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Finding my roots, losing my marbles?

‘Is the guy who you say is my father actually my father?’

| 18 May 2023 | 02:22

A couple years ago, during lockdown, I ordered one of those at-home DNA testing kits. Like thousands of other bored-stiff, genetically curious folks, I filled a small plastic tube with my spit and sent it off for scientific analysis. I realize that having your chromosomes scrutinized, cataloged and stored in some Raiders of the Lost Arc-type warehouse is nothing short of offering up your most private information to Big Brother, and paying them for the privilege. But for me, this was a chance to finally have answers to a nagging lifelong question.

You see, when I was 15, right on the cusp of discovering my rebellious self, I asked my mother what I thought was a perfectly reasonable question: Is the guy who you say is my father actually my father? She answered a maddeningly simple “no.” After some further prodding, Mom coughed up a name. However, given the 15 years of deception, I decided to take anything she had to say about “daddy” with a hefty dose of skepticism. Still, the question nagged. And so I searched for him for decades, combing through phone books and eventually the internet, all to no avail. It wasn’t until I sent my personal DNA cocktail to 23 and Me that I dared to hope for an answer to my mystery parentage.

Six weeks after sending my sample off, I got notification that my analysis was ready. It was with great anticipation that I opened the link. And there it was, a first cousin in my list of relatives with the same last name, DiMicco, as my ostensible father. (Oh, me of little faith!) After lots of hyperventilating and a shot of vodka, I reached out to the cousin. She turned out to be a family historian of sorts, and eager to share stories and pictures of the man himself, the guy from whom I inherited my hazel eyes, the curious talent of being able to roll my tongue into a tube, and the other 50% of my mostly southern Italian heritage. Unfortunately for me, Dad had long since dropped off the familial map, having become a persona non grata with the DiMicco clan. I had no choice but to be content with what information I had, a big disappointment for sure.

But little did I know there was still more to discover, via the optional health and wellness analysis that I sprang for. Turns out there are all sorts of alarming diseases and conditions that could be lurking in my genes, which I might possibly end up contracting in my lifetime. However (23 and Me says), variants in a person’s genes are not necessarily predictors, nor are they cause for alarm. Still, when I saw “one variant detected” for late onset Alzheimer’s, I took it seriously. Who wouldn’t?

Now, I’ve never been exactly reliable when it comes to keeping track of stuff (and my family would back me up on this). On a daily, if not hourly basis, I lose my glasses, my phone, my keys and a myriad of other maddening things. But this was never much cause for concern until I learned about this “one variant detected” thing. Suddenly, I began to question why I couldn’t remember the name of that movie I just watched on Netflix, or my neighbor’s name (Ben? Bob? Bill?) or why my daughter has to show me for the hundredth time how to share a link (and I see that look in her eyes that says, Mom’s losing it!). In an attempt to calm my growing unease, I give myself pop quizzes, questions like, what’s pi to the 20th decimal place? Or, what’s the circumference of the earth? Invariably I fail to remember even a close approximation. But whatever. I’m no scientist, I remind myself as I look up the answer. Which I promptly forget.

My one ace in the hole is my newly discovered family history. I now know there is plenty of hypertension, stroke and colon cancer, but hey, no lost minds, no genetic propensity for wandering the streets in a bathrobe at 3 a.m. looking for the train station. Phew! Still, one wonders....

Which leads me back to the old paterfamilias. Although I’m sad I never got to meet him, I realize now that my quest wasn’t actually about finding my father. It was about finding my heritage and my connections to the past. The question I should have been asking all along was, who am I? At long last, I do believe I have found some answers, which is the point of this story. And if you are reading it, it means I actually remembered how to share the link with my editor, all by myself! Oh, and my neighbor’s name? Stanislav. At least I was close.