Dana Schmalenberg’s DNA Surprise

There is never a good time to discover that the man you’ve called “Dad” for your entire life isn’t biologically related to you, but I imagine that having this realization as he lays in a hospital bed, dying, must be among the worst.

In the season 7 finale of DNA Surprises, Dana Schmalenberg shares how she uncovered the truth that both of her parents held tightly until the day her father passed. She reveals the shocking truth about her biological father, a man who fathered 9 other children, many of whom share strange similarities.

She also reveals how her DNA discovery led her to a new career path, and why she created a new resource for her fellow NPEs. Thank you for sharing your story Dana.



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Episode Transcript

Transcripts are AI-generated and may not reflect the final published episodes.

[00:00:00] Dana: And I felt like. A knife had been put into my stomach and I’m looking at her and she’s holding his hand and I suddenly have you ever seen that scene in Jaws where Roy Schneider’s on the beach and they do that weird push pull focus thing where all of a sudden he’s way back.

[00:00:17] Alexis: Yes.

[00:00:18] Dana: That’s, that’s what I felt like all of a sudden I felt like I was like, I was all the way back looking from a distance at my sister with her father. And I was the interloper and it just lasted for a few seconds. And it was awful. It was horrible.

[00:00:39] Dana: My name is Dana Schmallenberg. I’m 57 years old and I was born in Jacksonville. I grew up in Ohio. I spent the last 25 years in Los Angeles and I’m back in Jacksonville, kind of full circle, even though I only lived here for six months when I was born.

[00:00:58] Dana: Well, my DNA surprise story, well, it has a bit of a flashback in it, but it starts with my dad who in 2017, was in the hospital and he had had a heart attack years before and had been battling bad health, like, you know, off and on for the last, four years before. So in 2017, he just wasn’t doing well at all.

[00:01:23] Dana: My mom. Had him admitted to the hospital or he, you know, got admitted to the hospital with congestive heart failure and other things. he’d been in and out of the hospital before and whenever he would go into the hospital, I would always drop whatever I was doing and like fly from LA to Jacksonville, Florida to be with, to be with them.

[00:01:41] Dana: And he hated that I would do that cause you know how dads are, they don’t want to put you out. But, he would always kind of hem and haw whenever I would do it and so at the last two or three times He was in the hospital. He was like don’t come I’m gonna be out in two days. So this time when he went to the hospital I just had a weird feeling about it.

[00:01:58] Dana: And so I was FaceTiming with my mom and I said Put dad on I need to take a look at him And so I looked at him, my mom gave him the iPad and I, and he was hooked up to oxygen and I, and I, as soon as I saw him, I knew that it wasn’t good. And I said, daddy, is it okay if I come? And he did something I did not kind of expect and he just nodded and the look in his eyes, over the, Oxygen mask was just like, I, he, it was, I could just tell he wasn’t coming out of the hospital.

[00:02:31] Dana: So I got off the phone and I called my sister immediately and I said, get on a plane. Dad’s in the hospital. She goes, yeah, I know. I talked to mom this morning. I said, I don’t think he’s coming out. And she said, really? And I said, yep. I, I’m not, I don’t know why, but get on a plane. She was in Ohio. So she got on a plane.

[00:02:47] Dana: I got on a plane. We got there and within like a half hour of each other, we went directly to the hospital and he was still conscious but he wasn’t doing well. He had some internal bleeding and they didn’t know where it was coming from, but he was too weak to put him on the operating table to, to look for where the bleeding was coming from.

[00:03:08] Dana: So they were preparing to transfuse him. And so the nurses come in and they have a giant. Like a cart of bags of blood. Now, if you’ve ever seen bags of blood, you know, they always have the type really big on them, right? They have like A or B or whatever.

[00:03:23] Alexis: hmm.

[00:03:24] Dana: they had a whole tray of B bags. And I knew that my father was the same blood type as me because seven years before in 2010 I’d gone to this nutritionist and they had me on the eat right for your blood type diet.

[00:03:38] Dana: And I had phoned my parents because I’m very, very close with them. And I said, Hey, uh, I’m on this diet. Which one of you is a positive? There’s a, I have a list of food we’re not supposed to eat. And my mom said, well, I’m Oh. And my dad said, I’m B. And then I laughed and I said, well, then I’m adopted because one of you two has to be the same blood type as me.

[00:03:58] Dana: That’s how it works. And then my mom said, well, Fred, you’re a positive. You always forget. And dad, you know, kind of laughed and he said, Darlene, that’s your job to keep track of that stuff. I don’t keep track of that stuff. He’s like, hang on, I’ll get a, I’ll get a piece of paper. I’ll write down all the stuff I’m not supposed to eat.

