I am a Step-Daughter

My step father had open-heart surgery recently and is recovering nicely, but he was told he had about 2 days left to live without the surgery. We aren’t super close, but he is family nonetheless, and I am happy that he is okay. As a Father’s Day gift, I got him tickets to see one of his favorite bands and he yelled in excitement when he finally got his reading glasses on to see what the small print on the ticket stubs said. Having his surgery be a success and seeing him healthy and hopeful about the future is enough to fill my heart this Father’s Day, despite our differences.

Both of my parents and I don’t agree on much. We don’t have much in common, and they have made a lot of mistakes that have hurt themselves, myself, and my little sister. They also don’t seem to learn from their mistakes very often and seldom think about anyone but themselves. To top it off, I have always had this underlying feeling that I am not sure my step father ever loved me at all. I even wondered on many occasions growing up if he would even care if anything happened to me. But when I really think about it, I come out with the sense that there is some love there.  I know he had a difficult childhood, and my mom did too to some degree. So, I try to focus on the fact that they are just flawed people doing the best they could with what they had, without intentions to hurt anyone. I can also drum up a few good memories if I put my mind to it. There were the summer family road trips, traditions like watching the X-files as a family, or just walks to get ice cream and go to the park. There were small moments where if you were looking in from the outside, we could be a normal family. You could have looked at us together out to eat and assume everyone said “I love you” to each other, there was not ever any yelling in the middle of the night, and there wasn’t constant anxiety that any day could be the day the shit hit the fan and the family broke up.

When it comes to the debate on whether biology matters in a parent/child relationship, I can tell you as a step-daughter, that it absolutely does. My stepfather made it clear through his interactions with me and my younger half-sister (his bio-daughter) that he loved his bio-daughter, completely, and by default. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for her. He (with a few rare exceptions) introduced me as his step-daughter. He is sure to distinguish the difference when introducing us both. Any of the few times he referred to me as his daughter were before she was born. His expectations of and rules for me were completely different. It seemed I was truly just his wife’s kid for the most part. I honestly don’t fault him for it, but I know it played a major part in forming some of my insecurities as an adult. As a little girl I was just as happy to only be his stepchild and didn’t think much of him anyway. For whatever reason, it took me until recently to realize his indifference had any impact. (Avoid, be strong, put on a front must have been my mantra)

Our lives are shaped by those who love us as well as those who refuse to love us.
~Karl A. Menninger

I know that today can be a sad or upsetting day for many donor-conceived people who long to meet their biological father. I am not really the type of person to have my emotions triggered by an anniversary or a holiday, I tend to forget them completely. Call me callous, but one day doesn’t usually hold more value to me than another (Seasons are a whole other story). So, I guess I am fortunate for that tendency today. That said, I also don’t feel I have the emotional energy to write very much on being donor conceived. The day may or may not be a coincidence. I also recently read donor-conceived people saying they have little to no interest in their donor, even after having found him. I can understand how that could be a thing, and I envy it in a way. And there are plenty of days where I am just not really focused on it and completely indifferent. In fact, that pretty much describes most of my life leading up to DNA testing. It’s strange how one day, a small event changes the way you see everything in your life. It can shine a little light on this corner of your heart that you never knew was there.

When it comes to my search for my bio-dad and the topic in general, this week I’m just tired. I’m tired of the brick walls in tree-mirroring. I’m really tired of being ignored by most DNA matches, especially the ones with the highest potential to help. I’m weary from the excitement of a new lead or match and the inevitable sense of disappointment that follows. I wish I could take enough satisfaction from being able to look at pictures of my half siblings to better envision his face. It’s clear to me that not all my pain comes from being donor conceived, but I think it’s an accelerant that has led to some of my lesser emotions. The other ingredients were my childhood and the environment I was raised in, and DNA mixed with personality traits that were formed early in my life. I am sure everyone has at least one thing to forgive themselves or someone else for. Why do we carry these things around for decades? Yes, I was denied access to my biological father or any information about him by default, without any consideration to the implications of such a practice on my wellbeing. Sure, my very existence was a business transaction that I am expected to be grateful for by pretty much everyone in my life, including some friends that have told me I should maybe just leave people alone “that don’t want to be found” … But the sense of  loss, and that I am “other” and “different” seems to be from a cocktail of reasons.

Someone once told me the best way to save a bunch of money on therapy is to just forgive your parents. It was in jest, but wouldn’t it be nice if that was all anyone ever needed from therapy? It turns out that I need to learn to trust and communicate. I need to learn and adhere to better habits to suit a healthy emotional and physical well-being. Therapy can fall short, therapists can be inexperienced or inadequate, and stubborn bad habits can prevail. I think this blog might be a good first step to being accountable for my own role in the road to my emotional recovery. Years ago, shortly after a close friend of mine died (at age 23), I coped by going on long drives, playing songs that reminded me of him, crying in a field somewhere, and talking out loud to him. Afterwards I felt numb, but calm and even. I think that writing could be a form of working through some of this “out loud”, without a field (Lyme disease is a real thing now), and minus the long drives (gas prices are a real thing now too.) Plus, not talking to myself out loud means there is a reduced chance someone will take me to CPEP for a psych evaluation, leading me to more failed therapy sessions! ¹

Anyhow, for the handful of you actually reading this, thanks for joining me on this journey. I truly hope it helps you in some way. I may have mentioned that I plan on writing about my donor-conceived half siblings… I am waiting to hear back from some of them on how much they are comfortable with me sharing. I should have something up for that soon!

  1. Semi joke, not meant to make light of mental illness, or those needing emergency psych services, have mercy!

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