“Write down something unique about yourself that you wouldn’t know by looking at you.”
When I am given this seemingly harmless set of instructions during an ice-breaker, the pangs of anxiety set in. Where do I start? “I have a different biological father than I thought I did, and I found out when I was 26. Not that I’m bitter …”
Where do I go from there? How does the next person follow that? And at what point is that appropriate to share, if not at first? It’s one thing to recognize a unique trait about myself, but saying it aloud so that others recognize it as a part of me is a whole other can of worms, and quite often awkward.
I push through it and say it anyway because I’m hoping somewhere along the way, someone else spoke up before me and I’ll get a “hey, I know someone that happened to…” At the very least, maybe I’ll be that ‘first person’ for the ones who follow.
I could keep the new biological connection quiet and offer a different ‘unique trait’—like hating mayonnaise so much I won’t eat anything that remotely looks like mayonnaise. And sometimes, that’s exactly where I start. But some days…
Some days, I don’t care and I’m just tired of keeping this little “something about myself” so close. My family is still uncomfortable talking about it so I’m always on the lookout for discussion outlets and chance opportunities like these innocent little ice-breaker questions.
Even though I’m moving forward in life, carrying on like the rest of the general population who knows its biological history, this issue is nonetheless front and center on my mind. Nine years later, I’m still getting used to having a different biological father (and subsequently, a different medical history, a different family tree, and maybe new siblings I’m not sure how to introduce) and I say it aloud solely to put a voice to it and make it real. I still trip over my words when I’m introducing one of my dads or referring to one of them. “My dad…” is no longer simply “my dad,” but “my dad, from Georgia…” or “my dad, who raised me…”
“I found out that I had a different biological father when I was 26…” isn’t what people expect to hear. Of course, I never expected to say it. Because this type of news can be upsetting, confusing, etc. I try to tell my story in an objective way, remaining calm and light-hearted and everything I think non-crazy people are supposed to be. Naturally, the initial reaction might be shock, some silence, and a bit of “uh-oh, is she crazy?” or “that must have hurt,” “does she hate her parents now?” “Will she cry?” “How should I react?” Usually, I just get a kind “How did they tell you?” No mention of doubting my sanity (questionable) or needing to be on Maury “You are NOT the Father” Povich.
As tricky as the topic might be, it generates a discussion I was so afraid to start. I’ve learned it’s not a taboo subject anymore (as long as you’re not asking my mother or grandmother). And I try to encourage others to keep asking questions, because we’re finally discussing something not easily shared among people, yet it happens to one out of every 10 children…
Let’s face it: Talking about stuff helps. Over the course of these conversations, I’ve found other 1-out-of-10s, or people related to them, and our common ground usually includes how well the families kept this secret. No one talked about these “non-paternity events” back in the day. Today’s generation is a lot more accustomed to emotional transparency than our grandparents’ and parents’. Naturally, it surprises many of us when we find them having such a hard time with the subject. As we continue to keep these conversations on-hold, the situation itself can become a point of contention and shame, implying a sense of “if we don’t talk about it, it must be bad.”
At the same time, those who are responsible for the secrecy (and likely the non-paternity event), haven’t exactly been surrounded by support systems conducive to sharing this type of news. In the end, it all comes back to the mother (and the mother sleeping with someone other than Daddy) and who wants to get Mom in trouble or remind her of the shame and guilt she’s probably been carrying for years? Not me. So, I get it. However, I would just like to stop feeling less self-conscious about it when we have these silly ice-breaking exercises.
Getting this out in the open helps me shake off the discomfort and self-consciousness, creates awareness and, admittedly, a sense of validation. Dialogue and awareness foster understanding, and in the end that’s kinda what I was seeking all along. As I work to grasp what this news is supposed to mean to me, I want to understand what it means to my family and also others this has happened to.
So, tell me something about you: what’s your unique thing? For those of you who’ve experienced a non-paternity event, how do you raise the topic or deal with it once it’s brought up? Has your non-paternity event afforded you more awkward moments than before?
For the others, what do you think? Is it fair to hold our parents and grandparents to the transparency standards this new generation has demanded and become accustomed to? How might you react during one of these ice-breakers?