I was born the product of a scandalous affair between my mom and my grandfather’s best friend. | Mary Duncan

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.

Photo by Brittani Burns on Unsplash

I’m a pretty dramatic person, but when I say that I was born of secrets and lies, I am not kidding.

I’ve never met my biological father.

When I was little, like in third or fourth grade, I broke down and demanded that my mother tell me where he was.

It was hard for me as a kid, because I was living in an extremely small town where I was literally the only child in my class without a father figure. My mom and I lived in a small house with my grandparents and great-grandmother, and I knew all throughout my childhood that something important was missing but I never thought much about it until the usual childhood taunts of:

“Where’s your dad? Don’t you have a dad?

And for years I had to answer that I didn’t know, until I demanded contact and, for a little while, got it.

My mom said what I think most separated parents tell their young children:

We didn’t get along and I thought it would be better for all of us if we weren’t together.

She lied, it turns out, but she was able to get in touch with him anyway and for a very short while we exchanged letters—I think I have three or four in a box in storage somewhere.

Then, one birthday my bio dad sent me a huge, ridiculous three-foot long card in the mail and that was the last I ever heard from him.

He never wrote me back again.

I raised my mother, why did he do this to me?

And she cried, too, not having an answer for me.

Sometimes we can’t explain why people do things that hurt us so much.

Time went by.


My mom got married and my step-dad adopted me, making him officially my real Dad even though we share no blood.

My sister was born, solidifying us in a new nuclear family that I had never experienced before and didn’t really feel like I was a part of.

More years went by, but the questions that I had about my biological father and what really happened to him continued to haunt me.

Why didn’t he want me?

That’s the question I think we all ask when we are children who are abandoned by a parent.

Why didn’t he want me?

Why didn’t she want me?

Why wasn’t I good enough to love, why don’t you want to be a part of my life?

I asked myself these questions incessantly until finally, I had to ask someone who would actually give me those answers — my grandmother.

She didn’t want to tell me the truth.

I could tell that she was uncomfortable about it, and I could tell that she didn’t want to talk to me about it at all, but I demanded and she refused as long as she promised that I wouldn’t tell my grandfather that I knew.

que? I thought to myself… What does he have to do with any of this?

Well, apparently, I am the product of an affair.

An affair that my mother had with one of my grandfather’s married friends.

Why was it that my biological dad didn’t want me?

Because he already had his own family.

I just would never have a place in it.

Learning the truth was liberating.

I can’t say I was sad or upset to hear about the circumstances of my conception and birth because I wasn’t.

I’ve had an affair myself, and it is what it is.

Sometimes you get pregnant and decide to keep the baby against your best judgment — I’ve been there, too, and it is what it is.

At least after so much time, I finally knew why it was my bio dad didn’t want me, but then, I might never know for sure whether he wanted me or not, because my mom still refuses to talk to me about the circumstances .

I imagine she’s feeling a lot of shame around the situation, but I wish I could tell her not to. I wish I could tell her not to be ashamed, that we all do crazy things, we all make mistakes that have lifelong consequences, it happens to everyone and it isn’t something to be ashamed of.

I am not something to be ashamed of.

But she won’t talk to me about it.

Every time I try, she starts crying, asking me why I want to know, why I want to “bring that up” as if the circumstances of my birth are something bad, something that will forever remain unspoken.

All I have left is my grandmother to get more information from, and I worry that we don’t have much time together to do that.

At least she’s willing to talk to me if I am brave enough to ask.

Myhalf-sister got us each a 23 and Me kit for Christmas this year, so we are finally going to see the traits we share, and I will be able to see the things that I get from my mom, and know what other traits I get from my biological father.

I’m more excited about this than I have been about any potential gift in years.

I know I have two half brothers out there, and I am hoping that they, or other relatives on my bio-dad’s side, will have taken a genetic test and somehow be registered, too, so that I might be able to connect with them if I choose to, to see where I come from.

But will I choose to connect if I find anyone out there?

I am not sure yet.

I’m thirty-nine years old.

My family is complete.

I don’t pine away for the father I never knew, I don’t wish for a relationship with him after all these years.

But it would be nice to know where I come from.

It would be nice if I could get a little more of the story from someone who has lived it.

But then, I wonder, maybe there is a reason my mom has never told me anything. Maybe there is something she doesn’t want me to know.

Is it fair to her to pry into her past?

Is it fair to me to keep my own past hidden?

It’s a conundrum.

I either go after what I want, at the risk of shaming and upsetting my mother, or I continue to live my life shrouded in a mystery that I’ve been desperate since childhood to unravel.

Maybe there is no right answer to this conundrum.

Maybe, either way, we both get hurt.

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