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DNA Doesn’t Match Father? When Your Dad is Not Your Dad

So you just found out that your father…is not your father. Biologically-speaking, that is.

You probably feel shellshocked. Hoodwinked. Dazed. Having your identity shattered is about as fun as getting a root canal without anesthetic.

As one Quora user put it,

There are not words to describe the engulfing, all-consuming shock I experienced (and still struggle with) in reading the DNA report -from two different DNA companies, no less…because my psyche would not accept the first report. (Anonymous Quora user, responding to the question “What is it like learning your father isn’t your biological father?“)

My DNA doesn't match my father - Origins Genealogy

Buckle up. This is going to be a bumpy ride. But there is potentially an upside.

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Parent Not Expected

If your paternity jolt began with an unexpected DNA match in your Ancestry, 23andMe, or other genealogical DNA test, you’re learning why DNA, as goes the joke, stands for “Do Not Ancestry.”

Parent Not Expected (PNE) happens commonly enough that it has its own acronym. And communities on social media to support one another and commiserate over the upheaval inevitably wrought by a PNE result. And…jokes. Do Not Ancestry. Ha, ha.

In 99.9% of PNE cases, the “not expected” parent is the father, given the way these things work. Unless you were adopted or your mom used an egg donor, you’re guaranteed to have your mother’s DNA. Not so with your father…or who you assumed was your father.

When Your DNA Doesn’t Match Dad

You’ve got so many emotions and questions swirling. You may be having some or all of the following thoughts right about now:

My DNA doesn't match my father - Origins Genealogy

  • How could this have happened?
  • Can the test be wrong?
  • How accurate are these tests, anyway?
  • Should I take another test from a different DNA testing company?
  • Should I take a paternity test?
  • What should I do with this information? Who should I tell?
  • If he’s not my biological father, who is?
  • How will this affect my relationship with my current dad?
  • Should I try to find my real dad? What if he’s a terrible person?
  • How can I find my biological father?
  • Do I have any half brothers or half sisters I don’t know about?
  • Why didn’t Mom tell me the truth? Does she even know the truth?
  • Should I talk to Mom about this?
  • Do other family members already know the secret of my paternity?

Take some deep breaths. You’ve done OK to this point without knowing about this event that happened years ago. Now that you know, it’ll take some time to process everything. Accept that nothing will magically get resolved right away.

While we can’t tell you what specific actions to take, we can help you navigate the terrain a bit.

The DNA Doesn’t Lie

Genealogical DNA tests from 23andMe, Ancestry, or other DNA testing companies don’t usually give explicit answers about who your biological dad is, but they can give answers about who he isn’t. If your DNA test is telling you that you’re not biologically related to your dad, you’d better believe that you’re not.

If you’re confused by the DNA matches you’re seeing—or not seeing—a professional genetic genealogist or other type of DNA expert can help you make sense of your unexpected results.

How Accurate is AncestryDNA®?

The technology that AncestryDNA employs has an accuracy rate of over 99 percent for each of the hundreds of thousands of DNA markers that they test and evaluate. AncestryDNA® has DNA test results from over 18 million people, increasing your odds of successful DNA matches while helping you find information about your geographic origins.

(Read Origins Genealogy’s comparison of the 23andMe and AncestryDNA tests)

How Does DNA Matching Work?

My DNA doesn't match my father - Origins Genealogy

After a lab receives your DNA saliva sample, your autosomal DNA is isolated from your sample and a comprehensive genetic picture of you, with hundreds of thousands of genetic markers, is made.

This genetic picture is then matched against millions of other genetic pictures, in mammoth databases, to discover similar connections on both your biological mother’s side of your family tree and your paternal side.

Children inherit 50 percent of their DNA from each of their biological parents. When it comes to genetic genealogy, DNA is a masterful tool for determining family relationships.

How Could This Have Happened?

Common generalizations abound about the loser who gets a girlfriend pregnant and abandons her. But before jumping to conclusions about your biological father, keep in mind that other scenarios are possible as well.

Don’t just assume that your biological father is a world-class jerk without collecting more information.

