On the Radio: Who’s My Father?

I’m not a devotee of This American Life,  but I do listen to the podcast from time to time.   Last week’s episode was called Family Physics.     Act I–“Occam’s Razor“–is what I wanted to call to your attention.  

I suppose I should now say “spoiler alert” so that if you want to listen to it without knowing where it is going, you can do that now.  (I’m not sure if you can listen for free after the week it is on.)  There’s really no chance I can tell this story anywhere near as well as it was presented on the radio.   But I’ll try.   

The story is about a young man who was, in fact, biracial.   His mother and her husband were both white.     You’d think the fact of the child being biracial would clue people in that his genetic father was not the white husband.  But for many years, this is not what happened.   Instead, everyone in the family clung to other explanations.  

It turned out that his mother had been dating a young Black man while she was in high-school (or just after?).  She was also dating the man she eventually married.   She became pregnant.   She didn’t know which man was actually responsible for the child, but in her Italian family and in a time of racial polarization, she married the white man.   The appearance of a non-white child would have caused a great deal of trouble.   And so everyone had a good reason to assert that the child was white.  

Eventually the truth came to light.  That’s really the story of this piece.  The boy–now a young man–was able to locate the man who was genetically related to him.  

What was actually most striking to me is that none of the players in this drama are angry.  Not the white man who raised a son that was not genetically “his.”   Not the Black man who didn’t get to see the boy who was genetically related to him for many years.  Not the young man who was, for so many years, kept from knowing something pretty important. 

There’s been so much conversation here about the meaning of genetic connection and all that.   This is, of course, only one story.  But it is a very  interesting one.

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One response to “On the Radio: Who’s My Father?

  1. That’s a nice story they all sound like grown ups. I do reunite lots of families and it may be luck but nobody I’ve connected has ever reacted with anger. One adoptee had me call the woman that raised her a year after I’d reunited her with her real parents and siblings because she could not confront her herself and the woman. She just refused to admit that she adopted this girl, it was awful to hear her lie with such conviction. She finally said to me “Look she’s mine fair and square I paid to file the paperwork and that means she doesnt have any brothers and sisters don’t you go telling her she does” I told her that she’d been talking her brother’s and sisters and her mother and father on the phone every single day for almost a year and she finally said “So how’s Sandra (the girl’s mom) she was such a sweet woman”
    She was real embarrassed about having lied but everyone got over it. Ultimately nobody is angry and they are all very happy now. Both families in that instance were black – but where did those green eyes come from? I have pictures of that reunion on my facebook page.

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