That restlessness is driven by a quest that is both emotional and intellectual, a desire to learn more about the world around him and himself. It was also driven by what he calls a deep emotional trauma. But that intense curiosity about who he was and where he came from was recently rewarded with a family connection he could have only made with the help of 23andMe.
“There is a lovely tender, tear rendering story here,” said Stephen, a Ph.D., who lives in Northern Washington and works in nutritional medicine.
He’d been adopted and grew up in Brooklyn in a family in which he felt alien and disconnected to his adoptive mother. Using details from a story his adoptive mother told him about his birth, Stephen tracked down his biological mother when he was in his early 30s. It wasn’t the kind of reunion he’d hoped for, however.
“She was a broken person, a street person,” he said. His mother had agreed to meet him at a White Castle fast food restaurant in Brooklyn. It was a strange place for a mother and son reunion, and while he drove to the meeting, Stephen questioned whether he’d really found the right person at all.
“Intellectually I knew it was her, but emotionally I was so shaken up I just didn’t know,” he said.
But he thought to himself:
“If this is really my mom, then when I look at her face, I will know 100 percent,” he said. “And, she’ll have green eyes.”
Just after he parked his car at the restaurant a woman knocked on his window. “I saw her face and I saw my face within it, with her green eyes,” he said. Wanting to get to know her and learn more about his biological family, Stephen spent two days with her in a large hotel suite that he’d rented.
“She was obviously mentally imbalanced and depressed,” Stephen said. “I asked her many questions including the name of my biological father. She did give me his last name.”
After that initial meeting, he tried to develop a relationship with her, but it was too painful and difficult for her, he said. She eventually asked him to leave her alone. His reunion with his mother stopped any additional searching for family for three decades until his own daughter, Ariel, reignited it when she tested with 23andMe. Ariel’s 23andMe results showed a close connection with a woman she didn’t know. That woman, Marilyn, sent her a message. Marilyn wanted to figure out how they were so closely related. 23andMe showed that Marilyn was either Ariel’s aunt or a close cousin, and Marilyn’s father matched her as a grandfather. Ariel told Marilyn, who was from Brooklyn, about her dad being adopted and originally being from Brooklyn. Marilyn and Stephen then connected and in an email exchange Marilyn asked Stephen if he knew his biological father’s last name. He told her he didn’t, only that it was a short name and started with “Z.”
“My maiden name is Zwick,” Marilyn emailed back. “I knew in that instant, that this was the name that my mother had told me, over 30 years ago, and that this was my father’s family,” Stephen said. “I’ll never forget that moment.”
Stephen quickly booked a flight back to New York, renting an apartment where he met his sister Marilyn as well as his biological father and a collection of other relatives At first his father, a retired sociology teacher, was standoffish, but as they talked it became obvious that Stephen was genuine. The two men looked a lot alike and even have similar mannerisms. At some point, it seemed to dawn on his biological father that Stephen was indeed his son.
He got up and walked over to Stephen, embracing him and saying:
“I have always wanted a son.”
It was more than Stephen could have hoped for, he said. They sat together and talked and Stephen learned that he and his father shared some of the same interests. They both liked doing yoga, meditation, and that they have some of the same sensibilities. For Stephen, who’d been searching for so long, meeting his biological family was a revelation.
“They accepted me,” Stephen said. “In my mind why should they love me, but they do. It’s very deep healing.”