The Left Turn Blog #3 Newish
It’s Monday December 3rd 2018 and my wife, who I married a year earlier, calls me into the kitchen and lets me know that dinner is ready. I open the door and I see a Menorah (I just googled how to spell that) with 1 candle and a bunch of beautiful but kind of strange looking fried food. My wife, who’s from Ireland, told me she had called my sister, who we had only recently met and who I had only known about for the past year, and asked her what she should cook me for the first night of my first Hanukah (I googled that spelling too). The food was delicious, as is every meal she prepares but shortly after dinner my head started spinning. I had all these weird feelings and emotions that I not only hadn’t felt before but didn’t really even have the words to explain them. It’s taken until now to even scratch the surface and start to try and put my finger on some of those feelings. I’m writing this to try to verbalize some of those emotions but also in the hope that anyone who is going, has gone or will go through a similar set of circumstances can identify with my story. That it can help them navigate what has been, for me, a combination of bewilderment, anger and sadness, intermittent bouts of betrayal, a good dose of humor, tons of lessons learned and immense self-discovery that has all lead to pure JOY and an abundance of LOVE.
I’ll go back to where this story starts. In early April of 2017 me and my girlfriend (for about year) and music partner (for 4 years) decided to take a trip to see her folks who live in Spain and then visit the rest of her family in Dublin. We had just driven back to my hometown of Woodside, Queens in New York City after living in Las Vegas on and off for the better part of the last 2 years. On that drive back I had to stop for a gig in Chattanooga TN with the other band I play in. During our soundcheck I first verbalized to one of my very close buddies in the band that I was thinking of popping the question and when I heard myself say it, I knew it was really happening. What he said made me realize the timing was all lining up. I’ll paraphrase what he said to me and translate it out of musician lingo and into a G Rated easier to digest explanation of why he thought it was the right move for me. He said, “Well she’s a great girl, you’ve had enough fun and you’ve visited enough baseball stadiums.” We got home to NY on a Monday and the next day I went to buy the ring. The following Saturday in Spain I went to church with her Dad (it was Easter the next day) On the walk home I started to try to do the “old- fashioned” thing and ask him for his permission but he stopped me after about 3 words and said “I’ve been through this before, you don’t have to say anymore, you’re fine’’ and he put his arm around me and said “welcome to the family” Another one of the countless benefits of having a rock star for a father in law. We got back to Dublin on Monday and Tuesday I went into town early and asked Louise to meet me in Stephens Green. We found a quiet spot, I got down on one knee and put the ring on the wrong hand but she corrected me, I got the right finger, got a few words out before crying (I’m super tough and macho like that) and she said Yes.
None of that really has anything to do with the story at all but I just love telling it. The story really starts a few days later when we got back home. I’m jet lagged and can’t sleep and am up late watching TV. I see a commercial for the genetic testing company 23 and Me and I saw my 2nd favorite four-letter word: SALE. So, I thought, well the test will tell me if I’m carrying any kind of genetic maladies and since we’re getting married soon maybe that’s something I should know about. The ethnicity part of these genetic testing sites was just an afterthought and something that was included. My Mom comes from a big Irish family and we have lots of cousins. I knew my grandparents who were both born in Galway. My Dad died when I was a kid and wasn’t much of the “hey son let’s have a talk” kinda Dad. (I think we had about 10 conversations all with the same basic message; Keep your mouth shut ((impossible for me)) and do what you’re told ((even harder)) There wasn’t much conversation, but my dad was a good guy who provided for us all and worked hard to do it, he just wasn’t much for the chats. Although his folks both died long before I was born, I’d heard they were German. So that was what I always had been told and that was good enough for me. More to the point I’m from Queens, one of the most diverse places on Earth. I learned pretty early in life that where your ancestors and relatives come from has very little to do with who you really are, other than geography. So, the test kit comes in the mail, I spit in the tube, drop it in the mailbox and forget about it. It was out of my head. I still had my regular crazy gig and travel schedule and all that comes with that and we were planning a wedding in 5 months. In July I get an email saying my results are in. I had completely forgotten about it but followed the link and the first thing that comes up is my ethnic breakdown and it read 51% Irish and 49% Ashkenazi Jewish. Ashkenazi is a word I’d never heard of in my life, so just as all the ancient scholars and skeptics did, I googled it. I had no idea you could “be” Jewish. The extent of my knowledge of Jewish culture came from TV and movies. I went to Catholic school and almost all of my friends growing up had Irish or Central American parents sprinkled in with a few from the Philippines. Woodside has its own special flavor mix of cultures. Everyone I knew growing up was either Catholic or some other form of Christianity. My entire life many people have often assumed I was Jewish and in my ignorance of thinking it was “just a religion” I assumed it was my awesome Queens accent and that like myself they had only TV shows and movies about and based in New York as their point of reference as well.
