On Genetic Sexual Attraction And How I Fell In Love With My Father

Father walking with daughter in the forest

I had been waiting my whole life to meet this man, and I knew with absolute certainty that I wanted to have him as a part of my daily life forever. 

Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA). There wasn’t a word for it back when I first met my father, Jackson.

Until very recently, memories of our first in-person meeting have always filled me with shame. It doesn’t matter that we had zero inappropriate physical contact or that I was only 21 years old.

Finding my father was my big dream, my favorite fantasy, and my life-goal since I found out in early grade-school that I had a missing parent.

When I was very young, I would ask my mother who my father was, and she would answer, “You don’t have one.” But when I reached grade-school, the other kids who knew the facts of life pushed the point, telling me that it really does take two people to make a baby.

Finally, my mother admitted that I had a father, but told me that he was not around because he didn’t love me. While mostly true, I can hardly think of a worse explanation. It certainly created a deep need to find my biological father, to prove that I was wanted.

Finding him was an overwhelming feat back in the days before the Internet. But one Tuesday morning, three days before Valentine’s day, I picked up my phone and heard a deep voice with a cowboy twang say, “This is Jackson. Am I talking to Lynn?”

I was overwhelmed with a sense of joy, consumed by a sense of homecoming.

We started by talking on the phone. Jackson spent more than a $100 in quarters talking to me from pay phones in the days after we first met.

There is something pretty heady and amazing about being met by a person who says, “I love you unconditionally. Now tell me all of your stories, and I will not judge you. I may not be able to make it all better, but I will at least tell you that I wish I could.”

That is really probably the best scenario for how a stranger-parent can meet a child. And I will always be grateful that my bio-father met me that way.

It was experiencing a kind of love that I had never known before. My then-husband was too self-absorbed to have loved me that way. My relationship with my mother was too fraught with trauma and abuse.

Within three weeks of meeting by phone, Jackson took vacation, sent me a plane ticket, and we spent two weeks traveling the back roads of the Southwest.

We found in each other instant best friends. The chemistry between us was incredible. We finished each other’s sentences, had the same allergy to bullshit and perversely optimistic sense of humor.

One night after we had been together for about three or four days, Jackson said that he wanted to take me to his favorite place on earth. We went to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and then headed off-road straight up the side of a relatively steep and rocky mountain. Just before sunset, he stopped the truck on a small flat spot near the top of one of the smaller Rocky Mountains.

Night fell quickly and thickly. Jackson made a nest of blankets and brought out a thermos of spiked coffee. To warm me up, he snuggled in next to me, and my head slid to his shoulder and beneath his chin.

I have never found the words to describe the beauty and brightness of the night that rose around us. The stars felt so close and bright that I felt I could plunge my hand into the Milky Way and trail my fingers through the stars like a stream. The way that the dunes and mountain tops reflected the starlight gave me the feeling that there was no real boundary between earth and sky.

The boundary between us and the firmament vanished, as did all boundaries that separated me from everyone and everything else. Jackson whispered softly, “It is easy to believe in moments like this, that we are made of stardust. And that is not such a bad thing.”

I realized in those moments that when people say their heart swelled with love and joy, they are describing an actual physical sensation. I could feel my chest expand and the thrum of a pleasant and overwhelming emotion behind my breastbone.

I had been waiting my whole life to meet this man, and I knew with absolute certainty that I wanted to have him as a part of my daily life forever.

Like other people who have experienced GSA, I can only say that what came over me seemed irresistible. I was too naive and repressed to put conscious thoughts to what I wanted. But whatever it was, I was sure that Jackson wanted it to. The electricity that crackled between us was too intense to have been generated by just one person.

I am lucky that I was with Jackson. For all of his many, many faults, he did the right thing in that moment. He threw out our coffee, packed up our blankets, took me down the mountain, and introduced me to his wife.

He was more circumspect after that. But we still spent the rest of the vacation basking in each other’s presence. There were those moments when our laughter filled his pick-up truck, and when our love for each other filled every nook and cranny in my broken heart that I wondered if any other relationship could ever measure up to it.

And then it was over.

I don’t remember how he gave me the brush-off, and how I really got that it was over with us. I just remember that it hurt. But it came at a time when I was too preoccupied with survival to care about anything that didn’t get my kids and I through the next day.

I never even spoke to my ex-husband about this, other than a brief overview. I did not tell him about the night that I spent with my dad under a sky that breathed starlight. I did not tell anyone how I had longed for Jackson’s arms around me, for him to hold  me while I slept, to let his love soak into me until it became a part of my marrow.

For a few years after Jackson exited my life, I explained it by telling myself that I had been too clingy. To some extent, that was true, but I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to live as his little girl, in the back of his pick-up truck. I wanted to be his buddy and ride with him between his errands. I wanted him to care what I was doing and be proud of me.

But as I lost my naiveté, I realized that I had also wanted his attention as an adult. I finally told myself the truth, I had fallen in love with Jackson in a way that could have become a sexual, romantic relationship.

I never told anyone. It was my awful, dirty, shameful secret.

That is why recent articles about GSA have been absolutely liberating. Come to find out, moments like the ones that Jackson and I shared are common. A lot of people have very strong feelings of attraction when they reunite with long-lost relatives. The feelings are neither right nor wrong. They are just feelings. Acting on those feelings can be catastrophic.

The Internet and new rules about opening adoption records have exponentially increased the number of lost family reunions. But until recently, we have known very little about what happens to people after the big, happy reunion.

We need to talk more, not less, about the inappropriate feelings and the unhappy endings as well as the wonderful reunions. People need to enter the process thoughtfully and forewarned.

I suppose that the lesson we can all take from this is that we need to make a space where inappropriate thoughts and feelings can be met with kindness and wisdom. Because we are never as uniquely bad as we think we are.

And knowing we are not alone cauterizes the shame and starts the healing.

Lynn Beisner writes about family, social justice issues, and the craziness of daily life. Her work can be found on Role Reboot, Alternet, and on her blog: Two Parts Smart-Ass; One Part Wisdom. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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