Monday, March 25, 2013
COLUMN: "Family" Reunion
Let me set the stage. It was New Year's Eve, err, Eve. I was having a small shindig at the International House of Shane the next night, so I'd just tidied the place up and decided to spend a few relaxing minutes before bed trolling around Facebook. I'd only been logged in for a second before a chat request came through from a girl whose name I didn't recognize.
"Are you from Galesburg?" asked the girl innocently.
"Sure am," I typed, "but I don't brag about it. Who's this?"
Maybe it was someone I went to high school with. Maybe it was someone I worked with. Maybe it was a super cute girl who just happens to be into chunky newspaper columnists who hail from the same hometown as three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg. Who knew?
"Well," came her reply. "I'm pretty sure I'm your sister."
Umm. Happy New Year?
My dad, as I have said many a time in this column, is amazing. He is the rock of our family, capable of almost anything, and probably the greatest living human being that I've ever known. My dad can take a tree and turn it into a living room set. He built the house I grew up in from the ground up. He spent his entire adult life working a thankless job to provide for my mom and I. He is my support, my coach, my biggest fan, and I'm blessed beyond words to have a father as good as him to share my life with.
There's just one thing we don't happen to share: DNA.
See, before my dad came along, my mom was married to another guy. He's not worth mentioning by name, so let's just make one up - I'm gonna go with Sammy Stupidhead. Sammy left right after my mom found out she was pregnant, and this was shortly after she also discovered he was cheating on her. Classy guy, that Sammy. My mom calls it her period of temporary insanity. I'm not that regretful; it may have been insane, but the end result was ME, so the good win out. A few months after I was born, my mom met my dad. Marriage and adoption came soon after, and we all lived happily ever after. I've never met Sammy Stupidhead and he remains little more than a sperm donor in my world.
I am proud to be an only child. That wasn't the original gameplan, but I caused so much damage on the way out that I ensured no future sibling rivalry, and I like it that way. I get all the love, all the attention, and all the presents. In MY re-enactment of my birth, I came out "Highlander"-style, an ovary in each hand, screaming "There can be only one!"
What I never thought about all these years, though, was Sammy Stupidhead, who headed down south on what was apparantly a mission to impregnate a measurable percentage of southern Illinois. As it turns out, I have no fewer than SEVEN half-siblings running amok out there somewhere. And now the halflings have found me. And I have NO idea what to do about it.
I guess I always assumed that he MUST have had other kids. I just never realized that they'd all be dead ringers for me. I've now seen the pictures, and yep, they pretty much all look like me with a variety of wigs on. I've always joked about my aspirations to one day take over the world; I just never thought I'd be accomplishing it through a vast, big-eared, big-nosed bloodline army.
For what it's worth, the three biological half-siblings that I've chatted online with seem to be really nice people, and, while this whole thing has me totally freaked, I'm happy they made the effort. My mom's convinced that there must be some sort of nefarious intent to their contacting me, but I truly think it was just out of curiosity. They've always known about me, and apparantly finding me was "on their bucket list." I get that, and I think it's cool. After all, I'm pretty awesome. I'd like to get to know me, too.
But waking up the next morning to a half-dozen Facebook friend requests from strangers saying things like "HI UNCLE SHANE!" was almost enough to do my head in. I never even got to torment any of my little "sisters," but some of them now have kids who have kids of their own. Apparantly I'm a great uncle. I didn't know I was a good one.
Now that I've had a week to soak up this new branch of my family tree, I'm still weirded out, but slowly realizing some advantages to their existence.
For one, I'm thinking I can now throw that exercise bike away and get as morbidly obese as I fancy. After all, I've got a fresh crop of potentially matching organ donors at my disposal.
I can also sleep well knowing that, at least thus far, no one on that side of the family has been struck down by any rare genetically-passed illnesses. I've always had a secret worry that maybe Sammy Stupidhead gave me some genes wherein I turn 42 and suddenly my spleen stops working.
Best of all is that I've now seen a recent picture of Sammy Stupidhead himself, and I now have a pretty good idea what I'm gonna look like 25 years down the road. I have ZERO interest in ever meeting the man, but I kinda want to hug his hair -- it's still there and it hasn't even turned totally grey yet.
So at the end of the day, I'm kind of excited about the Great Halfling Invasion of 2013. I set some immediate boundaries: My dad is my dad and my ONLY dad and it stays that way. I'm happy to be their Facebook buddy and a small part of their lives, but don't expect me to show up at the next potluck. And, seriously, I'm never giving any of them one of my kidneys. I'm pretty sure I need them both.
In all honesty, I'm glad to make their acquaintance, learn about their lives, and fill in some small question marks that I guess I've always had in the back of my head. But I still feel like an only child, and that's because I AM the only child of a fantastic set of parents, and that's never changing.