'I Discovered My Uncle Is My Biological Father'

As an adult, I'm able to look back and say that I love Florida. I love my land, communing with nature and staring at sunsets that look like paintings. But I don't like the Florida I grew up in. I was one of seven kids and I was bounced back and forth between young parents who were doing the best they could, as far as I remember.

Both my parents had hard lives and as an adult I give them a lot of forgiveness. They were on a bad trajectory that was set up for them by the people before them. They lived in poverty and lacked education, and both were separately abandoned by their own parents in different contexts.

But I was the only queer person in my family, and I was also the only queer person I knew in a 30 mile radius. To my family, I was just quirky and annoying. I was, like a lot of weird kids, artistic and effeminate. I did not conform to the idea of a "normal" little boy growing up in the south in a largely blue collar, working class community.

I have always been close to my mom, but there was a longstanding sense between my father and I that I was a burden, particularly as I was such an evidently queer child in a place where masculine posturing was the norm.

I think my father struggled with the fact that his adult self had to live with the repercussions of what he did when he was young. We were a reflection of a situation he perhaps didn't want to be in.

It wasn't until after college that I realized I was no longer financially dependent on my father. I stayed in touch and visited some over the years but I largely had to amputate Florida; to kind of pretend it didn't exist anymore.

I have lived in New York for 13 years now; it's the kind of place where you meet people as they are. If someone says, "My name is Razzle Dazzle," you say "Hi Razzle Dazzle, lovely to meet you". That's partly why people move to a big city; you can be the person you want to be.

In the years since I left Florida, I think there has been a pop cultural shift towards over the counter DNA tests, like 23andMe or ancestry.com, and around three years ago when I was 32, my sister really became really interested in that.

Once she got her DNA tested, she got her kids and her husband tested too. At first, she was having fun with it, and then she became adept in understanding the data involved. Over time, people she didn't know were showing up on these platforms as an aunt or a cousin. Then, when I got tested it showed that my sister and I had a discrepancy between us, which is common between siblings. My sister was related to a large number of people with Jewish ancestry, and I wasn't at all. That was the first moment of, "oh, that's weird,"

My sister then got my father to test his DNA, and in the meantime, she began a friendship with a woman who was connected to her through these DNA results as a half-aunt. These results were already starting to point to my dad having extra siblings in the world. But all we could tell was that perhaps his own father had had another marriage, because he was older when he met my paternal grandmother.

When my dad's results came in, my sister immediately sent them to me. Those results established that my father is not my father. The man I always thought was my uncle, my dad's brother, is actually my father. Biologically, the man I thought was my father growing up is now technically my half-uncle. He is my half-uncle, because on the same day, my own father found out that the man he thought was his father, actually isn't.

My sister and I had that DNA discrepancy because we have a different father, but our fathers are related. My sister is now both my cousin and my half-sister.

My mom immediately called me and confessed. I was at work, and this was all coming to me via text. My mom said, "It's true." That was the first thing she said. In the first phone call she told me that she had spent one "stupid night," with my uncle and though she wished it had never happened, she would never change it. I could hear in her voice that she was so afraid she was going to lose me. She said, "I would do it all again if it meant keeping you."

I was in shock. All of a sudden I had to navigate this deeply personal news with people who were, because of the distance I had created between myself and Florida, essentially strangers to me. I realized that every story I had ever told when someone asked how many siblings I had or what my dad did, all those things were part of a falsity and I didn't know it.

That was the first time I signed up for a therapist, because a feeling of numbness washed over me so quickly and I thought that I was repressing something. I feared it would be one of those moments you look back on and wish you had dealt with it then.

I've gotten the details from my mom in the years since we got the results in 2018, but it's taken time. I needed distance from it. What took me years to process was the fear that this had been a conspiracy, that every adult in my life knew the truth and didn't tell me. I asked my mom if that was the case and she has said no, and despite my suspicions, I know I won't benefit from pushing the subject any further.

If I was to really lean into this, to actualise the lying and secrets by talking about it constantly, it would compromise the bond between us. I am also aware that it's really easy to villainize women who have these complicated stories. To me, this is a story of what happens when people are transient and don't have money so they rely on a certain person for money at a certain time. In this case, my mom relied on the man I thought was my father.

Dusty St. Amand discovered his true parentage
In 2018, Dusty St. Amand discovered that the man he thought was his father while growing up, was actually his half-uncle. Da Ping Luo

When these tests were coming out, my uncle started to go into a panic. My perception was that his "stop the testing" attitude came because if we stopped, the truth couldn't come out. He quickly became obsolete in the conversation because he wasn't willing to get tested and didn't want his son to get tested. His attitude was: the past is the past.

What was harder was that I didn't talk to my dad a lot, and I realized that myself and this man, who had felt such animosity in our relationship, were on the same side the whole time. But when he called me, his attitude was, "hey man, it's cool. The past is the past, you can't really be mad." It was a very "dad" thing to do. To sense turmoil and say "suck it up." It came from a good place.

He told me that he still considered me his son, and over the course of several conversations, he shared, without anger, that he had suspected he may not be my biological father, but he never thought it was my uncle. I couldn't understand his lack of anger at the moment, but I get it now. When you've had a hard f***king life and then someone throws another detail at you, your attitude is: add it to the list. It probably wasn't even the worst news he'd ever gotten. But I do now make a point of calling my dad by his name, Danny*, and my uncle (who is my biological father), by his name, which is Tom*.

Much more recently, I was having a really hard time. Every morning when I pulled myself out of bed I would sit staring at the walls, and if I left the house I would find myself crying as I walked down the street. I felt very alone, but then I realised there was an abundance of people who loved me and wanted my physical presence. Both of my parents, separately, had been reaching out to me, telling me I could stay with them if I came down to Florida.

I never asked Danny for money, but I asked if he could get me a rental car to drive with my dog down to Florida, and he said yes. So I decided to take the "dad" out of the equation and go down there and hang out with him as a buddy and start a new relationship with this man. I made a point of texting him or showing up at his property at 7am every morning.

What was supposed to be eight days turned into 12 because I extended my trip. Anything he was excited to tell me about or show me, I agreed to do. His wife wanted to go kayaking, so we kayaked. Danny has bulldozers and swamp vehicles and he asked if I wanted to ride one, so I did. I knew it was bringing him enjoyment to see me having fun in his company. So I hung out with him a lot and we got on really well, partly because I didn't have these hang ups of wanting to escape to a better life. I had been on my "mystical journey" and now I was back with the lessons I'd learned.

On the next trip down I will see Tom, my biological father. I am interested but I have reservations about how I want to do it. What is a father? What do I owe this man and what does he owe me? I don't know if I want to turn this stranger into a character in my story. But I know that if I don't see him before he dies, older me may regret this.

Just before I left Florida in June, Danny took me out to dinner and he was being really sweet. He ordered a cute pink drink and was being very playful. Danny does not hug well. He's not upset doing it, he's just stiff and doesn't really know how to show physical affection in that way. And in many ways, I am a stranger. But just as I was leaving, he gave me a hug, not the awkward kind, a full body hug.

To me, the core of the story is that I can look back at being a child and remember desperately wishing this man wasn't my dad. I didn't connect with him at all. Then, I got older and my wish came true: he wasn't my dad. But now, all I want is for this guy to be my dad and I think he wants it too.

Finding out that we aren't related has been the greatest motivator, because we can choose this now. Choosing it is so much more electric and alive.

Dusty St. Amand is a photographer living in Williamsburg, New York. You can find out more about his work at savisuelles.com and follow him on Instagram @st.amandvisuelles.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.

*Names have been changed.

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