. I said to him that I thought he was my brother. We talked for only a few minutes but what I remembered and what he told me fitted together perfectly. He said he didn't want contact and had his life, which I respected. You are right in saying that the one who searches does it for deep rooted personal feelings which are very strong and can overwhelm the recipient. I would have loved to know him better, to be friends but what do we have in common? We live on opposite sides of the mountains and are unlikely to ever bump into each other again, but he will always be in my heart.
berlinruiz on May 15, 2019:
My first born daughter's biological dad and I split when I was pregnant. I found out he had another family and cut ties with him. I gave him the option to be there for her, but he was unreliable and didn't think it was in her best interest to be in her life. He saw her once as a baby, and spent a week with her when she was 3. I got married to someone else when she was 5 and had another baby who is now 6. My husband raised my first born but we always told her that they didn't have the same blood and that I would explain when she got older.My first born is now 11 and started asking a lot of questions about her biological dad, recently started rebelling demanding that she wanted to meet him. I had to jump through hoops to contact him. Long story short, his parents and siblings had no idea she existed. His parents have a scheduled video chat with her but not sure what to expect.
Mrs Swader on December 23, 2018:
Grace- I was overjoyed to find an article like this! To your point, I have only found articles around the family member looking not those who have been "found". My Dad has an older daughter from a previous relationship, but due to circumstances out of his control- he lost touch with them. He made attempts to find them- unsuccessfully. He moved on with his life. My parents just celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. His daughter was never a secret and over the years he would search for her occasionally. Now with the lovely invention of Ancestry DNA (my own tagline- wrecking one family at a time) the long lost daughter has found him. He did everything opposite to what you discussed in your article; be cautious, go slow, set boundaries, etc. He forced her on our entire family including my Uncle, cousins and other extended family before I could blink, process and digest. It was incredibly overwhelming. I am private and reserved so I was cautious and she did not like that. She took my cautiousness for rejection and began talking to Dad disrespectfully about my Mom and I (in her mind, my Mom and I were in her and her Mom's rightful place)- my brother had texted her a few times so in her eyes he was okay. My Dad has actually gone out of his way to please her and soften the truth while she continues to speak horribly about my Mom and I. I have been supportive and encouraging to my Dad because I know he has been missing her for so long despite her ugly words, but he excuses her bad behavior as PTSD and because she had a difficult childhood. I have explained that regardless of her situation she has no right to speak about us the way she does, but he is so excited to have her in his life that he is on the verge of destroying the other relationships in his life. He has now lied to us for his long lost and can't see that lying will not get him "one big happy family" of where the long lost will be invited on our family vacations, etc. He refuses to admit she is not stable (she has sent many nasty texts and emails to Dad). She has said that he needs to make up the last 47 years to her- take her on walks in the park, to the movies (just the two of them). She has told him she wants him to herself and no one else is invited. He has not established boundaries with her and my relationship with him is in danger. I love my Dad but he thinks if he lies to us all, whisper sweet words to his long lost that everything will work out. I have expressed to him that what he's doing only pushes me further away from him, my Mom is at her wits end and my brother is equally frustrated. Obviously there are many sides to a story, but I can only share mine. I was not searching for her all my life (he was), I was not/am not looking for an older sibling and she is definitely not welcome with all of the anger and bitterness she harbors (she has blamed my Dad for just about everything that was wrong in her life as a child and the sad part is I know he feels guilty- not rational, but I get it). I would greatly appreciate any words of encouragement to help my family through this ordeal. Since she found him, she's only been a nightmare and I know that hurts him, but it's not fair that he hurts us in the process of trying to please long lost because he can't be honest with her and set boundaries. Help!
graceomalley (author) on November 10, 2018:
Well, my advice. Feel free to stop reading here if you prefer not to have it :)
If you would like a relationship with your brother in law, go ahead. He is your brother in law, if you have children or plan to have children, he will be their blood relative. There are many ways you could develop a relationship with him: phoning, messaging, exchanging gifts, days out, practical help.
On the other hand, your husband's relationship with his half brother is up to him. He has to want it. A sibling relationship is no small thing, and if he isn't sold on it on his own, I would advise against trying to get him to go there.
But if you feel the half brother would add to your life, my opinion is to build that relationship with no expectations on your husband to join in. Sure it would be great if he did, but only he can make that decision.
One note: I have a husband who has the personality that he is mild mannered, but has a quiet will of iron. At a certain point I decided I could no longer wear myself out trying to get him on board with my plans, and instead would make plans and invite him along. To my genuine surprise, he often (although not always) joined me on trips to the beach or the art museum. For whatever reason, he found it easier to jump on a moving train, and I think the fact that I was going without him if he chose to hibernate at home helped too.
