When Long Lost Biological Family Contacts You

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 hub 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, and to help contacted people sort through this complex situation.

Source

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.

Who is my family?
Who is my family? | Source

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.

I've decided I don't like you after all. Get lost.
I've decided I don't like you after all. Get lost. | Source

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.


Possible problems

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.

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Comments 11 comments

cathylynn99 profile image

cathylynn99 4 years ago from northeastern US

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.


Charlotte B Plum profile image

Charlotte B Plum 4 years ago

Dear graceomalley,

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.

Merry Christmas!


shea duane profile image

shea duane 4 years ago from new jersey

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.


Julie DeNeen profile image

Julie DeNeen 4 years ago from Clinton CT

Adoptive reunions are incredibly complicated. Great article.


graceomalley profile image

graceomalley 4 years ago Author

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.


Audrey Baker profile image

Audrey Baker 4 years ago from Arizona

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 profile image

graceomalley 3 years ago Author

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.


CarlySullens profile image

CarlySullens 3 years ago from St. Louis, Missouri

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 profile image

graceomalley 3 years ago Author

Carly - It does take time, and it is anything but simple.

Thank you for visiting.


Elaine Sclafani 2 years ago from Peabody, Massachusetts

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 profile image

graceomalley 2 years ago Author

Elaine -

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.

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