This past Fall I was approached by a reality show, my first response was surely the same as most people. Yeah right! Well……it was legit, crazy, weird and one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
Relative Race is based out of Utah and airs on BYUTV. I got a random text one day asking if I could chat, it was prefaced by; “I know this sounds like a scam, but I believe you are related to someone on our next season”. I had never heard of the show (it is something that you stream from an app on a smart tv) so long story short I indulged and said I would look it up. I did. I thought it was a interesting concept and seemed like a well liked show by the following and comments on social. I text back and said I would talk to her, she called and explained how it worked and what was expected on my end. Pages of contracts and a background check later the plan was in motion. I knew before she told me who the relatives would be. Yes plural, I knew I had twin nieces that I had never met and that they were looking for , their dad …..my brother. Social media was the only contact I have ever had with them, it was minimal. I watched them online, they sang, modeled and had mentioned on more than one occasion that they were searching for him so it was not hard to put it together.
A bit of back ground:
I have not seen or had contact with my brother for at least 25 years. He and his wife had moved to Florida when the twins were born, they have an older son who I had met, since they had lived in Maryland when he was born. My kids were very young at this time, life was hectic and I was going through a very ugly divorce which took all of my energy and time. We had lost touch except for the pictures the twins mom would send to my mom, their grandmother. Side note, my family was not close, we did not spend holidays or family dinners sitting around a table. If you didn’t know any better you would not even know we were related. I could blame our upbringing, circumstances or a million other things, but it was just our reality. My point is not to rehash or spill all the family gossip just pointing out that it was not strange to us that we had very little contact, it was normal to us.
Somewhere in this time frame as my life was falling apart, so was theirs. Time passed, divorces happened and my brother pulled completely away from any strings tying him to his kids, my parents and me. We also have another brother and of the same mold, not big on family closeness although he has always been their for his sons. I have come to accept that our desires for how relationships should be are not necessarily shared by others. Much heartache and hurt feelings can be spared once you realize that your time is better spent with those that have the same expectations from the relationship that you do.
Fast forward many years, my father unexpectedly passed away , followed just a year later by my mom. There was not much to the estate but it required me to legally make an effort to reach my brother. Basically he had to be given a certain amount of time to contest the will. A PI was hired to no avail. By this time I had not seen or heard from him in close to 20 years. He did not want to be found, he was out there, just living as his past never existed. Off the grid.
I question my own behavior through the years, what was stopping me from forging a relationship with my nieces and nephew?
Guilty by association. In my head they think I am nothing but a painful reminder of everything they had missed from their dads side. Not just his presence, but grandparents, traditions, cousins, family. So I kept my contact to an occasional like on a Facebook post or Happy Birthday. A good defense is a good offense. Walls.
I know I have skirted around some details, my intent on telling the story is not to create questions or inflame any pain to old wounds. My lesson is about forgiveness and misguided assumptions.
Back to the show: It is ultimately a race, traveling with no GPS, only paper maps, no smart phones. The contestants need to complete challenges to move on to finding their next relative, they are on a clock and at the end of the day the team who goes over the most in time gets a strike. My nieces unfortunately were eliminated before they were due to meet me, this was last nights episode. They had met cousins on both sides, most distant. Everyone knew their intention was to find their dad which gave me a lot of trepidation before I signed on. I did not want them disappointed or hurt but I also knew I was the closest relative that they would meet and I did want them to experience this journey that the show was providing them. The teams do not know day to day who they would meet, I knew in their head though that they hoped it was going to be their dad. You end up pulling for all the teams, you just want all of them to find the answers they have been searching for. But, yes it is a competition. While this was being filmed I found out that they had been eliminated but the show was going to still have them meet me. As this season started airing I could see why they took this route. Out of all the teams, my nieces (Team Black) had yet to meet anyone close while other teams had met birth parents and siblings. The show decided to let them trade in a prize they had won to get to meet one more relative, evidently they had not done this before. Talk about suspense, I am sure anyone watching the series thought it was going to be their dad and I know the twins did as well. It wasn’t. It was me. I am no substitution for the absence of a father. I felt like when you want a puppy for Christmas and you just know that you are going to get one…. and you get a pair of socks instead. I was the socks.
What I gained from this was so much more than meeting Kaley & Kristen. I experienced true grace, connection, humility and faith. They are remarkable in their capacity for forgiveness, they love their dad, they believe they will find him, they just want to know him. My heart break is not only for them, but for my brother who has missed out on witnessing their journey, their milestones and most importantly the truly amazing people they have become.
Good luck to the remaining teams, may your journey bring you home.
To my brother should you be listening, it is not too late.
Lastly, thank you Relative Race for making this connection a reality, sometimes you just need a push.