We often assume our family members are the ones in life we can trust the most. We know them intimately, and if there is one thing we can rely on them for, it’s being honest with us. Shared memories with family members remain cherished moments in our minds, but what if everything you thought you knew was untrue? How much do you really know your parents?
Have they filled you in on everything they did before you came along and took up most of their time? One woman had spent her entire life thinking her family life was pretty straightforward, but one DNA test changed everything for her. Dani Shapiro made a name for herself as an author, but now she began to question who she really was after the DNA results came back.
Testing for a laugh
Dani Shapiro is a successful author and has written several books during her life. Her husband has an interest in genealogy and ordered himself a DIY DNA testing kit, but asked his wife if she would like one too. Dani thought there was no reason not to, and it might unearth some distantly related family.
She wasn’t curious about her ancestry as she knew she came from Eastern Europe, but that was before her DNA testing kit arrived. Now her whole family had been turned upside down, and she had several questions about her life, there was a problem though. Both her parents had passed away, so it was down to Dani to do the investigation herself to find out what had happened all those years ago.
Life for Dani Shapiro appeared to be very similar to anyone else born in her generation. Her parents were Orthodox Jews, so Dani knew that her heritage was from Eastern Europe. Dani is blonde haired, and the first question about her parentage came when she was just six years old. She was at a family gathering in New Jersey in the late ’60s and was grabbed by an elderly relative.
This relative survived challenging times during World War II and told young Dani they could have used her in the ghetto as her blonde hair would have gotten them bread from their captors. Then, looking back at her upbringing, Dani realized that she stood out like a sore thumb thanks to her blonde locks.
For the past 25 years, Dani Shapiro has been writing about family and secrecy. She was never really sure why she was determined to write about these topics, but she knew that something inside was driving her to do it. Shapiro has written ten books, but her most recent is the one that hits home the hardest.
It’s about her own family life and the secrets she discovered years after both her parents passed away. Now she knew the truth she had to deal with it alone, unable to ask the people responsible for an explanation. That didn’t stop her finding answers to her questions, but she has had to draw her own conclusions about why her parents’ choices.
The perceived truth
Dani had grown up as an Orthodox Jew and she closely identified with ancestors of her father. Those relatives had helped to establish themselves as a dynastic clan. Thanks to her husband’s natural curiosity about his own life, Dani would soon discover that she wasn’t exactly the person she thought she was.
There was a secret in her family that came out after 54 years, and it changed a lot for Dani. She might have been raised with all the Jewish customs and practices, celebrating the holidays, but biologically, the picture was quite different. She found out that she wasn’t as Jewish as she thought she was, but what how was this possible?
Dani discovered that her parents had trouble having a baby. Her mother, Irene, was approaching her 40s but hadn’t yet had a child, so time was ticking. To give them some help having their own child, her parents contacted a fertility clinic. Although they tried to conceive for some time, nothing happened and they realized they needed outside intervention.
Back in the 1960s, when Dani’s parents were trying to conceive, fertility clinics were not so accepted as they are in this day and age. Couples were told to be intimate before and after the procedure to maximize their chances and to make it feel as though the pregnancy happened naturally.
Not the whole truth
The fertility clinic’s methods were in place to allow the couple to accept their child as their own, but the likelihood of that being accurate was minimal.
Dani’s parents were likely told that Irene’s blood levels were indicating she must have already been pregnant when she came into the clinic, helping the couple to rationalize their choice. In some places, having artificial insemination was considered infidelity. There was a lot of shame and stigma attached, so anything to help couples justify their choices were often welcomed.
Who’s the father?
The DNA results from Dani’s saliva sample showed that she had a first cousin whose name she didn’t recognize. Dani chose to dig further after receiving the results and discovered that the man who she had called father was not biologically her dad.
It was not the developments Shapiro had been expecting, and it opened up more questions than it gave answers. Dani was unsure how this was possible, so she dug deep in her memory to think of how it could have happened.
Dani’s parents had been desperate for a child, and when they welcomed their new daughter to the world, they couldn’t be happier. Her father worked on Wall Street, but when Dani was 23, he passed away following a fatal car crash. Dani’s mother passed away in 2003, so her family history stayed alive through her.
Any questions raised from her providing a sample of saliva in a tube in 2016 for the DIY DNA testing kit would have to be answered by herself. Not that Dani thought there would be any, she was only testing because her husband was doing the same for his family. Despite her blasé approach, her life would be turned upside down when the results were revealed.
Tracking her biological father
Dani learned about her parent’s use of a fertility clinic to help them get pregnant and began a quest to find out who exactly was her biological father. Dani found that her father’s sample had been mixed with an anonymous donor’s, which was used to get Irene pregnant.
Parents conceiving this way in the sixties were often told to keep the method to themselves, and not even to mention it to their doctor. It was going to be a challenge for Dani to discover who the anonymous donor was.
Half sister, or complete biological stranger?
When Dani got her DNA test results from the genealogy company, she discovered she was 52 percent Eastern European. There was also some Irish, German, French, and English in her that she did not expect.
Dani’s half-sister, from her father’s previous marriage, was not biologically related to her in any way. All of this information meant Paul was not Dani’s father and this began to trouble the author. With the name of an unknown first cousin at the forefront of her mind, Dani chose to track them down.
A helping hand
While Dani’s world was being turned upside down, she could rely on the support of her journalist husband, Michael, to help her through. Michael helped her track down the mysterious first cousin the DNA results were saying she was related to.
The couple found Dani’s cousin on social media, and her profile said she had a brother who lived in Portland. This man had to be Dani’s biological father, but even if he was, would Dani pluck up the courage to speak with him?
Watching him on YouTube
The man Dani suspected to be her biological father was a physician, and there were videos of him on YouTube giving lectures. After watching this man for a while, Dani began to notice a trait that she has too. The man would do finger quotes in mid-air, a gesture the author recognized as her own.
Dani now knew that it was time to speak to her biologically her father. Just because she wanted to talk to him, didn’t mean he would be so welcoming to a new daughter in his life.
Making a connection
Dani made contact with the man, but it didn’t all go to plan. Apparently, he initially decided he did not want to have Dani in his life. It was a big moment for the man, and it took him a little bit of time to comprehend the situation. After a couple of months, Dani’s biological father embraced his new daughter, and the pair met.
Dani notes in her book that it was amazing to be sitting in front of him. He had some of her features which were being reflected back at Dani from across the lunch table.
A big conversation
What would have started as a major moment in both Dani’s and her biological father’s lives, soon turned to talk of their lives, families, and careers. Dani and her new father remain in contact, maintaining a warm relationship.
When reflecting on the DNA development, Dani thinks she might have gone her entire life without knowing. She said the DNA kits sat around her home for weeks before Dani and her husband used them. Although she knows who her biological father is, Dani still considers Paul to be her father.
Dani felt compelled to share her story with the world and has written the entire experience in a book titled Inheritance. She explores her own experience of finding out her family dynamics were not exactly as she imagined.
Dani documents how she dealt with the news, what it meant to her, and how she is planning on moving forward with her life. Just because her father wasn’t biologically her dad didn’t mean she wrote him out of her life, in fact, she dedicated her book to him.
Making a podcast
It isn’t just a book that came from Dani’s discovery, she has started her own podcast. Each episode she speaks with and interviews a new guest, all of whom have uncovered a big family secret. Due to her own experience with family secrets, Dani believes her guests are more comfortable speaking to her than others.
Dani feels as though her guests trust her and share intimate secrets due to her own biological secrets. She believes many of the secrets revealed on her podcast are kept because of one thing, shame.