Jeremy Kuykendall grew up in Texas, went to college there and settled down. He has a good job, is happily married and has two daughters. His life is pretty normal.
“I’m just a middle class family man,” said the 38 year-old IT worker.
But the regular trajectory of Jeremy’s life took an extraordinary turn after testing with 23andMe. His results connected him for the first time with a guy named Steven, a man he’d never met, who just happened to be his biological father.
“I am awed by how this happened,” Jeremy said. “The chances of us ever meeting and learning about how we are related would have been impossible without a service like 23andMe.”
Steven is single, 58, and lives in Fort Worth. His life – working dozens of different jobs, serving in the Army and moving around the country before settling into a job with the Veterans Administration in Fort Worth – has been anything but ordinary. Yet even Steven says connecting with Jeremy has been one of the craziest things that’s ever happened to him.
“I remember telling him on the phone once that I don’t know what to say to him or how to feel,” Steven said. “We’re in uncharted territory here. I know I can’t be a father to him. The best I can do is to be his friend.”
And the two men – who are strangers although they are father and son, have gotten to know each other – they’ve started to become friends.
Creating a Family Connection
This sudden connection has probably been most jarring for Steven. While Jeremy always knew he’d been adopted, Steven never knew he’d even fathered a child, and long ago given up on the idea of ever having a family.
“I never got married, never thought about having a family a whole lot honestly,” he said. “I just never got to that point. I was engaged once but I got cold feet and called it off.”
So it was a surprise when he got his results from 23andMe. He’d signed up because he wanted to use 23andMe for his genealogy research, but his results were unexpected.
“It said I had a DNA match with someone who is identified as my son,” Steven said. “It was a shock.”
23andMe’s DNA Relative feature matches customers with other 23andMe users who share DNA. Customers can choose not to take part in DNA Relatives, remain anonymous or opt-out of viewing close relatives. Both Jeremy and Steven had opted in. When Steven saw that he and Jeremy shared 47.5 percent of their DNA, he decided to send him a message via 23andMe.
“I didn’t say much, I think I said ‘it appears as though we’re related and I was wondering where you were born.’”
Steven misread Jeremy’s profile and thought Jeremy was ten years younger than he is. Doing the math, Steven knew he lived in California when at the time Jeremy would have been conceived. Thinking back he tried to figure out who the mother might have been and was at a loss, so he wasn’t sure if the match was real.
While Steven anxiously waited for an answer to his message, Jeremy was suspicious about who he was. Jeremy always knew he’d been adopted, but he’d waited until he was in his 30s, when he was having children of his own to try and make any contact with his biological mother, who he did meet. They got to know each other. He learned she’d gotten pregnant in high school. She’d given Jeremy up for adoption because she was just too young to raise him on her own. But she’d watched him grow up from a distance. Occasionally seeing his sports or school achievements in the local paper. Jeremy’s adoptive mother worked as a nurse in the clinic that his biological mother went to for care, although she never identified herself as his biological mother.
“Our relationship has been positive and amicable,” said Jeremy, who has since also met his two half-sisters.
His mother also shared with him as much information about his biological family as she knew, including, he thought, the name of his biological father, a man she identified as Wayne.
“The stories she told me were not very flattering,” Jeremy said.
Based on all that, Jeremy decided not to reach out to him.
“It was enough to have this good interaction with my ‘Bio-Mom,’” he said.
Then all a sudden Jeremy gets a message from a guy named Steven.
Jeremy had tested with 23andMe because he wanted to know more about his ancestors and from where they came. He didn’t expect anything else, so the message from Steven caught him off guard. He was a bit suspicious.
“I responded: ‘What do you want dude?’”
Before getting the response, Steven had almost given up hope of hearing from Jeremy, he said.
“When I didn’t get an answer back I thought, you know, maybe he already knows who I am or maybe he didn’t know his real father was not his real father or a dozen other reasons why he wouldn’t want to talk to me,” Steven said.
He tried to be philosophical about it, telling himself that, “whatever happens, happens.” But that was easier said than done.
“Anyone would be really curious,” he said. “It would drive you crazy wanting to know.”
Although they both were skeptical that they were indeed father and son, they connected through 23andMe nonetheless. Steven had thought he was in California at the time of Jeremy’s birth, which was in Texas. That was until he learned that Jeremy was born in 1976, 10 years earlier than he thought.
Steven explained to Jeremy that when he was 19 he’d lived in Dallas for nine months and during that time spent about a month in Menard, Texas.
“Now you’re freaking me out,” Jeremy told Steven. “I was born in Menard.’”
He sent Steven an old photo of his birth mother. Steven thought he recognized her, but he wasn’t sure. Jeremy’s mother doesn’t remember Steven, but the dates and timing of everything matched up.
“Look I was a product of my time, a real wild child,” said Steven. “It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s just the way it was.”
Jeremy and Steven have since met in person. Jeremy looks more like his biological mother, but Steven can see some of his brother in Jeremy.
“They have the some of the same mannerisms,” he said. “He’s real gentle and hardworking like my oldest brother.”
Steven said he’s still trying to get his head around meeting a son he didn’t know he had.
“It’s certainly not a bad thing, mainly because he’s such a wonderful person, highly intelligent, very successful and a great family and everything,” Steven said. “You can tell. He had wonderful adoptive parents.”
And while Steven knows he could never be a true father to his son, he said he thinks the two men will be friends, and that he could get to know his family and Jeremy’s two young children.
“I’d like that,” Steven said.
For Jeremy the experience has reminded him how lucky he was to have had such supportive adoptive parents. But the experience has also left him wondering more about what makes him who he is – how much a role genetics plays versus the environment he grew up in.
“It’s been very positive,” he said. “But I’m struggling with this whole nature versus nurture thing and how much of what we are is genetic and how much is you know influenced by our environment. I’m amazed by how much comes from my blood.”