That was kind of the end of it for me. I was 45 years old and I was already me. Stuff like that didn’t /doesn’t really matter to me. People are just people. I just thought that my Dad's folks must’ve been Jews that fled Germany and didn’t give it another thought. I did tell my brother & sister in a very “check it out isn’t this interesting” kinda way and that was it... or at least I thought it was. Cut ahead to late August about 6 weeks until our wedding. My brother and sister, who are both older than me, one by 9 years and the other by 6, ask me to go to lunch with them. They tell me that as soon as they heard my results they also sent away for DNA kits of their own. They each handed me their phones to show me their results. Both a mix of Irish and other European bits but both had 0% Jewish diaspora (more google for me) Again it mattered so little to me that it took me a second to figure out what they were saying and frankly why they were being so nice and gentle with me (they are nice this was just more than usual) and then it started to hit me what they were getting at. Being that they both were a good bit older and remember my Mom being pregnant with me and me coming home from the hospital, I knew that I couldn’t have been adopted. I MUST HAVE A DIFFERENT FATHER. It was certainly a gigantic shock but a relief came over me like I had never felt before. My Dad had been gone over 30 years and I guess I had misinterpreted and internalized his quiet indifference to me as not caring. It certainly has caused me a tear or two over the years but when I realized that he wasn’t my biological father and still worked his ass off to provide for me, all those feelings I had and a whole bunch of new ones I didn’t even know existed instantly turned into nothing more than love and gratitude. The mood around the table certainly wasn’t the same for all of us. It was more of a “let’s get to the bottom of this” (I got on board with that pretty quick as well) They handed me another DNA kit they had ordered. I spit in the tube and immediately dropped it in the mailbox. I definitely felt different, but I wasn’t really sad or even angry. It was just different and weird and very, very new. I decided I was going to just sit tight and wait for the results. Afterall, I had a wedding to worry about.
Growing up we had one large photo album and the pictures span from my parents wedding in 1961 to shortly after we moved into the house I grew up in late 1974 (I was almost 3 at the time) It’s pretty much the same cast of characters in all the pictures. My parents, my sisters and my brother, a couple of aunts & uncles, a handful of cousins and a very handsome older man my brother and sisters called “Uncle Lou.” I have no memory of him although there are about a dozen pictures of him holding me as a baby and loads of him with my family before I was born. When I was a kid, I’d stare at all these pictures for hours. Maybe being the youngest by that big of a margin made me feel like I missed out. I don’t really know why but I just couldn’t get enough of them. Whenever I did ask about that older guy with the biggest smile you’d ever see and what happened to him I was told “that’s Uncle Lou he was Mom’s boss, he’s Jewish (first time I heard that word and didn’t even know what it meant or why it seemed to matter to everyone) and he moved to Florida.” As soon as I told my siblings about my DNA results, apparently that’s who popped into their heads. After our lunch I went home and pulled out those photos that I hadn’t seen in decades and they instantly looked different to me but, I figured let’s just put a pin in this until after the wedding. That was kind of impossible, but I did try (failed mostly) my best.
Our wedding was October 5th. A week before that I got the email from the other testing company. My results were in and no surprise, they were exactly the same as the earlier ones. I’d be lying if I said the 2nd confirmation didn’t make it seem way more “real” now but not as real as a wedding for over 200 guest that was only a week away. So, it was straight to the bottom of the pile with DADGATE 2017.
The wedding was amazing. The ceremony was outdoors on pier on the East River and I walked down the long walkway arm and arm with my Mom surrounded by what seemed like pretty much everyone I had ever met. She was waving to everyone with a gigantic smile. Dressed in a beautiful gown with her hair and make-up perfect and wearing her Sketchers that she had bedazzled with some bling from Michael’s. She had been a Mom, Dad, Best Friend, #1 fan and supporter my entire life. That’s why what might seem like a huge deal to a lot of the others involved, and not to downplay it, there were some very “heavy” moments for me too, I had the gift of a lifetime of perspective and proof: She was all the parent I ever really needed. I was and am so happy we had that great day together and even happier I waited to have what was I’m sure going to be a pretty uncomfortable conversation.
