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DNA Doesn't Make a Dad: An Open Letter to the Stranger Who Calls Himself My Dad

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I never thought my life would resemble an episode of the Maury show. At 35, the last thing you expect is to get a phone call one day from a total stranger saying, "I'm your father." The letter was strange enough, but I brushed it off as a simple condolence letter of an old friend of my mother's who wanted to share his sympathy for her passing. The $150 gift card seemed sweet, if not a bit over the top. But when you called that same day and dropped the bomb, I saw it for what it really was, a guilt gift for not being around my entire life.

Here's the thing though, you have nothing to feel guilty for. I have a Dad, in fact, I've been extremely blessed in the father department. My father is the man whose name is on my birth certificate, and whose love flows through my veins even 21 years after his passing. My step-dad has also loved me and had my best interests at heart since I was 5 years-old. I have certainly never lacked a father, even though I still mourn my father to this day. That's what you feel for a real father, heart shattering grief because the loss of that person feels like a piece of you is gone. It's a pain that has shaped me into who I am, but what shaped me more was his love.

I'm sorry you've felt like you've missed out on my life for whatever reason you chose not to be in it. But the truth is you gave me a gift by walking away (that is if I really carry your DNA at all). I have had the best father. He listened to me in a way that most adults don't really listen to children when they speak. We talked about books, he eased my mind when I worried, he held me when I cried, and he told me all the time how much he loved me and how proud he was of me. The loss was so hard because I knew that I got what most people never do.

When he passed away, guess who stood beside me at the funeral? My step-dad. He's been standing by me my whole life, cheering me on, watching me graduate high school, then college and walking me down the aisle. While my own father didn't have the privilege, he got to see me become a woman, a wife, and a mother. He's the one who taught me that fatherhood has nothing to do with DNA. That's a technicality. While I don't know if we share any DNA, what I do know is that it really doesn't matter.

I know you said you have always loved me, but you don't even know me. Perhaps you love the idea of me, but you played no part in who I am. When I had a miscarriage at 26 years-old I grieved my baby and I loved my baby, but I didn't know yet what it meant to be a parent. I had no idea what the sacrifices would be. Maybe that's how you should think of me, as the child you could have had, but didn't.

When you contacted me, do you think you were being a good parent? Were you thinking about me and what your announcement would do to me? Or were you instead thinking about yourself? Were you thinking I'd suddenly become your daughter and have a relationship with you? I have to be honest, no DNA test is going to make that happen. A relationship is built on love, trust, respect, and lots and lots of time. I don't know if I'll ever want that with you because you are a stranger.

If you were my real father you might have thought first about what I would want. Would I want you to change my perception of my mother? Would I want you to offend my memories of my father? Would I want you to upset my step-father who really thinks of me as his daughter and has put in the work it takes to prove it?

I'm a mother. I know there's a world of difference between what I want for my children and what I want for myself. What you did was for you, not me. If you wanted to be in my life, you had the choice years ago.

You can know facts about me. I'm a college graduate. I'm a writer. I'm a wife. I'm a mother to three beautiful children. These are just facts for anyone to know. But to know me, is to know my heart, to know what makes it beat and what makes it break. If you knew my heart at all, you never would have contacted me. I don't need you. I have two fathers already. I'm sorry that's probably not what you wanted to hear.

I kept asking you what makes you so sure you're my Dad, but the truth is I don't need you to say that you loved my mother or that you were with her while my parents were separated. That's really not the important interpretation of that question. What makes you so sure you're my Dad when you have no idea what that job entails? You have no idea how to pick me up when I'm down, how to make me laugh or how to just listen and not try to fix my problems even though you want to. You aren't my Dad and I'm sorry if that makes you sad.

I'm glad you have children of your own. You know what it feels like to love another person more than yourself. Don't mourn the loss of the idea of me, because that's all I ever really was to you - an idea. There is no forgiveness necessary. Don't feel guilty. Shower your own children with the best you have to offer them. I already have two of the best fathers this life has to offer.