A popular afternoon television show here used to feature an angry woman and one or two scofflaw men denying fathering a baby. We would get to hear lengthy rants by the woman followed by righteous denials by the men. The camera then would show us the adorable baby waiting back stage to be united with the true father. After endless commercials, the host would open an envelope and announce either “You ARE the father” or “You ARE NOT the father.” The woman would yell, the man run off the stage, the crew would try to calm everyone down, the baby would be brought out and placed in the suddenly eager arms of the real father.” Supposedly all live happily ever after when the show concludes.
Lately a great deal of attention has been paid to the chaos in some families resulting from DNA testing done by one of the family members. Here there is no crew member waiting to calm everyone down. Instead a daughter discovers that her “real” father is someone else. Or a man learns that he isn’t the “real” father of the children he has raised. Or a woman discovers that the sperm from an unknown donor really came from her gynecologist who also impregnated many other women. One woman has sold many copies of her memoir “Inheritance” recounting her life being totally disrupted by such an event.
I think that many times children wish that they had different parents. One of mine yelled at me “I wish I were adopted and you weren’t my real mother.” But I am distressed by the kind of turmoil that happens by learning that things are not as they seemed. What does it mean to have been raised by a man who is now told he isn’t the “real” father? Why this sudden insistence that biology is more important than lived reality?
Perhaps the problem lies more in secrecy. Secrets rarely stay secret forever. And DNA testing has uncovered many secrets. I wish that more people could just acknowledge the toll that secrets can take on families. And I hope that fewer people would take the opportunity to abandon the people who raised them as they go searching for their “real parents.”