D’Arcy Griggs was 34 years old when she called Denny Ogden and said he was her father. Ogden knew that a woman he had had a summer romance with in college had become pregnant and given the child up for adoption. He’d never traced that child. He had married and had three more children. He was 54 when D”Arcy Griggs called.
She said she had tracked him down after her birth mother died of cancer. He checked her background to make sure it wasn’t some swindle and then they began exchanging e-mails. He began to think of her as his daughter. They reveled in the little things they had in common. After a few months, they decided to meet and he came to Seattle where she lived.
They spent four days together, again marvelling over how similar they were. At the very end of the time, they decided to get a DNA test, though by then they were both sure what it would show. Except that it did not. It turns out they were unrelated. This was devastating to both of them.
Happily enough they didn’t give up on each other. They have remained close and D’Arcy no longer searches for her birth father.
It’s a fascinating story. It is clear that their belief that they were related helped establish their relationship. They found so many similarities to prove what they believed to be true–that they shared the same genetic code. And they formed a connection likely far more substantial than they would have formed had they met under other circumstances. All because they believed (wrongly) that they were genetically related.
Surely this demonstrates the power of the idea of genetic connection. Not the power of actual genetic connection, for it was lacking for them. But the power of the belief or the idea.
At the same time, having created a relationship, D’Arcy Griggs and Denny Ogden found they could in fact continue without the genetic link. They didn’t need the actual DNA or, in the end, even the belief in the DNA. Whatever drew them together turned out to be more substantial that the mistaken belief in the genetic link.
What does this mean in the end? I’m not sure. But it seems to me it tells us what a powerful hold our belief in genetics has in our culture. It’s very hard to think about the idea of genetic linkage separate from the actual fact of genetic linkage, but I think this story offers us a chance to try to do that.
I’m struck that when they thought they were related they identified all these common traits. That’s always a theme in a siblings-separated-at-birth-now-united-story. No doubt they have these traits in common, but it’s no more than chance that they do. When they thought they were genetically related, the coincidence had special meaning. But now we can see that it is just coincidence.
I suppose what I want to suggest is that, enthralled as we are with genetic linkages these days, it’s very hard to tell how much of the meaning we attribute to genetic linkages is reflective of the genetics and how much of the meaning is simply the product of our own enthrallment. A man’s daughter is suddenly not his daughter. Or a stranger suddenly becomes his daughter. What I like most about the story of Griggs and Ogden is that their relationship, once formed, survived. Griggs no longer searches for her father, because she found Ogden And Ogden may not be the man who provided half her DNA, but he fills a space in her life nonetheless.