[00:04:15] Dana: And so I gave him everything and, you know, my first clue should have been that my dad was writing down things he wasn’t supposed to eat. Cause I normally that was not the kind of guy that’s going to be, Oh yeah, sure. I’ll give up chicken. But he was like willingly writing all this health advice down, which she never took my health advice.

[00:04:34] Dana: So he wrote all this stuff down. So that’s how I knew he was a positive, right? So flash back to 2017, I’m trying to stop the nurses. I’m like, no, he’s a positive. You have this wrong. You cannot put B blood in him. So they had to show me on the computer. No, we type, he’s been in this hospital before.

[00:04:53] Dana: We type them before we do transfusion. He’s B, and I was kind of confused, but I’m like, oh, okay. It didn’t make sense to me, but I’m like, okay, you know, they, they know what they’re doing.

[00:05:04] Dana: So they transfused him and he was okay for a little while, but then he started to crash again. , and this went on throughout the day and he was aware enough. He knew we were there. He talked to myself and my sister, my mom, we were all there with him and he knew he was, he knew he was ill. I think he knew he was dying, but he was kind of, um he was very weak because he had lost a lot of blood.

[00:05:27] Dana: So he was in and out. By, by like nine o’clock that night, they came in and they told, they, they took us outside and they said, there’s nothing else we can do for him. His organs are failing. He’s lost blood. He’s too weak for us to get him on the table. We’re going to bring in palliative care. My mom didn’t know what palliative care was and I had to explain to her, it’s basically hospice in the hospital.

[00:05:48] Dana: And so she just couldn’t believe it because she thought she was going to be able to take him home at the end of the week. And, you know, it was such a turn of events and we were all kind of shocked. And, so we all went back in the room and we know we told the doctors and the nurses that we were going to, we wanted to stay in the room with him.

[00:06:02] Dana: And so they brought in like pull out couch and they brought in a recliner and we just. We just, we just hunkered down and we just decided to just stay with him. They started to give him morphine because he was, he was in a lot of pain. He couldn’t breathe well. I of course couldn’t sleep. And all through the night, We were on this pullout couch and I just kind of watched him and he was, he was unconscious by this point, but, when you’re with somebody you love and you’ve been told that they’re not going to be around much longer, you want to hold on so tight to them.

[00:06:37] Dana: Right. And so we just like my mom and my sister and me, just, we just sat around and like, just looked at him because we, he was like our guy, you know, like. We have a really close family. My parents got together very young. We were really tight. Even though I lived in L. A. and my sister lived in Ohio and my mom and dad lived in Florida.

[00:07:02] Dana: We were really tight and this, and my dad was only 73 and we did not expect to lose him this early. So as we’re all kind of like sitting around him, like my mom had been up for three days. So she started, started to fall asleep. My, my sister the same. And I just feel something really weird and I can’t, to this day I can’t explain what it is, but I remember just looking at him.

[00:07:24] Dana: I’m just taking him in because I knew that probably by tomorrow he was going to be gone. And my eyes traveled to this empty B bag of blood. And then I remembered that conversation about mom and dad saying that my dad was a, and I’m like, why would they, why would they, wait a minute, he’s a, and I started getting confused.

[00:07:43] Dana: And so I kind of woke my mom up a little bit and I said, Hey mom, what’s your blood type? And she said, Oh. Without even thinking and then I looked over at the B bag and the hair on the back of my neck started to stand up and suddenly every like my skin started to just like get tingly and I quickly googled blood type chart and what I saw was basically a B and an O can’t make an A.

[00:08:11] Dana: There’s no way and I handed the phone to my mom and she said what am I looking at and I said A B and an O can’t make an A, Mom. And she got tears in her eyes, and she looked at me and she said, Can we talk about this some other time? And I

[00:08:30] Alexis: gosh.

[00:08:31] Dana: said, Absolutely. And the look on her face It, you know, and here’s the thing, like I was 51 years old, never in my life did I ever have a reason to doubt that that man was not my father.

[00:08:45] Dana: My parents got together when they were 16 and 19. Uh, they never divorced. They never, there was no, like we were like this boring family from Ohio. Like we didn’t have, there was no drama. There was. And. So when she said that to me, like I immediately just, when you get that news, you just start to kind of disassociate and

[00:09:09] Alexis: I just, I cannot imagine you’re sitting in the room with your dad. Who is going to die soon, and you have just put it together that he is not your biological father.

