Woman Struggles to Tell Her Daughter That Her Brother Is Actually Her Father

By: Olawale Ogunjimi | Last updated: Oct 10, 2023

Whether they are shared by the whole family or just a select few, family secrets aren’t unusual. People have things to hide for numerous reasons, and some family secrets are harder to hide than others.

If her mother can summon the courage, a 30-year-old woman in the United States will have to deal with one of the most staggering family secrets ever to be told: her brother is also her father.

An Online Advice Column Receives One of Its Biggest Stories

It seemed just like a typical day in the life of The Atlantic’s Dear Therapist columnist. As usual, letters detailing various life issues dropped, each with its own peculiarity.

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Source: The Atlantic/ Twitter

But one of them was especially troubling. It was from a mother with a 30-year secret, one which had become too heavy to bear. Her daughter’s brother is also her father; here’s how it happened.

The Plan Was "Marriage Plus Children"

This woman met the love of her life, a man who already had two adult children. But she wasn’t bothered; she was ready to follow her heart.

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They later got married and began a new life together. And while they wanted to have children of their own, they would have to surmount a major obstacle.

The Man Had Undergone a Vasectomy

He had gotten sterilized before meeting his wife to prevent producing more children. They had only a few options left, and eventually, they decided that getting pregnant through sperm other than her husband’s was the best option for them.

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But they did not want to go to the sperm bank, as they both wanted the sperm donor to have the husband’s DNA. So, they were forced to do something pretty unconventional.

They Got the Husband’s Son to Donate His Sperm

In a bid to retain the husband’s DNA in their offspring, they asked the husband’s son to provide the sperm. “Our child would have my husband’s genes, and we knew my stepson’s health, personality, and intelligence,” she wrote in her letter.

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The plan was executed, and a beautiful baby was born. As the years passed, the baby grew into a 30-year-old woman who deserved to know the truth.

Love Produces Truth

The beauty of the truth is best summarized in the words of the world-renowned author and psychologist Bo Bennett. He said, “For every good reason there is to lie, there is a better reason to tell the truth.”

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For this woman, she had discovered a better reason to tell the truth: love. The next challenge would be finding out the “how.”

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Telling the Truth Usually Comes at a Price

In this case, the truth is complex, and so is the “how.” “Our daughter is 30 now. How do we tell her that her ‘father’ is [also] her grandfather, her ‘brother’ is [also] her father, her ‘sister’ is [also] her aunt, and her ‘nephew is [also] her half-brother?”

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“My husband and I are anxious, confused, and worried about telling her,” she wrote. Her husband doesn’t want her daughter to feel like she never had a father.

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She Deserved Some Commendation for Deciding to Tell the Truth

Summoning the courage to come clean to her daughter was a virtuous decision to make. It was one that deserved commendation and support. The columnist made sure to do just that.

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The columnist’s response began by expressing gladness about the woman’s plan. “I am glad that you and your husband have decided to tell your daughter the truth.” This statement should immediately calm her nerves and reduce her worries.

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Dear Therapist's Counsel for Her

The columnist continued with some wise counsel. The first thing the woman had to do was to break down her confession into its parts.

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The Atlantic Therapist wrote back, “There are two truths your daughter will be absorbing simultaneously. First, the person she calls her brother is her biological father.” This would be a difficult truth to absorb, even for the strongest of humans.

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The Second Part is Equally Difficult

The therapist continued, “…and second, the people she calls her parents have deceived her for years.” For many, this part, which involves betrayal, would be the most painful.

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The therapist asked her to take full responsibility for her actions, state the facts clearly before apologizing, and talk “as little as possible.” The feeling of betrayal is difficult to deal with, especially from loved ones. But it’s never too late to tell the truth.

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No Intention to Pass Judgment

As a professional therapist, the columnist didn’t neglect to see things from the couple’s point of view. According to the columnist, her aim wasn’t to apportion blame or point fingers. 