Why Biological Fathers are Absent

Here are just a few of the many life situations that can lead to a biological father being absent from his child’s life:

  • Your biological dad may be a literal sperm donor. As in, he donated sperm to a sperm bank and your mother was artificially inseminated. As a twist on this, your mom may have been infertile and used an egg donor (in which case said donor would be your biological mother). Or, she may have used an egg donor and a sperm donor. This stuff can get complex.
  • Your mom may have kept her pregnancy a secret from your biological dad and he has no idea you exist. This was the case with the father of Origins Genealogy’s co-founder, Jenny Wallentine. She was fifty years old when she finally tracked her biological dad down. He was flabbergasted that he had a daughter. They have a great relationship now.
  • Your mom may have had sex with multiple partners in the same time interval and been unsure which of them impregnated her.
  • Your mom may have succumbed to pressure from her parents or family to cut off all contact with your biological dad.
  • Your biological dad may have been married to another woman and had children with her (your half brothers and half sisters) and your mom chose not to blow up his family.
  • And yes, your biological dad may have gotten your mom pregnant and refused to offer any support, assistance, or paternal care.
  • Even worse, your biological father may have raped your mother (less likely, but still in the realm of possibility).
  • Your biological parents may have given you up for adoption. However, in most adoption scenarios, adoptees are told about their status, rather than learning about it via having their DNA tested. So this scenario is among the more unlikely.

You’ll have to gather more information to know which of these led to your present situation. Even though there are a few common themes, each family history is different.

To Pursue the Truth or Not?

Once you learn your dad is not your dad, you can’t unlearn it. You can, however, choose whether to embark on a journey of discovery.

It’s a perfectly legitimate choice to leave well enough alone. If you undertake this quest, it will upset some feelings.

For the remainder of this article, we’ll assume you’ve decided you prize knowledge above keeping the peace. If you’re OK keeping the status quo, you can stop reading now.

What is Your Goal?

If you are like most people, your aim in your paternity discovery quest probably includes some or all of the following:

  1. Learn the truth about who my bio father is
  2. Learn what happened between my mom and bio dad and how events transpired
  3. Keep a good relationship with my mom
  4. Keep a good relationship with other family members
  5. Keep a good relationship with Dad (the man you always assumed was your one and only father)
  6. Find my biological dad (if still living) and establish a relationship with him

Let’s assume you identify with all six goals stated here.

On your path to learning your genetic story, the first stop is your mother.

Navigating the Relationship With Mom

My DNA doesn't match my father - Origins Genealogy

Obviously, your mother played a central role in the drama unfolding in your life. If you choose to embark on a journey of discovery—learning the identity of your biological dad, trying to understand the events that unfolded, etc—she seems like an obvious place to start.

Some anger and resentment are unavoidable. How you manage them will set the tone for your quest.

Why Did My Mom Lie to Me?

Your mom was in a difficult situation and did her best. Should she have told you the truth long ago? Probably, unless she had a compelling reason to keep it a secret (and legitimate reasons do exist).

But try to exercise a little compassion for her—and for yourself. You both were caught up in challenging events. This doesn’t excuse her, but neither does it make her a villain.

The following guidelines will help you have the smoothest journey through what is bound to be a difficult terrain with your mother.

How to Have a Discussion With Mom About Paternity

  • Timing is everything. Choose a low-stress time to bring up the conversation. If emotions are already heightened from some other conflict, wait.
  • Remove distractions. Turn your phone off, make sure there aren’t other conversations happening in the same room, etc.
  • Set the right tone. Begin the conversation by saying “I need to talk to you about something difficult and I want us to be able to do it in as mature and loving a way as possible.”
  • Don’t moralize. Try to refrain from viewing her actions as “wrong”; in fact, try as much as possible to stay out of “right and wrong” thinking. Instead, see her as a human being who makes mistakes.
  • Don’t make it personal. Your mom’s choices, even though they impacted you, were not done to you. She didn’t intentionally harm you or make choices designed to lower the quality of your life.
  • Take a break if needed. If you find yourself slipping into judgmental thinking and making Mom wrong, take a quick break—go to the bathroom, take a few deep breaths, take a drink of water, whatever you need to do to give yourself time to collect yourself—and when you come back, re-affirm your commitment to having a loving, mature discussion.
  • Be compassionate. If Mom is willing to talk about what happened, you’ll have even more questions. Ask your more sensitive queries from a compassionate stance.
  • Be curious. Accept that Mom was doing her best, and try to learn more. Curiosity tends to displace a judgmental attitude. Instead of “why in the world did you have sex with three men in a week?” try “I’m really curious to know what was going on in your life that led you to be involved with three different men.”
  • Ask for her help. If you recruit her to assist you (using the previous advice: be compassionate, etc), your mother can be invaluable in helping you find and connect with your biological dad, half siblings, or other close relatives you may not be aware of.

If you’re thinking, “but I don’t want to let her off the hook for her bad choices,” stop and ask yourself what your primary objective is. If it includes maintaining a quality relationship with your mom, then prioritize maturity, curiosity, and compassion above scoring points or scolding.