[00:09:23] Dana: it felt like, when I say I started to disassociate, have you ever watched a movie? Have you ever gone to the, to the, to the theater and you watch a movie and the movie’s over and you come out and you go to the bathroom and you still feel like you’re in the movie in a weird way

[00:09:37] Alexis: Yes.

[00:09:38] Dana: that it felt like that it felt like suddenly I was in.

[00:09:41] Dana: I was in that weird, like I was in a movie and I didn’t want to be in that movie and I couldn’t get out of it and my, and your head is kind of spinning and I could not press my mom. I mean, my mother was about to lose like the man she had been with since she was 16 years old and she wasn’t prepared for it.

[00:10:02] Dana: And so like, I just had, that was just hands off. Plus I had to be completely a hundred percent present for my dad’s death. Like I wanted to, it was about him. It wasn’t about me and my. I wanted to be completely aware and even, and you know, I just wanted to be there for it. And so when my mom said that I realized she was right, like, this is something we’re gonna have to deal with later, but my body, so my mom kind of laid down and I thought, okay, well, that’s that.

[00:10:34] Dana: I don’t want to like. I can’t do, I can’t put this on her. Like I can’t put this on anybody and I was in shock. So we just laid down and I kind of turned away from her on my side, pretended to go to sleep. And I don’t know if you’ve ever cried, but not had the breathy part. I don’t know if you’ve ever cried and just had tears stream out of your eyes, like a faucet was turned on, but none of the, none of the, like, you know, none of that just

[00:10:58] Alexis: just like silent

[00:11:00] Dana: Yes, just, just water. I soaked my pillow, wasn’t shaking cause I didn’t want her to know. And she was laying in bed next to me because I didn’t want to upset her. And I’m facing my father, so I’m on my side with my head on the pillow facing away from my mom, looking at my dad. I’m literally like six feet away from my dad and I’m just staring at him and more than anything.

[00:11:21] Dana: And now I’m going to, now I’m going to cry more than anything. I wanted to climb into the bed with him and say, please tell me this is not true. Please tell me this is not true and also please don’t die, you know, so, but I was like immobile. I was immobile. And so I just laid there like frozen, like, like I almost had a stroke.

[00:11:42] Dana: I was just couldn’t move and, and I waited until I thought my mom was asleep and then I slid out of the bed really carefully and I crept past my sister who had finally fallen asleep in the recliner and I went out to the nurse and I was crying. I said, I think I’m going to start screaming.

[00:11:58] Dana: I know. And I kind of was laughing. I’m like, I, I think I’m having nervous breakdown. Can I, Do you, is there a bathroom I can go like, so my mom and my sister can’t hear me and nurse, the nurses knew what was going on. And she took me to another floor and just like here, you know, do you want to stay with you?

[00:12:14] Dana: And I said, no, I just need to, I need to have some time to myself. So I walk into this bathroom, I turn on a light and, and I’m right in front and I’m in front of a mirror. And now mind you, I hadn’t slept in like, you know, a day or so I look in the mirror and I don’t even know. Who, whose face that is like, I don’t need, it doesn’t suddenly, it doesn’t look familiar to me.

[00:12:37] Dana: that’s crazy. It sounds crazy.

[00:12:39] Alexis: I, that’s, that is an experience that I definitely had and countless people that I’ve spoken with have expressed that same thing, that

[00:12:50] Alexis: of looking in the mirror and not seeing yourself

[00:12:52] Dana: Yeah.

[00:12:53] Alexis: so strange.

[00:12:54] Dana: You don’t, you’re like, who is that? Who is that person? It’s, you’re the same person, but you don’t like suddenly

[00:13:00] Dana: look different.

[00:13:01] Alexis: h h h h

[00:13:03] Dana: I, I’ll tell you now, I never looked anything like my dad, but I looked like my mom and my, my sister looks just like my dad, just like my dad and not that much like my mom.

[00:13:13] Dana: So we just felt that was normal. Like one kid always looks like one parent, right? So it never questioned it. Um, so I look at, look at myself and I’m, I’m seriously disassociating and I, and so I’m about to start crying really like audibly loud and I still feel like I want to scream. And I realized that I can’t do any of that because if I start, I don’t know that I’ll stop.

[00:13:38] Dana: And I can’t lose my shit right now because I’ve got to like, I’ve got to like take care of my mom and my sister. Oh, also did I, did I mention that hurricane Irma is about to hit outside? Yeah. So outside there were like hurricane, there were like gale force winds bending the palm trees. We’re, we’re on a, we’re at a hospital that looks out onto a river and the hurricane was going to hit.

