Dani Shapiro’s husband was taking an online DNA test to learn more about his heritage and where he came from. It was a bit of fun. On a whim, Dani did one too. But when she got her results back, an answer to a question she hadn’t asked lay before her: her father was not her biological father. The question of identity and family and the role they play in Dani’s life has become the bestselling memoir, Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love. Dani joined Ray D’Arcy on the line this afternoon.
There was no burning question she wanted an answer to when she took the test, Dani explained.
“I’m so haunted by the fact that it could easily not have happened.”
The first inkling that something was wrong came when a relative popped up on her results page.
“This first cousin appeared on my page who was a complete stranger to me.”
Dani’s ethnicity breakdown provided further insight. She came from an historic Jewish family in New York and had always been teased about her blonde, ‘Heidi’-like looks.
“People made jokes about it. They commented on it. ‘Oh, did your mother have an affair with the Swedish milkman?’…It just was this thing that people said to me.”
A comparison with a test carried out by her half-sister confirmed what she was beginning to understand: she was not biologically related to her father.
“The comparison took a fraction of a second and showed that we were not related. We were not sisters. We were not half-sisters. We shared no recent common ancestor.”
Within 36 hours, Dani had found her biological father, “using nothing more than Google and Facebook”. She reached out to the man, with a “careful” email. He was 78, a retired physician and had kids and grandkids.
“I tried to put myself in his shoes…I just tried to tread very lightly and very carefully…I was in a state of shock and I was trying to put my sense of identity back together.”
Her biological father was so shocked that he initially deleted her email and declined her offer to meet.
“Who are we to each other and...what is the playbook for this?…I was just trying to make it real somehow…and I think that that scared him.”
‘Ben’ had never told his wife that he had been a sperm donor 50 years previously. Dani told Ray that her mother had alluded to artificial insemination once but had always led Dani to believe that it was her father’s DNA that had been used. The reality that her father was not biologically related to her was a shock, making her question all aspects of her life, including her career. At this point, Dani had written 5 memoirs about what she thought her family life had been.
“I never had any suspicion that I was anything other than both of my parents’ biological child...I’d been writing all my life about these matters and...I was missing the biggest piece.”
There’s nothing quite like opening the (actual paper) @nytimesbooks to a great review of a book that took everything, and I do mean everything, to write. I’m bowled over by the response from readers and reviewers to Inheritance, and am so grateful. https://t.co/cK4I55vCl8
— Dani Shapiro (@danijshapiro) January 27, 2019
Listen back to the full interview on The Ray D’Arcy Show here.
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