Of course he knew he was adopted but that only made Tony Mercer wonder more about what made him so tall, and his thumbs so stubby, and where he got his passion for playing the piano.
“My adoptive family was very caring and supportive as I was growing up, but I never felt completely …integrated,” said Tony, a professional pianist and church music director. “My personality and interests and theirs were just not quite the same.”
He loves his family, but he also knows that there are differences that can only be explained by genetics. So, Tony decided to use 23andMe to learn a little bit more about himself — information he said he didn’t think he could learn any other way, he said. He was interested in learning more about his health, the genetics behind some of his traits, and where in the world his ancestors came from. Even though he was adopted and curious about his biological parents, he was still wary about connecting with biological relatives, however.
“Actually, I had no desire to find my biological family,” Tony said. “I had a lot of fear of rejection. I assumed they gave me up for a good reason, and I was afraid of what that reason might be.”
He’d seen his adoptive brother go through being rejected when he tried to connect to his biological family, and Tony didn’t want to go through the same thing.
“I didn’t want to face that kind of emotional pain,” he said.
It’s a fear that a lot of adoptees go through — the possibility of being doubly rejected by their biological families. (Once when they were given up for adoption, and a second time when they try to connect later in life.) At the same time, there is often an overpowering need to know. Tony skated along that border between simply wanting to know who his mother and father were and the fear of being rejected by them.
So, when he first got his results, he focused on health information, his traits, and his ancestry. He did look at his DNA Relatives, but they were all very distant.
“I hadn’t really expected to find any close relatives,” he said.
But in 2015, all that changed when Tony connected with a first cousin named Melanie. They exchanged some information. Tony figured out they were connected on his maternal side, and he asked if perhaps she had an aunt who had given up a child for adoption in Alaska in 1984.
Yes, she did.
Melanie knew a family secret about her aunt Lydia giving up a baby boy born on the same day, in the same year, and the same city in Alaska as Tony.
“Besides my mother, she was the only person who knew about me,” said Tony.
He marvels at the luck that the one person who knew about him, besides his biological mother, had also tested with 23andMe.
“I know how lucky I am,” he said.
Things happened very quickly after that. Melanie connected Tony with her aunt Lydia, his biological mother. First, Tony and Lydia had a few email exchanges, then they talked on the phone, and finally she came to Florida to meet him in person.
“As far as Lydia is concerned, just meeting her and seeing that connection … it was very positive and stabilizing for me,” he said.
He saw in her traits he had in himself, and felt connected in a way that he hadn’t ever felt before. It’s not just that he’s tall, has stubby thumbs, and plays the piano, he said.
“Watching her interact with my friends, I immediately noticed that all their positive traits, and the reasons I love all of them, are traits that she has,” said Tony.
He wondered if perhaps his friends were representative of his own search for finding a deep connection to who he was.
“I think it’s just the most awesome thing in the world,” he said.
Tony also was able to learn a bit about his birth and eventually connect to his biological father. He learned that both his biological mother and father came from musical families, which explained a lot.
“Although I was inspired by my adoptive family in North Carolina and Tennessee who were musicians, I think a lot of that inborn talent is genetic,” said Tony, who first started playing piano as a six year old.
Tony’s adoptive father supported his search. His adoptive mother died when he was 16. That also made connecting with his biological mother that much more important, he said. It wasn’t so much that she filled a void he had with losing his mother, but that she is giving him another chance to have a maternal presence in his life.
He also got more context about himself. He’s 6’5” and he learned that all the men in his mom’s family are tall. He learned musical talent and red hair runs in the family. Even how he’s gravitated to work that involves helping others seems to be genetic, he said.
From his mother, Tony was also able to learn more about why he was put up for adoption. That gave him the ability to finally get an answer to the question he always had growing up.
“I have so much closure and peace about my adoption now, and I’ve got an awesome mom back in my life from all this,” he said.
His mother also helped Tony connect to his biological father, and the two have talked on the phone and hope to meet each other in person soon. More recently he met with his biological mother, his aunt, and his biological brother in Las Vegas.
“I know this might not happen for everyone, but I am so thankful to 23andme for making this experience even possible. Technology and science is so crazy these days, and I thank you guys for being on the cutting edge and making this accessible to the public.”