[00:14:02] Dana: The town we were in and we were, so we were, had one eye on my dad, one eye on the news and they kept kind of coming around and giving us updates and we weren’t going to leave him there. So I don’t even know why they bothered. Cause like, it’s not like we were going to go anywhere, and they were evacuating places and I think they had started to evacuate my mom and dad’s neighborhood.

[00:14:21] Dana: And so, and we had dogs. So I’m like, I can’t, I can’t lose my shit right now. I’ve got to like. I’ve got to take over like when dad, when something happens to dad, then I’m in charge. So I just sucked it all in. I’m like, put it in a box, suck it in. You can’t do this right now. You’ll do, it’s not going to go away.

[00:14:37] Dana: You’ll deal with this later. And I’m staring at myself in the mirror and I’m willing myself to keep it together. So I shove it all down. I come out and I see my mom way down at the end of the hallway. She’s like looking for me. And I kind of whisper. I yelled at her, I’m like, Mom, over here, and she turns around and I see that she’s like Almost hysterical crying and the closer she gets to me She’s muttering something over and over and I can’t understand what she’s saying And then when she gets to me, I I can hear what she’s saying and it’s we were just children We were just children and I’m like mom, whatever it is.

[00:15:12] Dana: We don’t have to talk about it right now Let’s just focus on dad, but she’s but it’s the cats out of the bag. She just tells me she’s like He always knew you were gonna find out And so she tells me the story right there in the hall, even though I tell her, we don’t have to talk about this right now. And the story is this, that when my mom and dad met, my dad was in the Navy and he met her and they fell in love and they got married very early.

[00:15:35] Dana: They got married when my mom was 17 years old and my dad was 20 they got married in April. And then by June, my dad was having cold feet. He was saying, Oh my gosh, what did we do? We’re teenagers. Basically, we don’t know what we’re doing. I think we, I think we got married. I think we’re too young for this.

[00:15:55] Dana: And my mom was like, no, we’re not. Like, cause you know, we know how women are. We’re always kind of a little bit more mature than the guys. And he was having cold feet and wanting to back out of it, I think. And mom was not having it. And so he. They got married in April by June. He was called away cause he was in the Navy and it was, you know, 1965 he got called away on a three month tour.

[00:16:17] Dana: So he went and then mom thought that was it. Like, she didn’t think he was coming back. And so she was in cosmetology school and she was devastated and she just. Was, you know, upset all the time. And the guy who owned the cosmetology school was this handsome, older man who comforted her turns out with his penis.

[00:16:44] Dana: And, but that’s not what she said. She said, yeah, she didn’t say that. She didn’t say that. Sorry. I can laugh about it now, but she said, you know, your dad left. I didn’t think he was coming back. I was really upset. I was in school at the time. And there was a man who owned the cosmetology school and he told me I was going to be okay and that I was beautiful and like I was going to have a lot more boyfriends and husbands if I wanted them and don’t, you know, who cares about him and, and then, and I’m, and I’m kind of like, yeah, and, and she goes, and the next thing I knew I was waking up in his beach house.

[00:17:21] Dana: And then the next thing I knew six weeks after that, I was pregnant and I hadn’t heard from your dad. And I knew that I did not want this guy to be your father because he already had two ex wives and like four kids. And I did not want that for myself or for you. And so I just never went back to the school and I never told him I was pregnant.

[00:17:41] Dana: And I just figured I’d raise you on my own. And that’s exactly what I was going to do until your dad came home. And he shows up on my doorstep and he’s like, Oh my God, I missed you so much. Like, I’m so sorry. Please like I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I was just afraid I was scared because we’re so young But now I know that I can’t live without you and my mom said well You’re not you’re not gonna want to live with me When I tell you what I need to tell you and that is when you left I didn’t think you were coming back I slept with somebody else.

[00:18:13] Dana: I’m pregnant and I’m gonna keep this baby So I don’t I don’t blame you if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with me And mom said, your dad didn’t hesitate. He got down on his knees and he put his arms around my waist and his head on my stomach. And he said, I want to spend the rest of my life with you and you’re my wife.

[00:18:33] Dana: And do you love, do you love this other guy? And my mom said, no, I love you, but like you disappeared. And he said, well, if you love me, then that’s my baby and you’re my wife and I’m gonna spend the rest of my life with both of you.

[00:18:46] Alexis: Wow. That brought tears to my,

[00:18:50] Alexis: yeah.

[00:18:51] Dana: that’s my dad. Like that, my dad was like a really righteous standup guy.

[00:18:57] Dana: So when my mom told me that story, but I couldn’t even cry because as she’s telling me this story, mind you, I’m, and I’ve never done it since. And I’ve never done it before. When in the middle of the story, I I’m looking, I’m suddenly looking at my mom.

