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Who’s Your Daddy?

Posted on Fri, 01 December, 2017

I recently read a story that left me cringing. Matthew Roberts was surprised to learn in 5th grade from his sister that he was adopted. Of course he was surprised but the big surprise is what he found out from that information much later. When he became engaged his fiancée asked him to do a DNA test so that they could know the ancestry of their children. Harmless enough, right?

Like many adoptees, Matthew began a search for his biological parents – who’s your daddy?  The pull to know where we come from is compelling, even if we have a family that loves and cares for us. Matthew requested information from the adoption agency and he learned the shocking circumstances of his conception, and paternity. Matthew was conceived by Terry, one of the women in the “Manson Family”, the very large group of women susceptible to influence whom Charles Manson brainwashed with drugs and manipulation. And routinely had orgies with in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. Yep, Charles Manson was his father. Just. Gross.


Matthew Roberts, son of Charles Manson


This story should have you cringing too if you can empathize at all with finding out a parent is not who you think, let alone one of the most dangerous and sinister men known to the United States. I cringed because I feel like I dodged a bullet; I too took a DNA test and found an unknown father. And never once did I stop to consider that I might find a monster on the other end.  IT was surprising enough to learn I had a father I knew nothing about.

I call this Parental Identity Discovery™, referring to not only adoptees, but also those like me who were raised to believe one man was my father but the truth was something different. The original term is Non-Paternal Event (NPE), and besides sounding very cold and confusing, my husband felt offended by the implication that a man was not present or necessary; because of course a man is needed to create a being. So I changed it, cause I can.

Imagine poor Matthew having a sense of excitement and wonder at the wide-open possibilities of what he would discover. I can relate, because even through my very extreme denial I had that same sense of wonder and awe. I bet he feels he was naive now, because if he was like me he was Pollyanna about the negative possibilities. I think maybe one, at most two people, cautioned me to be ready for what I might find. I had prepared myself to handle rejection when making contact – after all, you may completely blow up someone’s life if they don’t know about you. In hindsight however, I was nowhere near prepared for anything beyond a simple no. I cannot imagine how Matthew felt learning who’s your daddy.


Just Don’t say…

You will hear numerous terms bantered about when talking with someone discovering they had false or misled parentage, grandparentage, etc.: biological, environmental, adopted, surrogate, etc. It is important to use specific descriptors but also important not to use the term “real”. To say someone’s real mom or dad is to disrespect the role and importance the adopted/step parent actually played in their life. Unless they were abusive, then fuck that.



This is one of the reasons an adoptee may not search for biological parents until the adopted parents have passed away, out of a sense of respect to not infringe upon their feelings. Of course every situation is different and the role the parents own family of origin had plays a significant part in those differences. You may want to practice in front of a mirror – don’t say “real”.

You may say that Matthew probably regrets the search, and you’re probably right; it seems to have had more negative impact than positive. I will add that he would always have wondered had he not searched. He would struggle with feeling incomplete, like something tangible but unnamable was missing. The need to belong and know where you belong is essential to our psyches. Even though he now knows he is a Manson, he also knows he has roots in the adopted family who raised him in safety and health and will work to merge the two identities.


Who Am I?

The identity confusion is the worst part; at least it was for me. The proverbial rug of is swept from under you when the identity built up around the parentage you knew is no longer truth. It’s a chaotic, abstract range of emotions until you somehow gain cohesion in the merging of where you came from – both biological and adopted.

I never had any exposure to Scotland until my 15th wedding anniversary trip to Ireland and Scotland 3 years ago. Yet for as long as I can remember, I have had a strong pull to Scotland; culturally, musically, love of nature, animals, you name it. I chalked it up to just liking the UK, cause really, who doesn’t? Quaint cottages, castles, smart accents – it’s all fun. My mother’s Italian heritage was definitely interesting but far less prideful for me than it was for her – and since I had no reason to like Scotland so much I put it away. As if in a drawer that only I knew about and opened only privately. That drawer is now fully drawn open and full of a family tree.


Who's Your Daddy?


I went into the DNA test thinking I was 50% Italian, 25% Russian and 25% German (my husband referred to me as my own axis of evil). The result was 25% Italian, 25% Spanish and 50% Scottish. The shock that comes first prevents you from engaging in this rationally. As well as the well-intentioned but poorly thought out statements from friends, “this doesn’t change who you are.” Of course it changes who you are. It surprisingly changes much more of who you are than you think. I was blindsided by that part.

It’s a tangled mess internally trying to tease apart the meaning of the prior life and join it with the unknown of the new. It takes the time it takes, and the severity is dependant on the support system around you and the outcome of reaching out to the new family. Rejection is an issue throughout the process. And frankly, it’s an issue with the first family too – dumping their own judgments on your needs and actions toward finding who you are by finding who you came from. If you have poor boundaries, find a good therapist to help shore that up, you’re going to need it.


We Are Family

I’m not clear whether Mathew has ever reconciled the two identities that come with finding this family secret out. It takes the time it takes, and that’s different for everyone. Certainly finding out you’re the son of Charles Manson will complicate that shit. In the end, it is important to identify where you experience family. That’s also different for everyone. Even if you have no family secrets of this magnitude, most people roll their eyes and take deep breaths when talking about or visiting family. Family is a fluid concept in my mind: the family you choose (in friends), the family you know you can depend on and the family you know to keep visits short with or flat out avoid.

In the end, everything is what you make of it. I thought long and hard about what to do with this information. I couldn’t possibly keep it a secret, it’s just too big – it has to do with who you are and you spend a great deal of your life telling people who you are. At minimum, I will forever experience the question, “How are you?” differently. No more empty, polite “ok.”


Jodi Klugman-Rabb is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Marin and Napa Counties. She specializes in connecting with clients on a humorous and practical level, helpful when specializing in ADHD, trauma and anger/communication skills. She uses EMDR to treat traumas and fears of all types. She is a wife of 18+ years and the mom of two funny and awesome kids. Connect with Jodi on her website or


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A blog written by a hip, sometimes irreverent shrink who’s been around the block and calls it like it is

Humor is a great way to make sense of the world around us - and a little psychological perspective never hurt

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