A long-lost brother I didn't know I had.
November 25, 2004 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Right before our big Thanksgiving dinner, my doorbell rang, and the man I found on my front porch introduced himself as my brother. Since I didn't know him, I disbelieved him, even though he looked just like my father and knew everything about him, and our family.

I turned him away rather abruptly, rudely, in fact. I'm sure I hurt his feelings, probably badly. But then I asked my mother if she knew anything about this, and well, turns out that he is, in fact, my brother, the product of an affair my father had when I was 3 years old. My mother found out just about a month ago, but members of my father's family have known for decades, and never told us, even when my father died. (More than 20 years ago.)

I don't know the guy's (last) name or how to contact him. I'm not sure if I want to try to find out. Apparently members of my father's family could put me in touch with him, as one of my aunts is the one who gave him my address. But I'm not sure if I want to contact him. What on earth would I say?

What would you do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd meet him somewhere public for coffee or something, and find out all about him--aren't you curious? It's really shocking, but you could get a new friend out of it. I'm also wondering --why now? and would definitely want to find out more. It's like something out of a movie.
posted by amberglow at 6:25 PM on November 25, 2004

This is indeed a volatile conundrum you've got, which brings up several interesting points. For one, what defines family? Sure you and this man share 50% of your genetic material, but being that you have never known him for your entire life, he may as well be as a stranger to you.

I suppose there can be nothing wrong with simply meeting the man- after all, having the common father means you have at least one thing to talk about. Make sure to do it in a safe way, though- meet him in a public area, a park or a cafe or someplace with crowds. You really don't know what kind of a guy he is and after all, he did try to contact you first. You should probably get some gauge of his character before you introduce him to your family and take him into your home.

The decision is yours, however, and I encourage you to take your time in doing it. It may well be that, over the coming days or weeks, you will sincerely feel that you have no room in your life for this brother and don't want to meet him at all. On the other hand, if you do have that desire, or are even simply curious, it may be a good idea to meet him. You may be able to learn a lot about yourself.

Lastly, although I'm the last person in the world who will tell someone else what they will or won't regret, just know that you should make your decision soon (within the year seems reasonable) because you two won't be around forever.
posted by baphomet at 6:28 PM on November 25, 2004

I wouldn't worry about having been rude before. He really should have known better than to just show up on your doorstep like that.

You don't have to meet him. You don't have to not meet him. It's really up to you and I wouldn't feel any obligation because of genetics. Family is so much more than that.
posted by grouse at 6:35 PM on November 25, 2004

Right before our big Thanksgiving dinner, my doorbell rang

For that, I can't blame you for being suspicious. I have this image in my head of some hobo looking for a free meal, but I'm sure that's not the case. (Stupid movies!)

I'd definitely be curious and, like amberglow suggested, I'd meet him someplace public. Don't worry about the whole shut-the-door-on-him thing.
posted by MrAnonymous at 6:39 PM on November 25, 2004

Movies are exactly what I thought of, MrAnonymous. (Not to be confused with anonymous.)

Someone quite close to me (age 39) just met a 40 year old half-brother last year -- it was a long process which built slowly through one contact then another. (They get along quite well, if you are wondering.)

Granted, some people may enjoy a Thanksgiving day shock encounter but he made a tactical error. I would sit and wait; he will likely try again. Hopefully with more subtlety.
posted by Dick Paris at 6:57 PM on November 25, 2004

This same thing (long dead father, new brother, some people who already knew) happened to a cousin of mine. He met his new brother and had a great time. It was startling how much he was like my uncle. It was a great new addition to the family.
Of course your mileage may vary. I also second baphomet’s comment about time. My cousin died suddenly and early 4 years later at age 41.
posted by arse_hat at 6:58 PM on November 25, 2004

Certainly it was a bit dramatic of him to show up at your door on Thanksgiving, and maybe he deserved the door in his face for that, but man, I'd want to contact him if it was me. I wouldn't be able to handle my own curiosity. What have you got to lose by getting to know him? And hell, if you don't like him, there are ways to gracefully fall out of touch. In the meantime, though, meeting and talking may do you both good -- it may give this poor guy some sense of his place in the world, if anything. After all, how would you feel if you were the long-lost illegitimate half-sibling? Sure, you don't owe him a conversation, but I think it would certainly be the nice thing to do.

