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Little Girl Suffers Cruel Jokes about Her Family Resemblance, Takes a DNA Test Decades Later

Ayesha Muhammad
Apr 25, 2022
10:00 P.M.
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In an intriguing twist of events, a little girl always felt different from everyone around her. Her sense of otherness intensified as she grew older until decades later when an unexpected DNA test altered everything she knew about herself and her family. 

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People might spend a large part of their lives trying to figure out themselves and their purpose for being alive. Battling nagging questions about self-identity and building our self-esteem might sometimes take years of hard work, courage, and determination. 

On the contrary, someone with a firm sense of self might experience self-doubt after realizing that what they grew up knowing about themselves and their lineage was nothing but a lie. Sadly, a young girl faced a similar situation that left her utterly shattered and confused. 

[Left] Little Dani pictured with the man who raised her, Paul Shapiro; [Right] A picture of Dani Shapiro and Irene Shapiro. | Source: twitter.com/andreasilenzi | facebook.com/danishapiro

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AN ODD CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCE 

Dani Shapiro was oblivious to eye-opening details about her existence for a long time. There were a series of harrowing truths she was utterly unaware of, the shadows of which had always haunted her. As a little girl, she always felt different from the others. 

In the late 1960s, Dani was at an Orthodox congregation in her hometown of Hillside, New Jersey, when she had a startling experience. One of her family friends, Mrs. Kushner, a Holocaust survivor and the future grandmother of Jared Kusher, pulled her aside and uttered: 

"We could have used you in the ghetto, little blondie. You could have gotten us bread from the Nazis."

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Mrs. Kushner's comment left a lasting impression on Dani's mind, highlighting her growing sense of alienation and lack of belongingness. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl "stuck out like a sore thumb" in her community of predominantly Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews.

The best-selling memoirist revealed that she would have never learned the complete truth had she not taken the DNA test on a whim. 

Growing up, her sense of otherness and disconnect became even more powerful as strangers questioned her Jewish origins. Some people even remarked that she was the fruit of her dark-haired mother's affair with a Swedish milkman. 

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A LIFE-CHANGING DNA TEST

Several decades later, in 2016, Dani found out why she didn't resemble her family. By then, she had become a highly acclaimed novelist, author, and memoirist, and her parents were no longer alive. 

That summer, her husband, Michael Maren, decided to take a DNA test out of curiosity about his origins, and Dani joined him, too, on a whim. But when the results arrived weeks later, they were downright mind-boggling for the couple. 

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DISCOVERING THE TRUTH

According to the DNA test, she was only 52% eastern European Askenazi, and the rest a smattering of Irish, English, French, and German. Furthermore, the results revealed that the man who raised Dani was not her birth father. She recalled: 

"It upended my world."

The accomplished author had always assumed her father was Paul Shapiro, a Wall Street stockbroker who died in a car accident in 1986. All her life, she deflected comments about not looking Jewish but had no reason to question her biological connection to her dad.

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CONNECTING THE DOTS

But after the appalling DNA results, Dani recalled that her mom, Irene Shapiro, had shared something years ago on Paul's second death anniversary. Irene told her daughter that she saw a specialist after having trouble conceiving. 

Resultantly, the couple went to the now-defunct Farris Institute for Parenthood in Philadelphia, where Paul's sperm was mixed with that of an anonymous donor and used to inseminate Irene.

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BATTLING THE EMOTIONS

For a long time, Dani battled with a myriad of emotions, hoping that her parents, especially her dad, didn't know about the possibility of another donor. She expressed: 

"What I wanted: confirmation from someone—an expert—that it was possible, no, more than possible, likely, no, more than likely, absolutely the case, that my parents had known nothing. The Farris Institute had hoodwinked them."

Ironically, the method was termed "confused artificial insemination," and the idea was that no one would know which sperm created the embryo. The reason behind maintaining anonymity was to protect the intended father's ego because infertility was seen as a weakness.

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DADDY'S GIRL

Dani shared a profound connection with Paul, and it was an integral part of her childhood. She had always received warmth and love from him and cherished the time spent with him at the synagogue. The author was particularly moved by his devotion to religion. 

Dani had always felt proud of her orthodox Jewish background and had always seen her parents as her foundation. But, the doubts she harbored as a youngster were reflected in her first four memoirs: "Hourglass," "Still Writing," "Devotion," and "Slow Motion." She also divulged: 

"I have spent my entire life grappling with identity, trying to piece the puzzle of my father together. I think there's a reason why in my work, the fiction and memoirs, I kept gravitating to family secrets. I never dreamt that I was the secret."

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A MEMOIR INSPIRED BY HER EXPERIENCES

The writer's DNA results pointed to another soul-stirring piece of information — her older half-sister, Suzie, who was Paul's daughter from a previous marriage, wasn't related to her at all. The results also linked Dani to a first cousin she had never heard of. 

Despite the gravity of the situation, Dani was determined to unveil the mystery, so she sought her husband, Michael's help and found her first cousin on Facebook. She then discovered an online obituary for the cousin's mom, which also mentioned the woman's brother. 

The man was a retired physician in Portland, Oregon, and Dani's birth father. In her book titled "Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love," Dani talked about the uncanny resemblance she shared with the man after watching his YouTube lecture. 

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Irene Shapiro, Paul Shapiro, and Dani Shapiro. | Source: youtube.com/CBS Mornings

REUNITED AT LAST

Everything from how he held his hands to his subtle gestures and expressions was similar to how Dani carried herself. Immediately, Dani reached out to him, but he took nearly two months to respond.

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He then told her he was a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania and donated sperm to the Farris Institute for Parenthood in 1961. The long-lost father and daughter duo met for lunch in New Jersey in October 2016. 

Over time, they forged a friendly and warm relationship as he introduced Dani to his two other children. However, he requested not to be involved in Dani's memoir, and the book didn't reveal his real name. 

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OPENING UP TO HER SON

In her book, Dani revealed how she struggled to share the information with her teenage son, Jacob. She recalled that when her son had a seizure disorder as an infant, she told the doctors they had no family history of seizures.

But it only occurred to her later that maybe her biological father had undergone something similar. Much to her relief, however, Jacob's reaction cheered her up, and his only concern was whether or not he would end up bald, like Paul. 

A childhood picture of Dani Shapiro with the man who raised her, Paul Shapiro. | Source: youtube.com/CBS Mornings

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FINDING THE ANSWERS

While the discovery was enough to shake her to the core, Dani shared she felt lighter after finding out the whole truth because it helped her piece herself back together. She also added: 

"There was always some kind of disconnect within me, something that I felt a little haunted by. That really feels gone."

The best-selling memoirist revealed that she would have never learned the complete truth had she not taken the DNA test on a whim. 

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PUTTING HERSELF BACK TOGETHER

When asked how the newfound information made her feel about the man she grew up knowing as her father, she explained:

"I am enormously grateful to have found this missing part of my identity, but my father [Paul] raised me. He is the person who loved me into being."

Undoubtedly, Dani survived quite an ordeal in unraveling her family secret, but the fact that she drew inspiration from her experiences and penned them down to share with the world shows her resilience as a strong woman. Please share this story with your loved ones.  

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