Navigating the Relationship With Dad

Up until those pesky DNA test results, he was simply “Dad.” There’s no reason for that to change.

If he was a good father, then count yourself lucky. As one Quora user put it, “I was raised with the better dad.” (Defye Yonsel, responding to “I’m an adult and just discovered my dad IS NOT my biological father. Is there any reason I should tell him I am not his biological child?“)

Fatherhood has a biological as well as a social component. If he acted the role of Dad, then he was your dad in every sense but the genetic one.

If he is the one who helped keep a roof over your head, food in your belly and clothes on your back, then he is your dad.

If he went to parent teacher meetings, explained long division and gave you honest feedback on your report card, then he is your dad.

If he taught you how to ride a bike, tie your shoes and drove you to piano lessons or little league practise, then he is your dad.

Fathering a child is easy. Parenting takes guts. And commitment.

(Lynn M. Teatro, Quora user, responding to “I found out that my father is not my biological father. What should I do?“)

Should I Tell Dad He’s Not My Dad, Genetically-Speaking?

To tell or not to tell? Before you wrestle too long with that question, first try to figure out if he already knows or not. Mom would be the best person to ask in that regard. You could also consult with other adults who know your dad, provided they are trustworthy and can keep confidence.

Pastors, rabbis, community leaders, and other adults may have a sense of whether or not your dad knows he’s not your biological dad.

When Dad Already Knows the Truth

An anonymous Quora user who “was the product of rape” describes how “the man I called Dad knew he was not biologically my father.”

My DNA doesn't match my father - Origins Genealogy

She speaks gratefully about the man who raised her, noting that though “he made all kinds of mistakes…choosing to be my dad was GENIUS.” (Anonymous, responding to the question “What is it like learning your father isn’t your biological father?“)

In cases such as “Anonymous” where your acting father knows the truth about your paternity, it may be easy to view him as complicit in a deception.

Most likely, he kept the secret because your mom asked him to.

He’s also probably afraid of you viewing and treating him differently once you realize he’s not genetically your father.

Approach him with kindness, reassuring him that he is still your dad, regardless of whose genetics you carry. Chances are, he’ll be relieved that you finally know the truth and he doesn’t need to carry the secret any longer.

When Dad Doesn’t Know

If you’re reasonably sure your dad is clueless about your paternity, assess what can be gained by telling him. Weigh any gain against the potential damage. This is dependent on his personality, the nature of the relationship between the two of you, and other factors specific to your situation.

If you have other wise, impartial adults in your life whom you can trust to keep a secret, ask their opinion as to whether you should tell your dad or not.

Maintaining the Relationship With Dad

DNA doesn't match father - dad and son talking

If you’ve thought of him as “Dad” up until the DNA test, and if you value his contribution to your life, there’s no reason not to continue to treat him as a respected parent. This doesn’t have to get all weird.

In many cultures, children grow up with many male role models: fathers, uncles, godfathers, and other close male relatives and friends.

If you’re having a hard time thinking of him as Dad in light of the new information, think of him as a trusted father figure. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

Connecting With Your Biological Father

If your mom knows who your bio dad is—and if she’s willing to tell you—you’re already way ahead.

At the very least, she can give you a name and city of residence. With enough online legwork, you should be able to narrow the suspects down to a manageable group.

If you’re in luck, she’ll even know where he lives and how to contact him.

Contact them one by one until you’ve got your biological father on the phone.

If Mom isn’t any help, talk to other adult relatives who may have had knowledge of the events surrounding your conception. Grandparents, great-grandparents (if alive), aunts and uncles, older cousins, friends of the family: interview anyone and everyone who was old enough to know what’s what back then.

Still coming up short? It’s time to get more resourceful.

Should I Take a DNA Paternity Test?

Your DNA results from Ancestry, 23andMe, or other at-home DNA test kit have told you that your dad is not biologically your dad. But they didn’t bother to tell you who is.

DNA paternity tests, such as those used in a court of law, conclusively establish paternity—or lack thereof—between an alleged father and his presumed child.

If you think you know his identity and can get your dad tested, paternity test results will give you a conclusive answer..

If you don’t have a specific individual for testing yourself against, a paternity test won’t help your situation.

Tracking Your Biological Dad Down

As we discuss in our guide to finding your biological father, a good genetic genealogy company can help you fast-track the process.

Genetic genealogy is an exciting discipline that sits at the intersection of—you guessed it—genetics and genealogy. Specifically, genetic genealogists are trained to interpret DNA test results, compare the various DNA matches, draw reasonable conclusions, and then do additional research to either prove or disprove those conclusions.