If I were you, I would explore things with your brother in law yourself. You never know, he could be your new best friend.
Susan2308 on November 02, 2018:
My husband recently found out his estranged mother passed away. they hadn’t spoken for 32 years. His half brother has found us via social media and made contact. He is a great guy I really took to him. My husband is very cautious. I feel having his own brother in his life would be good for him. He is the type of guy that once he closes a chapter its closed for good. His half brother has looked up to him all of his life. He was 5 when we saw him last. My husband hasn’t thought of him in that time. Im finding it difficult to help my husband move forward.
annamkeith on July 27, 2017:
I really have to take offense to some points in this article. You state that bio-family makes contact with an 'agenda' and yes, you are correct. The agenda is to connect with family. Why is that a bad thing? Doesn't everyone deserve to know where they come from and have a chance to know people with whom they are biologically related? I've heard it said that DNA doesn't make you family, but let's flip that pancake over and be honest - sometimes DNA is the ONLY reason we have contact with people! How many times has someone said, "Well I wouldn't have anything to do with them except they ARE family, right?" So the logic fails on DNA-vs-relationship point. I made contact with my biological father (and 1/2 sisters) after getting myself into a real good place emotionally. I went in expecting nothing except to make myself known and anything else was a bonus. I was threatened with legal action by one of my sisters - simply because I sent an email to her. My father does not want contact, but was too chicken to say it to me directly. The hostility was dumbfounding. I know there is a risk when someone comes out of the blue claiming to be family, but good grief, what happened to empathy? What if it was YOU that wanted to know who your family was? I appreciate you sharing the perspective of the contactee and it does help to see it from the other side. I decided to take the high road and respect their wishes and ceased any further contact. I could have gotten mad, mailed letters to every family member I could find and smear my father's name from here to eternity, but it wouldn't have made a difference. I was a mistake and he is going to keep seeing me that way. Thankfully I have dealt with his rejection in therapy and can move on with my life. My point is this - biological family IS family. DNA does mean something. Everyone deserves the right to know who their family is.
Shay Nichols on May 29, 2017:
I realize that this article is old, but it is so relevant. My father and mother married late in life and had me and a sister. Recently my sister was contacted by two women on social media claiming to be our half sisters. My sister always wanted a sister, so jumped on this, even going as far as to pay for DNA testing. My sister has gotten into arguments and upset our mother terribly over this. Turns out, our mom revealed that these women contacted our mother about fifteen years ago with the same claim (father btw has been deceased since the early 90s). Mom hung up the phone on them. They had some kind of law firm send her a letter later on demanding answers. Mom tore up the letter. Anyway, so flash forward to now and here we are. My sister is caught up in this mess. Mom is mad especially since all of this happened around the anniversary of dad's death. The two "sisters" are mad because my father (their "father") walked out on them when they were little. This is a huge mess. Supposedly they want closure but on what? All they've done so far is cause turmoil for my family. It's very well possible that my father had other children he never knew about but what's the rationale behind them coming after us now? Money? Resentment? Back child support? I wish they had just left this alone.
graceomalley (author) on April 24, 2014:
Thank you for reading and the input from your own life. I'm going to share some of my thoughts about reunions, and about what you wrote. These are of course only my opinions, and you know your own situation best.
From my experience reunions with long lost family can feel very powerful because here is this person who is family, but who has not been in a position to disillusion you. I think it is all too common to move quickly into an intimate emotional relationship, but without the usual checks and balances of regular life keeping things on an even keel. Normally, our closeness and trust with family builds gradually over years with shared experiences. Reunions like these toss the normal way of relating to family to the wind. In your case, you have a long history with your sweetie. I would count on that winning out in the long run.
Sometimes family memebers who show up out of nowhere have an agenda. This was the case with at least one of my 'brothers.' He had a lot of anger towards our father (who had been dead for a year or so at the time), and wanted to tell me about some horrific things that my father had done which I didn't know about. The brother drew me out for awhile, then dropped the bomb. It was very, very painful. I knew my father was very troubled, very messed up, but did not until that point have these specific pictures in my head.
So, the brother was not a safe person, though he tried to impersonate for awhile :)
Anyway, this is one of the reasons that I think that everyone has the right to take things slowly, or even say no, when contacted out of the blue. A person can be family and not have your best interests at heart.
