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I may have a daughter I never knew about Add to ...

The question

I was reading an online article recently that happened to contain the name of an old flame of mine whom I haven’t seen in nearly 20 years. It also her mentioned her kids and their ages. When I looked at the date of the article and did some quick math, I had a “holy crap” moment and realized her oldest daughter could potentially be mine. I have a fabulous wife, kids of my own etc, and do not have any interest in creating unnecessary havoc in my life, or theirs. My gut feeling is just to forget about it (or at least ignore it since forgetting would be impossible), but I’m not sure if that’s the right thing to do. What are your thoughts?

The answer

Ticklish! A few years ago, I wrote an article about what was a novelty back then: a home DNA-testing kit marketed by an American outfit named Identigene.

In the article, I (joking, mostly) claimed to wonder how it came to pass my youngest, Adam, was so sunny, optimistic and generally completely unlike his dour, dyspeptic dad.

Like Woody Allen, I see the glass as half full – but of poison! Whereas Adam’s so cheerful, chipper – and where’d he get that blond hair? He reminded me (I said in the article) of this aw-shucks Big Lebowski-type guy on my wife’s Ultimate Frisbee team.

So I swabbed the kid and sent off the sample. The results came back: It’s 99.97 per cent sure he’s my kid, just like Pam claims he is.

So phew: happy ending, in this case. (If it’d gone the other way the article would’ve taken quite a dark and probably not-so-funny turn: On the other hand it might’ve been a first-ever case of a writer performing “gotcha!”-type ambush journalism on himself.)

But according to Identigene, something like 5 per cent of children are unaware the dour, dyspeptic man they call “Dad” is not in fact their real father.

That’s a highly speculative statistic, obviously – a “speculatistic” (or maybe an “advertistic” considering its origin). But say there is in fact a one in 20 chance this girl’s your daughter, multiplied by whatever your instincts tell you. What do you do now?

Obviously the low-conflict route is: nothing. Everyone goes on with their lives. You live with a little nagging doubt. But otherwise equilibrium and the status quo are maintained.

But since when do people go the low-conflict route when it comes to family? I’ll tell you: If it were me, I’d want to know – even if it caused tears and pain, friction and drama.

Madness? Maybe. But DNA’s a heavy drug and can cause folks to do crazy stuff. If someone’s got half my DNA, I want to have a cup of coffee with her, play Frisbee with her, help her choose a college and, ideally, vet prospective boyfriends.

Sorry, but I can’t help it. And, hey, I’ve always been the first guy (especially during my stay-at-home dad years) to point out the irony of the fact the verb “to mother” means “to nurture, care for, and raise,” whereas “to father” means simply “to contribute sperm.”

As in: “Dave’s in big trouble! He ‘fathered’ a child with his mistress and now his wife’s divorcing him and taking him to the cleaners!” Wouldn’t make as much sense with the verb “to mother” in there, would it (and a female protagonist, obviously)?

But that’s exactly why if you do choose to proceed, it should be with extreme caution. Even if you did “father” this child, your ex mothered her, and your ex’s husband raised her as his own all these years. So tiptoe into this one like a 90-pound ballerina in a minefield.

How about this: Approach your ex for a tête-à-tête. Stroll down memory lane, have some laughs, perhaps a soupçon of chardonnay – and then, to use a somewhat hair-raising expression from the 1990s, “open your kimono” to her vis-à-vis your paternity fears/hopes.

She may tell you to leave her and her family alone. She may even throw her chardonnay in your face. If so, so be it. Not a lot you can do. You gave it a shot.

But if she doesn’t rebuff you with maximum hostility, if she is at all amenable and/or shares any of your doubt – well, here’s the craziest advice you’ll ever get from an advice columnist: Ask her for a hair follicle, toothbrush or baseball cap from her daughter.

Home DNA testing has come a long way since I wrote my article. Back then, the instruction booklet told me: “Aggressively scrape the inside of the cheek wall for at least 30 seconds. … Cheek cells are needed for this test – it is not a saliva test.”

Now you can use “discreet samples” like those mentioned above – like they do on TV!

If your ex agrees, and it turns out her daughter is not your daughter, no problem. You both walk away relieved, with a story you can probably only tell a select few people.

If she is your daughter, obviously (let me turn on my Metaphor Mix-o-Matic) that opens a Pandora’s box of worms, and problems (and lawsuits) could potentially start popping out like spring snakes in a joke-shop can of mixed nuts.

But if everyone keeps their cool, I could see it being a blessing. I could see her quite enjoying having two dads: one who “sired” her, one who raised her.

And there’s the medical side of things to consider: There might be something that runs in your family she should know about, or you may have a rare blood type that matches hers. Or she needs a kidney.

Now there’s a perfectly good DNA-based justification for stepping forward: She may need you for spare parts.

David Eddie is the author of Damage Control, the book.

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