Origins Genealogy is a professional genetic genealogy company with 100% success finding birth parents for our clients, and we offer a money-back guarantee. We’d be delighted to give you a free consultation to discuss the results of your DNA testing and to see if our services would be a fit.

DNA Doesn't Match Father FAQ

Getting a paternity test from a reliable company like 23andMe is the simplest way to find out if your father is your biological father. You can only speculate so much, especially if you believe your father does not treat you equally to your siblings or if your physical characteristics and personalities do not match, but DNA tests will surely provide you the most specific reason.

If you discover that your father isn’t your biological father, you’ll probably have a lot of emotions to manage. This discovery will probably impact your relationship with the man you’ve known as your father, as well as other family members. You may feel betrayed by those who have kept family secrets from you.

We recommend having open discussions with all involved. Often, healing can occur and your relationships can deepen. The man you grew up calling “dad” is still important to you; no DNA discovery can change his contribution to your life. There’s no need to start treating him differently.

The biggest change is the knowledge that somewhere out there you have a biological father that you never knew. Assuming he’s still alive, you have a choice of whether to find him and make contact. This can be scary, as you have no way of knowing in advance if he’ll be welcoming or not.

Why not take the risk, though? The worst that can happen is he rejects you and you’re back to not having him in your life. The best that can happen is an amazing relationship with your biological father.

If you choose to search for your biological father, Origins Genealogy can help. Our experienced team of genetic genealogists can analyze DNA results, perform forensic research, and help you identify your biological father much faster than you could ever do on your own. We can even contact him for you, show him proof of your paternity, and arrange the first meeting!

If your DNA doesn’t match your father, it means he’s not your father in a biological sense, even if in every other sense he’s served that role. You have a different father, genetically-speaking, who you don’t know yet. Your paternity has been kept secret from you, and you’ve probably just uncovered a long-held family secret when you took a DNA test.

Don’t be too hard on your mother and other family members. They were probably doing what they thought best in a difficult situation. You may be having a lot of difficult emotions, but look at this as an opportunity for reinvention and new beginnings.

A DNA paternity test is almost 100% reliable in establishing whether a man is the biological father of another individual. AncestryDNA is one of the most trusted DNA testing companies in the market and has a large geneological database.

If the tested father is not the child’s biological father, the results will be exclusion of paternity. In this situation, the likelihood of paternity is 0%, and the report’s Statement of Results will read: “The alleged father is excluded as the biological father of the tested child. This conclusion is based on the non-matching alleles observed at the STR loci listed above with a DI equal to 0. The probability of paternity is 0%”. Source: Affinity DNA

Taking a DNA test with only just the father and child is definitely possible. Despite the fact that the usual at-home DNA test kit from AncestryDNA or 23andMe includes DNA swabs for the mother, father, and child, the mother’s DNA is not required.

Your DNA matches both your father and your mother because you get 50% DNA from each of your parents.

It’s preferable to tell your biological father your genuine intentions, once you’ve found him and you’re ready to interact with him. Then you can tell him about yourself, including your schooling, career, hobbies, interests, and anything else you want to say.

You can ask him the following questions:

  • How has your life been up to this point?
  • Have you ever wondered if you have a child?
  • Were you taken aback when you learned about me?
  • What’s it like to have me in your life right now?

Origins Genealogy can also function as a liaison if you’re concerned about contacting your father for the first time. We may contact him and provide confirmation that you are his biological child, removing any questions he may have about your claims. And we can make it easier for you to meet him.

You should inform your acting father of your intention to find your biological father out of respect for him. It is your essential human right, unless you are adopted, to locate and meet your birth father. You can inquire if he knows who your real father is and if he’s willing to assist you in locating him.

The prices charged by genetic genealogists vary depending on the genealogy firm. Our packages and rates can be found on the Origins Genealogy professional genealogy services page.

Begin Your Birth FatherDiscovery By Contacting Us Today!

Liaison For Adoptee and Birth Family

As an adoptee, it is not always easy to reach out to your birth parent. It can be quite a shock for those receiving the call. After Origins has identified who the birth parents/family are, we can make the initial contact for you. As a neutral party, we can smooth the way for the first contact by crafting introduction letters, gathering photos to send, providing the research, and answering questions to assure the information is accurate. This provides a comfortable and safe environment for all parties that generally leads to a much smoother transition to getting to know each other.

Origins Travel Tour

There’s no place like home. Now that you know your heritage, why not go home for a visit. Origins offers both personalized ancestral tours for those who want a more custom trip and heritage tours for those who enjoy a planned itinerary.