About two weeks after the wedding I sat down with my Mom, held her hand and told her I had something kind of serious to talk about. I let her know that whatever the answer was nothing would change and I loved her no matter what and told her what she already knew. She was the best Mom anyone could ever ask for. I asked her very gently “why is my DNA different than the others?” She started crying. She said she promised she would never say anything and assured me it wasn’t anything sordid and that it came from place of love and then she blurted out something that stuck with me more than anything. She said, “It saved our marriage.” Just a quick sideline to paint a clearer picture of my parents. When I would come down to watch Saturday morning cartoons as a kid there was almost always two empty champagne glasses on the dining room table. They had a beautiful life together. They went dancing together, often with me tagging along. My Dad absolutely adored my Mom and I grew up watching them hold hands and kiss (gross but sometimes I even saw tongue) and unapologetically show the world how in love they were. When she said that, any of the other details ( and believe me they were flowing) just didn’t matter. She confirmed it was indeed “Uncle Lou” or as she referred to him (this part is a bit weird) Mr ..... Because of our relationship and how open and honest we’ve always been with each other (she had been a single mom throughout my teens and there were a good few years of "just us" in the house) she started to explain more of the intimate particulars, and I stopped her as quickly as I could as if my life depended on it. If you get nothing more from this story, please know that asking your 78-year-old mother about her sex life will never be a fun conversation and should be avoided at all cost. I just hugged her, told her how much I loved her, thanked her for all she’s done for me. It’s none of my business what happened before I was born. There were more than a few of the “why didn’t you tell me sooner?” conversations in the weeks that followed. She explained how she did ask me when I was 13 and I did actually remember the conversation when she brought it up. She asked, “what you would do if you found out you had another family, would you want to live with them?” I thought we were just kind of chatting and it was like a what would you rather have X-ray vision or to be able to fly kinda thing. At 13 I had only traveled as far as Six Flags Great Adventure in NJ so leaving home to go with an imaginary family probably seemed bit overwhelming. If you knew my mom you’d be laughing and fully understand her defense and explanation. So now I had the name of my biological father and the search was on.
Just like Sherlock Holmes, Dick Tracy and Magnum PI before me I turned to the greatest tool in any detectives toolbox: FACEBOOK. It wasn’t the great help I thought it would be although it does factor in later on in the story. I tried all sorts of different websites and searches but all I really had was a name and a state. After a few weeks I had it narrowed down between two guys with the same name. One had died in 1986 and one in 2012. When I saw 2012, I did get a little upset with my Mom for not telling me sooner. It meant there was a possibility of having known him and having known what it’s like to have a father as an adult which from where I stand looks pretty awesome. I went back to Facebook and searched all those folks with the same last name whose privacy I had previously invaded. Trying to see who was who and who was connected to who and who looked like who (or me) etc… Then upon further stalking and peeping on all these very nice folks, I came across an article about a band from NY in the 60’s. I’m a big rock biography guy (might explain my shitty writing technique or lack thereof) and I’ve heard that name mentioned before in books and interviews of other musicians. So now it seemed like a thing... an actual lead (way too many crappy cop shows mixed in with those Rockographies) I see that this guy here is connected to a bunch of my other stalkees (did I just make up that word?) and through that I came across a picture of my sister, who I mentioned in the first paragraph. I should go back to something I should’ve mentioned earlier, my whole life for lack of a better way to put it I’ve felt like I don’t quite “fit in” with my siblings or my dad the same way I’ve always felt connected to my mom. I certainly love them to the moon and back and always have, they’re everything anyone could hope for in siblings and we were a very close family, but I just felt different, never better, never worse, just different. We just don’t have an awful lot in common. As adults our core philosophies of how we live our lives, interact with others and trust in people and the universe are just not always in synch. Again, none of that really matters, they’re my family and it doesn’t diminish any love we have for each other. I just chalked it up to the 3 of them being born in a 4-year span and me coming 6 years later. Put that together with 1000 or so people who have pointed out and said to me for as long as I can remember “you look different that the others.” When I saw my sisters picture I had no doubt at all that we were related. I followed the thread about that band I read about earlier and one of its members in particular. It lead me to the website of someone I now know as my brother. Imagine that not only a new brother but a lifelong musician like myself. Someone whose own “left turn” and reinvention of himself has inspired countless others, myself included. I sent him an email saying I know this is weird and I don’t want to