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Much of the response was geared to prepare the woman for how her daughter would feel. Having to face the truth after years of deceit wasn’t going to be an easy thing for the daughter to do.

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The Columnist Also Showed Their Understanding and Sympathetic Side

The columnist also went ahead to give some possible reasons why the couple did what they did. “I’m certain that you and your husband kept your daughter’s paternity a secret because you felt this would protect her from confusion, shame, or societal judgment”

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The columnist went on to add, “It’s also possible that you were trying to protect your husband too.” The response was full of compassion for the woman. But as we will see later, lies only end up protecting the wrong party.

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The Response Mentioned That The Woman Could Have Received Wrong Counsel

The columnist’s reply touched on every possible aspect and perspective on the issue. This included a potential bad counsel that the woman could have received from her doctors. 

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“30 years ago, many patients who used a sperm donor were strongly advised by physicians not to share this information with the child based on the belief that secrecy was better for everyone involved,” the columnist explained.

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Family Secrets Can Be Felt

The “Dear Therapist” columnist emphasized the need for the woman to break the news as soon as she could. Her daughter, who could probably sense that something was wrong, could be dealing with chronic unease.

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The columnist added that family secrets could be felt. “Many people who grew up in a home with family secrets say that they always had a sense that something was not as it seemed.”

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Why is it so Difficult to Tell the Truth?

There are several reasons why people would rather lie than tell the truth. One of the major reasons is fear. Telling the truth can seem dreadful. It’s even more dreadful in this case because it’s been 30 years.

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Being honest can cause one to lose respect and even love. Not many people are comfortable with losing anyone, especially with people who we hold dear. For this woman, the risk of losing her daughter made it pretty difficult for her to tell the truth.

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We Lie to Protect Ourselves

Self-protection and preservation are other reasons why people lie. Contrary to what many would say, people rarely lie to protect others. People almost always lie to preserve themselves.

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According to a psychologist, “We lie to protect ourselves from the pain and repercussions we’ll experience from their feelings or even our self-judgment. Lying is always self-serving.”

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Lying is Tied to Our Self-Esteem

Another leading psychologist, Robert Feldman, says lying is linked to self-esteem. “We find that as soon as people feel that their self-esteem is threatened, they immediately begin to lie at higher levels.” Another study showed that 60 percent of people told at least one lie during a 10-minute conversation.

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While we may want to preserve ourselves by telling a lie, lying does more damage. Contrary to what people think, telling the truth consistently will boost your self-respect. You will impress yourself by forming a habit of telling the truth, thereby improving your self-esteem.

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Telling the Truth is the Healthier Option

Studies have shown that telling lies can impact your health negatively. Lying leads to depression, guilt, and anxiety, which can affect mental and physical health. Lying can increase the risk of cancer, addiction, and obesity. By telling the truth, we can live healthier and more fulfilled lives.

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The woman who wrote to The Therapist has most likely felt bad for three decades. Telling her daughter the truth could have allowed her to enjoy the rest of her life without worry and guilt.

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More Family Secrets Have Been Uncovered in Recent Times

This woman’s story may seem like a unique case, but people have been discovering family secrets for a long time. Recently, with the rise of genetic testing kits from 23andMe plus those from Ancestry.com, more people have discovered paternity fraud and exposed family secrets.

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In this woman’s case, this type of secret is called an “internal family secret,” where all but one member of the family is in the know. This makes the feeling of betrayal and the emotional fallout even worse. But is the fear of emotional fallout a good reason to lie? Never!

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Telling the Truth Remains By Far the Better Choice

Apart from the fact that telling the truth helps communicate our love, protect our health, and boost our self-esteem, it remains the better option for building relationships. Lies destroy trust and relationships more than anything.

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For the family’s sake, the woman would be doing the right thing by letting her daughter know her biological father. As for everything else, it’s all up to the daughter now, and we wish her well.

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