(When a DNA test revealed I was an NPE – the child of a Non Paternity Event – I decided to write about the experience in order to destigmatize the situation, and to let others in the same position know that they are not alone. These are my stories.)
Apparently, today, April 10th, is designated as National Siblings Day.
Usually I eschew these Hallmark holidays, and truth be told, I’m sort of horrible at remembering events like Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and birthdays too. I’d probably forget my own, if I could.
But this year, this particular holiday is nagging at me. Sibling Day. What does that mean exactly to someone who grows on two family trees?
I was once the youngest of four. Now I am one of seven and none of these six siblings are FULL siblings, but are - at least from a biological perspective -HALF.
And that bugs me.
Being an NPE means being constantly waylaid by unexpected surges of emotions. Realizing that I am genetically alone hit me like a Mack truck - and it didn’t happen right away. It took the shock of my mother’s death and the discovery of my biological father’s identity to wear off before it occurred to me that in terms of this particular mix of DNA, I am alone.
I have two brothers and a sister with whom I share my mother’s DNA, and I have two brothers and a sister with whom I share my father’s DNA.
But there is no other person exactly like me. I am the only child from Ernie and Don.
What’s the big deal, you may ask? There are billions of families with only one child. And I was raised with the three Original Goodriches…the OG’s, as I call them now – and I am forging new relationships with two of the new-to-me brothers, so I DO have siblings. DNA does not necessarily a family make. What is it exactly that is tapping me on the shoulder, nagging me on this particular newly created holiday?
Maybe it’s because now I find looking at my own reflection in the mirror a bit like looking in a fun house mirror. I’m there, but my features have morphed. My legs are too long and my torso too squat. I am still me, but different. Changed. And so it is with my family as well. I still see their reflections in the mirror, but the image I see is distorted. Changed.
On September 30th, 19_never-you-mind, when I made my earthly debut, my mother’s Obstetrician reportedly said, “Well, Ernie, you finally got one that looks like you.” This oft repeated narrative was echoed constantly by my mother and others as if they were trying to etch it deeply into my brain. I certainly didn’t look like a Goodrich because…well - I wasn’t. I just didn’t know it then.
But now that I do know, I don’t see my real (biological) father in my face either because all I have to compare it to is a handful of old photos. But I DO see my new brother’s face in my own.
And I’ll be honest, sometimes it freaks me out.
It freaks me out because even though we did not grow up together, we are clearly family, in appearance and personality and even in the way we think. We have a bond that was born of nature, not nurture. I love this bond. But it also makes me sad for what I missed out on...the same bond I could have had with my father.
A friend looked me straight in the eye recently and said, “You can’t have that. It’s not possible. You have to fill yourself up with something else.”
So I will. I am trying to fill myself up with pieces of my missing father: His painting. My brothers, his love for my mother, our shared nose, the half of his DNA that is in me, and I will also fill that space with gratitude that I share the other half of my DNA with the OG’s, the ones who were there when I was in diapers and pigtails, in good times and bad.
Some family you are born with and some you choose. And some are discovered when you’ve looked in the mirror long enough to see the change from girl to woman to … wiser woman.
There is no glass half empty or half full. There’s just a glass and we choose how full we fill it. Concurrently, there are no half siblings or full siblings. Just brothers and sisters.
So today, I will celebrate old siblings, new siblings and the brothers and sisters I have within my theatre family, because I think I know now that there is enough room in my heart for all sorts of family. One type of sibling doesn’t eclipse the other. All love is good. And the reflection we see in the fun house mirror isn’t who we truly are.
Maybe this isn’t such a bad made up holiday after all.