Elaine Sclafani from Peabody, Massachusetts on April 18, 2014:
Hello, I am hoping to get more insight about this topic. I have been living with my childhood sweetheart for 5 years now. Because I have known and loved him most of my life, it was and is a joyous reunion. Growing up, I have been with him and known about his father and his rejection of him. He is now 47 and I am 46. We r raising my 2 kids and his granddaughter. He has 7 other siblings on his mothers side that he grew up with (as did I) and no longer speaks to them, since they all betrayed him in some way. A month ago, a long lost sister from his fathers side contacted him. At first I was happy for him while they facebooked and shared pictures. Then they exchanged phone numbers and have been constantly texting each other morning, noon and night. By the third night of this, I finally asked him to stop for a while because I felt a little left out. We r very busy with the kids and have had many issues lately with his daughter (she is am addict,that's another issue all together that we have been dealing with for over a year) and when we get a few minutes together, I want his full attention. He would constantly text her while I am trying to have a moment with him. His phone was constantly in his hand waiting for her to text back. I felt it was getting obsessive and asked him to not text her while we had time to ourselves, which is minimal. I felt better after talking to him about this and he seamed to slow down. Then I noticed he was hiding his phone, leaving for the store to call her and secretive about the context of their messages. It felt so wrong to me. I know she texted him good morning every morning and good night before falling asleep and all during the day. He hasn't met her yet, and I'm afraid when he does. I told him I thought it was weird that she needed to constantly keep up with his day, to text him as soon as she opened her eyes and that now he was hiding it from me. I know that after only a few days of speaking to each other, they say "I love u" every day. I've never been so jealous before. It's so bad, my hands have been shaking for days/weeks worrying about this. He says it's nothing but I feel it's something. He's connected with other lost family members and it was not like this with them. I feel like they are obsessed. He finally told her that their constant texting was upsetting me and she made a comment that she had broke up with her boyfriend because he was a wimp. He took that as her
calling him a wimp with me. He said I don't need to worry about her texting any more cuz I put an end to it. I never asked him to
contact with her, only oslow it down a bit. Now I feel he may resent me for this.
energy into this new person and had none left over for me. I
graceomalley (author) on May 29, 2013:
Carly - It does take time, and it is anything but simple.
Thank you for visiting.
Carly Sullens from St. Louis, Missouri on May 29, 2013:
This is a well written hub from a perspective that does not get that much attention. Reunions are indeed, complicated and they are not a one time event, it takes time for the reunion phase to unfold itself.
graceomalley (author) on December 26, 2012:
Aleksandra- I don't give out my private email to those who find me on Hubpages, and to communicate privately i would have to give you my email. This is nothing personal - most people are great people, but there have been the one or two who aren't. (One person was actually banned from HP over his harrassing posts to me on one of my Christianity hubs, so I've been through it.)
You are welcome to post here on the hub itself. This hub is set so that no comments appear until i approve them, so if you want to write something that the world at large won't see, just put that in the comment, and i won't hit 'allow.' That will keep your post private between us. I will respond, though it would have to be public - but no one would know who i am writing to.
Audrey Baker from Arizona on December 10, 2012:
You've made great suggestions. I'm sure it may seem difficult for someone to take their time when they finally find someone they've been in search of for a while, but like you said, the other person hasn't had time to process everything. They will likely feel a bit overwhelmed at first.
graceomalley (author) on May 29, 2012:
Julie - Thanks for visiting! They are complicated, and they are also becoming more the norm. People tend to seek out these connections, with a variety of results. It's a big swing of the pendulum from past generations, who would keep an adoption secret, even from the child. I wonder if the pendulum will swing back a bit at some point.
Blurter of Indiscretions from Clinton CT on May 29, 2012:
Adoptive reunions are incredibly complicated. Great article.
shea duane from new jersey on December 23, 2011:
Wow, really compelling hub. Some people are always looking for something... that one piece of their lives or stories that will solve or change everything. So sad. You are very lucky you had some time with your father that was good.
Charlotte B Plum on December 22, 2011:
thank you for sharing your experience with us, and for giving us a glimpse into these experiences of yours and your friends. I found this hub very useful and fascinating to read.
cathylynn99 from northeastern US on December 22, 2011:
very thoughtful approach. i contacted my ex-fiance's daughter, to whom i was summer mom for three years, once the girl was grown up and hopefully no longer overly influenced by the troubled end of my relationship with her father. she never returned my letter, so i have let the whole thing go, even though i haven't had kids of my own. it would have been nice to know how she is doing and perhaps become pen pals, but i respect her decision.