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  • Richard Wenzel

DNA truth: compare and contrast

No legacy is so rich as honesty. - William Shakespeare

A quarter century ago, some close family friends adopted a baby girl from an Asian country, I’ll call her “Ann”. Raised in a glaringly non-Asian small town in the Midwest’s cornfields, anyone could plainly see that Ann was genetically unrelated to her parents. Yet every family has a story, and her adoption simply became their story. A few years later a second daughter, adopted from the same country, joined them. They lived similarly to millions of other families, enjoying holiday celebrations, school activities, and other happy events, coupled with life’s typical struggles.

Today, Ann is no longer the baby girl that I remember, she’s a bright, engaging, kind-hearted, college educated, and recently married young woman seeking to make her way in this world. Her story serves as testament to people’s amazing power to understand, relate, accept, grow from, and connect via truth. Her parents bestowed upon her and her sister their heritage’s facts, which was subsequently acknowledged by everyone from the moment they first met them. In other words, her story was normalized from the earliest of ages. As a result, her genetic truth long-ago faded into the background, never forgotten, but not in need of front-and-center focus in anyone’s consideration of her; for years Ann’s been widely viewed as the wonderful person she is in her own right.

Importantly, and sadly, Ann’s story stands in contrast to the hurtful chaos reigning in the NPE domain, chaos anchored in this single problem: lack of sharing genetic truth. Indeed, the typical NPE story serves as an antithesis, a testament to people’s amazing power to willfully descend into deception, often toxic and in perpetuity.

Every NPE story is unique, yet seemingly all NPE stories share themes; my story is illustrative of most. I had a close bond with my mother. Yet my mother never gave me the gift of truth of my genetic heritage, despite my inquiries to her about my feelings that something was amiss with my dad being my dad. My mother took her reasons for her silence to her grave years ago, after losing her battle with cancer; alas, I am left struggling to balance my fond memories of her with her betrayal of repeatedly lying straight to my face. I am also left to grapple with poignant questions that can never be answered; not only is my mother deceased, but after my DNA discovery I learned that my biological father is long gone too.

My mother, who worked as a Registered Nurse, falsified every family medical history form she ever completed on my behalf. Today, I labor to correct my medical history’s fictional narrative. Worse, available information suggests I carry a genetic illness transmitted to me by my biological father. Even worse, I can transmit this illness to my offspring.

Virtually all relatives and friends have been supportive of me in recent times, with one conspicuous exception, my aunt, my mom’s closest sister. Verbal and emotional warfare erupted between us, she fought me fiercely, attempting to keep my mother’s deception forever concealed. Needless to say, I do not speak to my aunt these days; I reached a limit to my tolerance for her attempts to twist my dead mother’s lies into something virtuous and sacrosanct, as well as her inability to acknowledge these lies’ negative effects for other people, notably me and my birth certificate father.

I can go on, but you get the idea; lies have consequences, enduring, expanding, and even life-threatening consequences. And if a lie never stops, then the consequences never stop.

Had my mother – or any NPE’s mother - articulated the truth a few decades ago, how much different – and better – might things be today? What if, what if, what if? Pondering these ideas can be an exercise in futility. Yet this is a straightforward and reasonable contemplation; what if my mother had simply been honest at some point over the span of 35 years? Sure, my family would have likely endured consequences had she revealed the truth; no doubt my dad, her husband, would not have been pleased. But we were living a lie anyway; better the struggles born of truth than the false comforts of a lie, comforts destined to explode, which is exactly what happened to me and countless other NPEs.

So, my message to the world, in particular those concealing DNA truth: find a better way! A way characterized by truth! A way characterized by respect for every person’s authenticity of being! Consequences may occur, but, frankly, those consequences were always lurking, waiting for their rightful date with destiny; best to confront them sooner rather than later, in whatever controlled fashion you can create. In the short-term the risk of pain from sharing truth will be real, but long-term the pain can recede, replaced by opportunities for connection, growth, and understanding. Or perhaps the whole charade collapses, with no recovery? Obviously, this is a dismal outcome, but an acknowledgment must be made that this outcome arose from the preceding deception; take ownership of the false environment that allowed such painful aftermaths to truth’s discovery. And those unwilling to take ownership forfeit their standing to criticize the outcome.

Truth matters, especially in long-term family relationships. How ironic that Ann’s obvious difference from her parents was the conduit to the important truth granted to her. Although not as profound as Ann’s difference, I too bear little resemblance to my father, but paradoxically not different enough to sufficiently raise people’s suspicions during my childhood; my mother hid me in plain sight for decades and today I feel exposed, in a bad way.

Finally, sharing of truth allowed Ann to retain an opportunity forever lost to me: the chance to discuss our story with our biological parents. Yes, long odds exist for Ann to find one or both of her bio parents, and she may choose not to find them, but she HAS a choice, she is young, and DNA technology continues to advance rapidly; what opportunities might exist for her in a decade? As for me, my biological parents were available to me for decades, yet I was kept oblivious of the need for critical discussions. Now, they are dead, having taken an array of essential information with them.

I was waiting at the airport when Ann landed in this country a quarter century ago. Although excited for her - an excitement that subsequent years have vindicated by her flourishing life - on the day of her arrival I admit to feeling a bit of mourning as to her loss of everything where she was born. Little did I know that my efforts would have been better aimed at mourning for myself, as well as my mother, who was waiting with me at the airport. On that day, kindhearted truth and misguided lies simultaneously stood right next to me.


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