interrupt anyone’s life and I’m not looking for anything other than to maybe get to know you but I think we might have the same father and I attached the pictures of our father holding me as a baby. I sent that on a Saturday evening and went off to my gig. I had never checked my email more than I did that night and all the following morning. Around 1pm (just after kick off) I get a friend request from his wife. The first of many things I realized we had in common besides music is that he had lucked out just like I had, both of us with beautiful wives’ way out of our league. I sent a quick message saying hello, I hope your day’s off to a good start and immediately got a reply: “Having a great day, it’s not every day you find a new family member” I will never forget how great it felt to read those words and within a few minutes with my eyes full of tears of joy like I had never cried, I got an email from my new sister and the subject read “Hey Little Brother.” A couple of hours later I had a talk with my brother I had sent the email to. He’s 25 years older than me and was the baby of the family until today and it felt like I’ve known him my whole life. He confirmed that our father was the one that passed away in 1986 so I wouldn’t have had the chance to know him anyway. Incidentally that was around the time my Mom asked me what I thought was a hypothetical question.( I never did find out if that was just coincidence or not and I’m more thank OK with that) We hung up after a long and very easy and comfortable chat and then my phone rang again and he said “please tell your Mom we have nothing but love for her and we’re praying for her to get healthy.” How lucky am I to be attached to folks who had never even heard of me 24 hours ago and were now welcoming me into their lives like that, no judgement, no suspicion JUST LOVE. The next day I finally spoke to my sister. She’s pretty much the coolest person I’ve ever met, and it was like someone I’ve known my whole life. She and my Mom had actually worked together for “Uncle Lou” as did my Aunt (my mom’s sister) and an older cousin as well. They did have the chance to reconnect and talk on the phone a few times before my Mom passed away last year. A few days later I spoke to my oldest brother, who is 4 months older than my mom, and like my other brother and myself has also completely hit it out of the park in the wife department. Again, just very easy conversation all around and a great, great guy and his wife is also an absolute gem of a lady. I finally got to meet them and my nieces and nephews, who are much closer to my age, in person in Jan 2018. I can’t express the pure joy I felt. To finally after all these years meet strangers that I feel so instantly and very naturally attached to and now I FlNALLY LOOK LIKE SOMEONE. Getting to hear stories of “our” father and hear how alike we are, what a great man he was and how many people he helped. A sentiment that was echoed by my Mom as she got more comfortable talking about him as time went on. Blessings beyond my wildest dreams and this is only the beginning.
It wasn’t all easy, there were definitely some periods of anger and hurt and it did cause me a couple of bouts of the poor me’s. As I told more family members about this, especially aunts, uncles and other “grown-ups” that we’re around at the time (early 70s) it was clear to see that none of them, and I mean absolutely no one, was too surprised. They all guessed who my father was within seconds. That made it all much easier to digest especially since none of them had a bad word to say about him. As someone who got married later in life, the thought of someone who got married at 21 and had 3 kids before the age of 26 getting into their early 30s and start questioning their relationship doesn’t seem too far-fetched to me. My parents’ marriage is/was none of my business so never for a second did I judge her, my dad, my father or anybody else.
IT’S NO ONES BUSINESS BUT THEIRS.
There have been so many other blessings all related to this and they just keep coming. My Mom also discovered 2 half-sisters she never knew about. They were from an earlier marriage my grandfather had that no one had any idea about at all. They had been put up for adoption in 1928. One of them passed away at 90 years old shortly after learning that she had 7 half siblings that all, like herself, had lived and raised their families in Queens. All these great things have come about because of all of us “spitting in the tube” We have new cousins on that side of the family as well. The connection was instant and strong and continues to get stronger and the family keeps growing. There will be plenty of more stories like this for many families as time goes on and more people do get DNA test.
MORE FAMILY = MORE LOVE
Another take away from writing this and reviewing my own story since some time has passed, HOW COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS IS BIGOTRY AND RACISM?!?! I’ve been this other ethnicity some people have spent the past almost 6000 years insisting were inferior or at the very least different in some way or any way at all. The reaction of most people that I’ve told my story to has often been nothing more than “Wow, that’s crazy.” Unfortunately for some, many who have known me for years, it has been for lack of a better and more in depth way of putting it, disappointing. I hope my story can be an example for anyone whose still on the fence that all people are created equal and we’re all exactly the same. But most importantly DO NOT talk to your 78 year old mom about her sex life. Thank you so much for reading, enjoy the day it’s the only one we’ve got.