When the Family Tree has {potentially} Rotten Roots


Reader Question: I’m 72-years old and I have been tracing my family tree on Ancestry.com for the past several years. I am the oldest surviving member from both the maternal and fraternal side of  my family. My brother (two years younger) found out that he and I have different fathers making us half siblings.

Here is the touchy part: for about a year now,  my brother repeatedly hints that the man I thought all this time as my father, is not my father. Our younger sister and brother look exactly like my deceased father. However, I do not favor him at all. I do remember when I was a young adult, my father told me {and my mother confirmed it}, that I looked just like one of his sisters, who died a year after I was born, right down to the strawberry blonde hair.

I realize the information on Ancestry.com is only as good as the info that’s put into it. And I have tried to pinpoint my brother to give me information. {I have no money for a DNA test.} 

My half-brother has always had a very dry sense of humor, one I don’t always consider funny. Some of  the things he says are hurtful and are not funny. But this just seems to go over his head. Is my brother being a jerk or is it possible that he was hurt deeply by the fact that the man we thought was his father really is not?

I asked him this question, but he says it doesn’t bother him. He said he knew when he got older that this man was not his father because he does not look like him at all. He discovered the truth when he applied for a passport to go on a cruise and had to apply to social security for a replacement card–they informed him the man he grew up believing to be his father was not his father.

I know there are many children and grandchildren who are so bereaved at such a disclosure. It is one thing to find out that you are/were adopted, but it is another to find out that the woman who gave birth to you is/was a “sleep-around.”

What do I do with all these lies and not enough truth?


Answer:  I do think it is possible that your brother is deeply hurt that the man he thought was his father is not. But it’s not okay that he continues to hurt you with his remarks. You may need to have another talk with him and draw some solid boundaries around this whole situation. Start by talking to him using “I” statements: “I’m hurt and it makes me upset when…..”  “I can’t continue having these conversations with you because I feel…..”

The second thing is that you really don’t know the circumstances regarding your mother. As hard as this whole thing is, try not to jump to conclusions that she was a “sleep around.” This may have been something totally different from what any of you understand, and without her around to tell her story it leaves a lot of unanswered questions, but no concrete evidence.

The main thing you all need to do is grieve the loss of a shattered dream. You didn’t mention if the man you thought of as father was a good man, or a kind man to you.  If he was, that is something to be grateful for. But the loss is something you need to process. You need to record your losses: things like, a loss of identity, loss of being the daughter who you thought you were. You need to record your feelings. Did you feel betrayed? Hurt? Deceived? Angry? Untrustworthy? Connect to the pain.

Then, at some point, everyone needs to move to a place of acceptance; and maybe acceptance means not knowing for certain. Only when we can accept the things we can’t change can we start the journey toward healing. There is no life in trying to figure out, understand, ruminate, and blame. It will only keep everyone stuck and experiencing more pain.

I hope that makes sense, and I pray resolution for you and your entire family.


{If you have a question for Rita about the pain of family relationships, or another unrelated question you would like for her to consider in a future topic, please leave it in the comments section below. Also please be aware that Rita’s online suggestions are not intended to replace individual therapy where you can be personally helped to overcome emotional challenges or struggles.}


One thought on “When the Family Tree has {potentially} Rotten Roots

  1. Rita, I’ve been married for almost 19 yrs, through multiple things in life, from mistakes i’ve made and faults both my husband and I hold like ‘stubbornness’. I’ve come to a deep place in my life where my studies have opened me up and has allowed me to look at me and my surroundings. With that said, after months of prayers and journalling, couple years ago I spoke up and shared with my husband that I wasn’t “in love with him”, there is love, but not ‘in love’. And that came at a hard time of realizing who I am. how I had felt totally neglected by him and used, unappreciated by him. I have never been physically abused, just mentally/emotionally neglected. And I spoke out. And in 2 yrs I still feel the same if not totally disconnected with no turn about. It all is still weighing heavily on what to do.

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