Genetics can say a lot about a person. For the majority of his life, Joel Gottfried thought he knew everything about his upbringing. That all changed after he took an at-home DNA test. When Gottfried finally got his results, he soon realized that his entire life had been a lie.
Researching His Family Tree
It can be fun researching ancestors and learning about their history. Joel Gottfried decided he would do just that.
First, he began searching on his father's side of the family and noticed there were a lot of documents available. Gottfried learned they were Jews who fled Europe and arrived at Ellis Island.
A Fitting Birthday Present
When it came time for his 69th birthday in March of 2018, his sister, Debbie Heller, finally knew the perfect gift.
Heller decided she would buy herself and her brother at-home DNA tests to explore their family history together. She thought it would be fun since Gottfried was so interested in learning about his ancestors.
Getting The Results
One of the most exciting parts of an at-home DNA test is getting the results. While the siblings were expecting to see the same genetic makeup, there were some abnormalities.
The DNA test told them they were half-siblings and only shared the same mother. One of them had a different father than the man who raised them.
Both of the siblings turned to each other and asked, "Who's your daddy?" While a little funny at first, there was now a big family mystery that needed to be solved.
They couldn't ask their parents, George and Tina Gottfried, because they had been long gone. Older relatives who would've known their parents were gone as well.
Gottfried's Initial Reaction
Gottfried knew he wanted to get to the bottom of this, but was unsure where to start.
"I was shocked to such a degree that it didn't seem real. I'm a data guy. And here I am looking at data that is very clear - no ambiguity. We were not [full] brother and sister," he said.
Odd Man Out
Gottfried had a hunch that he was the sibling with the unknown biological father. There were signs growing up that he wasn't like anyone else in his family.
For starters, Gottfried was the tallest in his family at six-foot-two. No one in his extended family is over six-feet tall. His father even nicknamed him "Stretch."
He's A Smart Guy
There were other signs that Gottfried realized made him stand out from his family. Not only was he extremely tall, but he was very intelligent.
School came easy to him and he excelled at math and science. He went to MIT and Penn State studying software development. No one in his family had that kind of academic success.
Starting The Search
Heller and Gottfried thought it would be best if they did the search for his biological father together. First, they started by asking their first cousin on their father's side to take a genetic test.
The results concluded that the cousin was related to Heller, but not Gottfried. This confirmed that the nice, considerate, and hardworking man who raised him wasn't his biological dad.
More DNA Tests
In order for Gottfried to collect more data, he needed to complete DNA tests from three other genetic testing companies.
This helped him track down other people who would be related to his biological father. While some were willing to talk, others didn't want anything to do with his search.
Public Radio Gave Him Some Answers
After not getting much information with all of his genetic testing, Gottfried had a new source of inspiration.
He heard an episode of the PBS public radio broadcast of This American Life where a Jewish man raised by a lower middle-class family in the Bronx learned late in life that his dad wasn't his biological father.
Things Are Starting To Connect
The episode was very similar to Gottfried's own experience. The man in the episode mentioned he had suspicions about his mother's obstetrician/gynecologist.
Gottfried realized that his own mother had seen the very same doctor during the time his parents were trying to conceive. It had taken five years after his parents' marriage for them to have a baby.
What Was Up With The Doctor?
Since Gottfried and the man from This American Life had such a similar story, Gottfried started looking more into the doctor.
He soon realized that all the new people he found through the DNA tests that were related to him were also related to the doctor. Gottfried was ready to investigate.
Some Relatives In Common
Gottfried met with a man named David Levine who turned out to be his second cousin. The doctor who treated Gottfried's mother was Levine's father's first cousin.
Next, he met with a woman named Maimoona Ahmed who turned out to be Gottfried's first cousin. Ahmed's father and the doctor were brothers.
Thinking About His Mother
Gottfried was able to come to the conclusion that the doctor who treated his mother while she was trying to conceive was his biological father.
There was infidelity on his mother's part because she was frustrated that she couldn't conceive a child with her husband after five years of trying.
Learning About His Biological Father
Now, Gottfried was ready to learn more about his biological father. Ahmed, the doctor's niece, had some fond memories of him.
"The whole family always put him on a pedestal. We adored him. He was so handsome, so charming," she said. Gottfried wouldn't be able to meet him because he passed in 2001.
The Doctor's Backstory
Gottfried was able to discover that his biological dad came to the United States from Russia. He was part of a field unit of physicians sent to help prisoners being liberated from concentration camps after World War II.
Gottfried even found a letter written by the doctor recalling what it was like doing this kind of work.
Not Everyone Wanted To Meet Gottfried
Gottfried wanted to find some way to connect to his biological father, so he reached out to the doctor's adult children. However, they never responded.
On the bright side, Gottfried got to meet and start relationships with four new second cousins and two new first cousins. "It was like a whole lifetime to catch up on," he said.
Support From His Family
One of Gottfried's biggest supporters was his newly found first cousin. "I'm not the sleuth he is, but I love to put people together. I love family stories. My kids now know all about Joel. We're all excited," said Ahmed.
This experience also helped Gottfried become closer to his sister who stayed by his side no matter what.
His Dad Isn't Forgotten
While Gottfried knows the man who raised him isn't related to him, he still thinks of him as his father. He knows his dad loved him and thought of him as his real son.
"His sperm was not used to create me, but he was my father in every sense of the word," he said.
He Wrote A Book
Gottfried had to go through great lengths to track down his biological father and he recorded his whole experience in a self-published book called Who's My Daddy?.
The book is a compelling read that raises questions regarding past infertility treatments and the struggles young couples go through trying to become parents.