I just think it'd be thrilling to have a new half-sibling. And, speaking extremely pragmatically here, that's another candidate for vital organs, bone marrow and blood should any of you have any medical problems. Calculating, I suppose, but I've seen many TV shows that have resolved in this manner. ;)

As for where to start, I suggest starting with "Hi" and go from there. You don't need to open up with a big dramatic speech or anything. Get together for coffee or food. It's always easier to open up around food, in my experience.
posted by fricative at 7:19 PM on November 25, 2004

I would contact him again, but be wary. Showing up unannounced and completely unknown for a big Thanksgiving dinner makes me wonder if he isn't trying to incite some family chaos. It seems like a highly calculated stab at creating a melodramatic moment. Why not a letter, or a phone call, or having that aunt introduce you to each other?
posted by 4easypayments at 7:20 PM on November 25, 2004

My mother met her half-sister for the first time a few years ago. They spent an afternoon together, which was long enough to realize they had nothing but blood in common and no interest in staying in touch. I know my mom's glad she did it, and they left on good terms. I'd meet him and see how it goes, it doesn't have to change your life.
posted by cali at 7:58 PM on November 25, 2004

My 36 year-old friend discovered that she had two more half-siblings in 2000, after her father died. Since then, she and her "old" half-sister have spent quite a bit of time with the "new" siblings and really enjoy them. They all just flew cross-country to spend a week together and it sounds like they had a great time. I think she'd say that meeting her other brother & sister was one of the best things that ever happened to her.

Good luck!
posted by belladonna at 8:42 PM on November 25, 2004

It seems like a highly calculated stab at creating a melodramatic moment.

Yep, I'd tread very carefully here: this is like something out of a movie because this guy is trying to make it like something out of a movie. People like this, long lost family or no, tend to be extremely self-centered and high maintenance.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:34 PM on November 25, 2004

Good point, PST. Remember, this is the child of an affair. Odds are he's got some pretty serious issues. Be prepared for that.

You owe it to yourself to meet him, but maybe not now. I suggest that the first thing you should do is go see a counselor. You've likely got some issues of your own you're going to need to work through. You need an objective, outside perspective on an ongoing basis as you navigate this, IMHO.
posted by mkultra at 10:11 PM on November 25, 2004

You should talk to him. You should have no grudge against him or this situation, it's not his fault or yours. You just have to make the best of it and that's to treat him like a person who wants to talk to you. The future of the relationship depends on how much you get along, depending on what you want he can be a close member of your family or he can be like that cousin that you don't really like. Take your time and don't rush the relationship with him.
posted by Arch Stanton at 10:25 PM on November 25, 2004

Well, maybe he chose TG because he's been bereft of family all this time, and TG is when you think of family the most.

I can totally put myself in his shoes. I'd see him today.
posted by dash_slot- at 12:09 AM on November 26, 2004

Brought this to mind. I would see him, FWIW.
posted by rooftop secrets at 1:11 AM on November 26, 2004

dash_slot: Yeah, but when I'm lonely and want to hang out with people I don't know that well (or at all) I pick up the phone first.
posted by grouse at 1:41 AM on November 26, 2004

Going off on a tangent here, but:

Sure you and this man share 50%...

Is that so? I'd think this would be the case if they were brothers, but being half-brothers, what is it?
Between 25% and 50%? Maybe 33%?

Oh, and I would try to get in touch with him. Hey, you can't chose your family, but at least most of them stick around for life.
posted by sour cream at 1:52 AM on November 26, 2004

Someone I know was in a similar situation, but, in that case, the half-sibling made contact by telephone. The half-sibling and the person I know exchanged further calls over a period of a year or so, and eventually arranged to meet: they became friends for a while, but then later fell out, and have not spoken to each other for the last few years. On balance, I think the person I know is glad to have met their half-sibling, but is not sorry that they are no longer in touch.

In your case, your half-brother was mistaken if he assumed his appearence would gain your immediate acceptance. I think it would have been more considerate of him to call, write, or send a message via your aunt beforehand. Many would react as you did in such a situation.

If it were me, I think I would want to meet my half-sibling eventually, but I would probably prefer to make contact vie e-mail/regular mail first.
posted by misteraitch at 2:11 AM on November 26, 2004

i'd write to him. apologise for how you acted - explain you didn't know he existed, and that it must have been difficult for him to contact you and even worse when you behaved as you did. then, if you want to meet him again, suggest meeting somewhere on neutral ground or, otherwise, ask him not to bother you again.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:28 AM on November 26, 2004

I guess it's not really possible to get a followup on an anonymous ask.mefi, but I really want to know how it turned out! Hope everything went well....
posted by rajbot at 9:12 AM on November 26, 2004

My long-lost half-sister showed up on my sister's doorstep on Thanksgiving Day last year. (Unlike anonymous, the three of us had actually lived in the same house for a few years as very young children.) My sister, having a huge family of her own, handed step-sister a plate and told her to join the crowd. Since then I have been very happy to get re-acquainted with her, too.

