What seemed to be a fun family activity turned out to be a shocking discovery for Dave and Debi Brundage of Roanoke.
They decided to look into their family history like many others have. As a result, the couple in their 60s found via DNA testing that the men they had spent their whole lives believing were their biological dads were not.
Debi was raised by the guy she mistook for her own father. Dave’s presumed real father had long ago separated from his mother when Dave was young, but it was nonetheless for him and Debi.
“I was in disbelief. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what the story was behind this finding,” Debi recalled. “I grew up in a very close and loving family. My two sisters and I spent many days crying and looking back trying to find any clues. I’m not sure to this day that the story my bio-father tells me is all true.”
While shocked Dave expressed happiness with the news, considering his relationship, or lack thereof, with the man he believed to be his biological father.
“The man I thought was my bio-father did not raise me. He was not a very good human being,” Dave said. “I’ve not had any relationship with him since I was 17 years old.
“As far as I can tell no one knew but my mom. She kept her secret until I was 63 and she was 82. I believe her intention was to take that secret to her grave.”
Something didn’t stack up after Dave visited Ancestry.com around five years ago. So, during Debi’s 60th birthday party, he questioned his mother, “Is there a possibility that Andy is not my biological father?” Dave stated that she responded firmly, “NO!” Then he told her that, according to Ancestry.com, he is 36% Italian and she had no Italian heritage.
“That means my bio father had to be 72% Italian,” he said, adding that he then asked, “Mom, Andy is Swedish/Danish? He isn’t 72% Italian.” After some moments of silence, she told him, “Well, there was this guy named Ralph …”
Finding their real dads
Dave was determined to find his real father and found a man who lived in San Antonio. Dave found out he died in 2009, but he noticed looking at pictures of him and his late half-brother Richie verifies it.
“Richie is nearly a carbon copy of me,” he said. Ralph stated he had served in the military and retired as a vice president from the banking industry.
Ralph, like Dave and Andy, served in the Marines. Dave was born in a Naval hospital in San Diego and grew up in Vegas.
Debi’s task was more difficult. The parents who had reared her including her late stepdad had died. Nonetheless, with the help of her relatives, she was able to locate her real father, Bob, who was in Bakersfield, California, but now lives in San Antonio.
“He said it had nothing to do with me. He has family in San Antonio,” Debi said.
Debi found that Bob was a friend of several other people in her family’s life while she was growing up in Orange County, California, people she recalled well. She also said that his wife informed her that he had a photo of Debi as a newborn in his wallet for many years.
Debi called up the strength to talk with Bob after much nervousness. However, she stated that the chats did not result in a fairy tale reunion. “We talked off and on for about two years, but unfortunately it was not always a joyful situation. My parents raised me to always be respectful to others, so I was determined to be kind to this stranger,” she said. “I decided I had to create some boundaries. We haven’t spoken in about two years now.”
Bob, according to Debi, last saw her when she was three months old. She said he informed her that George, whom she mistook for her real dad, told him to keep away from the family and threatened him.
“He had no idea why my mom didn’t tell me. I think it was the late 50s, a very different time, and my folks were very Catholic. Crazy, huh?” Debi said. “My two sisters and I think there was a time when my mom was near the end that she wanted to tell me. She called for me and said she needed to talk to me right away. But I think she decided against it before I got there.
“It would be hard to drop that bomb on the three of us girls just as she was leaving us. She just talked about something random instead.”
Advice for others
Debi felt surprised at how the story unfolded from the perspectives of her mother and father, who taught her something she will never forget. Still, she felt a difficult-to-explain sense of completeness.
“It’s like I knew something was always missing or different about me. You can see the obvious physical differences in pictures of my sisters and me,” she said. “I definitely warn people now when delving into their DNA to be prepared for anything.
“Of course, you feel the gamut of emotions. Sadness for my parents that they carried this to their graves. Grateful to my dad for being the ‘best dad in the world.’ Curious, who knew and what they knew. Forgiving my mom for being a possibly ‘imperfect human.’ Also, grateful for finding this news late in life with the maturity to accept it. Elated for finding my new sister.”
Dave said he has advice for anyone interested in doing their own ancestry search. “The same advice I gave my younger sister, Kerry — same mom as mine.” He told her to think long and hard about how it would affect her if she found out her dad was not her biological dad. “She has decided not to get the test.”