May 4, 2023

Dear Matthew McConaughey: I Know Who your Dad Is.

I heard recently that Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson will be starring in a new comedy series together streaming on AppleTV+ called “Brother from Another Mother.”

It’s apparently a fictionalized account about the two of them, their families, and the conflicts and comedy that comes with it.  I am sure we can all relate to those special relationships we have in our lives.

But that isn’t what got my attention.

What got my attention was the conversations both of them have had during their press run about how this new show is partially “based on truth.” And that they potentially could really be half brothers.

I don’t believe everything I hear, or read, especially when it comes to celebrities, but since this came from them directly, I take it to be true. For personal reasons, this topic resonated with me. Not the show. Not the two celebrities. But the real people, as grandchildren, nephews, cousins, sons, and especially as fathers.

During McConaughey’s interview with Kelly Ripa on her new SiriusXM podcast, “Let’s Talk Off Camera,” he recalled a trip to Greece with his and Harrelson’s families. On that trip, McConaughey’s mom joined as well, and that’s when she hinted at having hooked up with Harrelson’s dad, Charles, back in the day. Charles died in 2007.

“In Greece a few years ago, we’re sitting around talking about how close we are and our families. And my mom is there. And she says, ‘Woody, I knew your dad,'” McConaughey said, with an emphasis on the word “knew.” “Oh, everyone was aware of the ellipses that my mom left after knew. It was a lovely k-n-e-w. Well, we went on to unpack what this ‘knew’ meant. And [we] did some math and found out that his dad was on furlough at the same time that my mom and dad were in their second divorce. Then, there’s possible receipts in a place that’s out in West Texas where there might have been a meeting or a ‘knew’ moment.”

Harrelson confirmed the story on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” He said, Matthew’s mom’s revelation was “filled with innuendo.”

“The year of Matthew’s birth, nine months before, she was on a sabbatical from her relationship with his supposed father, Jim,” Harrelson added. Jim passed away from a heart attack, in 1992.

Harrelson said that he’s been pushing to get a DNA test to find out once and for all if he and McConaughey are related.

My story is similar, although my mother didn’t give me some sort of innuendo or hint that would have allowed me time to process what was to come: the feelings, the grief, the disbelief, the shock and overwhelming sense of loss and pain.

Like McConaughey, I too have a dad and a lifetime of memories with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, family, and people I love most in the whole world.

Just over a year ago, my husband and I took a 23andMe test, not looking for anything other than where our grandparents originated and to screen for any health concerns. On a typical day a few months later, I received an email message while I was at work that said, “My name’s James and 23andMe says we may be half siblings. My dad, Jim, was born in Lacombe in 1946—lived in Ponoka. I am wondering if that is the connection.”

In an instant, my world changed forever.

I knew my mother grew up not halfway around the world from these cities but only 30 minutes away. I knew she was born in 1948. What I also knew was that DNA doesn’t lie.

I want to stay on track here, not venture off to talk about my mother. I knew when my mom became pregnant with me, as did my dad—which is why they got married. What he, nor I, didn’t know was that he wasn’t my biological father.

This shocking revelation would prove to be the most painful, excruciating couple of weeks of my life. And like most of us, I have lived through life’s challenges and pain, including the death of my greatest friend, my younger brother Brett, who took his own life in 2012.

I am grateful that what I had during this unexpected journey was life experience (I was 53), years of previous therapy and the tools that come with it, a positive and supportive community around me, an open mind and heart, and probably my greatest attribute: acceptance of things I have no control over.

It felt like I cried a million tears those first two weeks. It was an agonizing grief that I had never experienced. To look at pictures of my father and my grandparents and realize I had zero genetic relation to them was overwhelming.

My brother suddenly became a half-brother—I no longer have any full siblings. And I never did.

The worries for my children, health, and heredity added a whole new layer of unknown.

Honestly, calling it a complete mind-f*ck doesn’t begin to describe the feelings. And to add to the mounting pressure, like a boulder on my chest, my biological dad, James, had passed away just one year prior from cancer.

He will never know me, nor I him. Another blow. Another loss.

I had many sleepless nights and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Family is so much more than being related by blood. It is about being there for each other through the good times and especially the bad. It is about the relationships in our lives that provide a sense of security and belonging. It is the people who hold our heart gently in their hands. It is about feeling we are in a safe space, never worried someone won’t love us, no matter what we share.

Family is about feeling valued, respected, and understood. It is about weathering the bumps in the road while creating memories that are built on pure, absolute, unconditional love. Family is about being able to say you are sorry when someone says you hurt them.

I remember having a sleepover with my sister-in-law, both of us in our PJs lying across from each other on couches in the living room. “I could not love you anymore and we are not genetically related,” I said to her.

DNA does not make a family. We live in a beautiful world where children continue to be adopted and people get divorced and then remarried with blended families. There are foster parents, surrogacy, and IVF, sometimes with anonymous donors. Even same-sex couples are fulfilling their dreams of becoming parents. There are so many scenarios, and all of those people are no less loved, no less connected, and no less family than those who share DNA.

I always knew this—it just took a couple of weeks to catch my breath.

Harrelson recently said, “We want to go for a DNA test, but for Matthew it’s a much more big deal. I mean he feels like he is losing a father. But I’m like no, you’re gaining a different father and a brother.”

This is my message for McConaughey, and anyone else who needs a reminder about what makes a family:

If you decide to move forward with a DNA test, whatever the outcome, please do not ever forget that your dad is the one who lives in your mind and your heart. No genetic testing will change any of that.

And I am willing to bet that if you asked any of your three beautiful children what they believe makes you an amazing father, not one of them would say DNA.


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