My half-sister had a lot of issues with our (now deceased) father, and so did my sister and I. We seem to be working through them better together.
posted by Alylex at 9:56 AM on November 26, 2004

oops: "handed half-sister a plate." We have step-sisters too, but they're not part of this story.
posted by Alylex at 10:25 AM on November 26, 2004

It could have been that the man came to your house on Thanksgiving because he had the time off and assumed you would too. Get to know the man before drawing any conclusions about him.

This reminds me of a story I read about Eric Clapton. His mother was a sixteen-year-old English girl. His father was a married Canadian soldier, who was overseas during WWII. A few years back he located and contacted his father's family - his father and his father's wife were dead, but he had half-siblings. As of the time of writing of the article I read, he'd told them he wanted to meet them, and they were willing, but due to his being on tour or something it hadn't happened yet. I kept thinking how surreal it must be for them - "Hey, Dad screwed around on Mum and now we have Eric Clapton for a brother!"

I'd recommend that you meet this man. Just have coffee with him, and see how it goes.
posted by orange swan at 10:30 AM on November 26, 2004

When I was nineteen, I met my father for the first time (my mother left him when I was two). We had lunch. He was nice enough, but I realized family is who was there, not blood (at least for me). I would have been perfectly happy not to meet him at all, and was kind of disturbed when he reemerged. I felt like there was something expected of me that I wasn't able to give. So I can't tell you what to do, but I would ask myself if I really needed another family member before committing to even one meeting.
posted by dame at 12:33 PM on November 26, 2004

sour cream: You're right. 25%. Thanks for correcting me.

Good, thoughtful responses here everybody...I think our anonymous inquisitor can find his answer somewhere in here.
posted by baphomet at 6:20 PM on November 26, 2004

I met my half-brother about ten years ago. We're not in contact anymore, but I'm glad I met him just to see what he was like.

My suggestion would be to do what feels right for you. If you don't feel comfortable meeting him, then don't do it...

Good luck. It's a tough situation to be in...
posted by whatideserve at 8:05 PM on November 26, 2004

Sorry for the late reply, but just checking in now... Just wanted to offer the following anecdote. I'm adopted and about five years ago tracked down my biological parents. My folks ("adopted parents" I suppose you could say, but that sounds so lame given that they're the only parents I've ever known) are awesome -- I had no real reason to find out about my birth parents other than sheer curiosity. I wanted to respect them and their privacy, etc. so I treaded extremely carefully when contacting them. After emailing my father in vague terms, he called me literally ten minutes later at the number I gave him in the email and basically said "I've been waiting for this call my whole life -- can't believe it's finally happened. I'm so happy." I was able to track down my mother's brother, to whom I spoke on the phone (again, in very vague terms) and it took her nearly two months to call me on the number I left and it was a really really weird conversation.

Today, I have a good relationship with my mother (planning to meet the grandparents for the first time over the holidays!) and we talk somewhat regularly. A couple months after initially contacting my father, he got kind of weird (not that he's weird, he's a good guy and all, he just got "weird" with the situation for some reason) and now we only exchange brief emails about once a year.

Moral of the story is that as difficult as it is for you to come to grips with the whole shebang, it's just as difficult for this person who appears to be your brother. He did make a pretty poor decision to introduce himself the way he did, but who knows what was going through his mind; "maybe if I introduce myself on a holiday, when everyone's in a good mood I have less of a chance of being rejected". Who knows. As someone having been in a remotely similar situation, I'd cut him some slack about his decision on the way to introduce himself. That shouldn't affect your decision on whether or not you want to get to know him better -- they're two completely separate issues, IMHO.

If you do decide to pursue it, definitely tread carefully. Meet somewhere other than your house for sure, but unfortunately he does sort of have the upper hand as he obviously already knows where you live. Stay on guard, don't open up to him too too easily, but appreciate the fact that he's going through something really tough as well.

Whatever you decide, best of luck.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 12:42 PM on November 29, 2004

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