[00:19:14] Dana: And I’m like, what, this is what, why am I over here? This is weird. And then all of a sudden I was back and I was looking at my mom straight on and then she kept talking. And then all of a sudden I was back on the side again and I’m like, okay, this is not good. And then I would go back in and I realized now I only, I realized like a couple of weeks after, oh, you were literally disassociating, you were having an out of body experience.

[00:19:39] Dana: I never, I just thought it was a figure of speech. I didn’t know people actually did that.

[00:19:43] Dana: So I’m trying to get out of there. Right. My, my, I, my like subconsciously I want to get out. I don’t want it, this, any of this to be happening. So my body, so I’m trying to leave my body apparently. I didn’t know that then, but I know it now.

[00:19:55] Dana: So finally my mom’s telling me the story. She’s like, so, so he came back and he said, yeah, I want to be able to. With both of you, that’s my baby. And we’re never, going to talk about it again. And. They really didn’t. She said, so we had you. And, um, your mom, your dad never even asked about the other guy and he didn’t, he didn’t care.

[00:20:13] Dana: He didn’t, you know, when, when you were born, he was, he was thrilled. He was a father and we never really talked about it. Dana, that other guy was just like a sperm donor. Like we, and so I finally say, mom, like, who is the other guy? Like, who’s my biological father? And my mom looks at me and she starts crying even harder.

[00:20:30] Dana: And she goes, I don’t remember his name. I thought, well, mom, a guy put a baby in you and you don’t remember his name. And then she said, well, Dana, it was 51 years ago. I’m like, okay, we don’t need to get personal about my age here. Like, like let’s, let’s stay on topic.

[00:20:46] Alexis: yeah,

[00:20:48] Dana: years ago. I don’t remember his name.

[00:20:49] Dana: And I’m like. Mom, come on. She goes, well, it didn’t sound like it was spelled. And then she goes, Oh, I remember his first name. It was Michelangelo. And I’m like, Michelangelo, like the painter and the sculptor. She’s like, yeah. And she goes, but I don’t, I’m so sorry, Dana. I don’t remember his last name. And then she starts crying because she feels guilty that she doesn’t remember his last name.

[00:21:09] Dana: I’m like, mom, don’t worry about it. We never have to talk about this again. If you don’t want to, let’s just focus on daddy. Let’s just go back downstairs. Let’s not talk about this anymore. Let’s just focus on what’s happening right now. And so that’s what we did. I told her the next morning. I think you’re wrong. So there’s, there’s a thing and Joan Didion wrote a book on this called Magical Thinking. Are you familiar with that book?

[00:21:32] Alexis: I haven’t read it, but it has been recommended to me many times. I need

[00:21:36] Dana: Uh, you should read it. It’s Magical Thinking is. When you throw logic out and you, you want something to be true so bad that you make it make sense in your head, that you create logic that upholds the lie. And so I transitioned from like, I guess it was like two or three in the morning when my mom told me I laid in bed, my mom like went to, went to sleep.

[00:22:01] Dana: She was like physically, mentally exhausted. I didn’t sleep a wink. I literally just laid in bed the rest of the night, stared at my dad and. Was just head spinning and wanting. Knowing that he was lost to me already because they were giving him morphine, wanting more than anything, just to start crying hysterically and like, just like beg him to wake up and talk to me about this because nobody else.

[00:22:26] Dana: And I’ve said this many times after nobody. Could take away the pain that I was feeling except for my dad, because what I needed to hear, I needed to process this with him. I needed, I needed to tell him, I’m devastated that I’m not your biological child. I’m devastated. And I wanted him, I wanted to hear that he was devastated too, and that I wanted us to say to each other, what we have is bigger than biology.

[00:22:55] Dana: And I know that that’s what he felt. ’cause my mom told me as much and he showed me as much with. His life and how he raised me, but in that moment when you feel your entire being falling apart You just want like it like for me. This was between me and my dad It didn’t even have anything to do with my mom like she couldn’t make me feel better The only person that can make me feel better was in a hospital bed being pumped full of morphine ready to die And he was the only person that could take away this horrible, screaming, like, pain.

[00:23:29] Dana: Also, I was having to keep it in because I didn’t want to upset my mom, and I didn’t want to upset my sister. Because, you know, we were losing our dad. And I, and I didn’t want her to feel what I was feeling, which was just utter, like, Devastation. So I had to keep a shove down and, just allow him no, no, that he was going to pass and just allow him to do it.

[00:23:48] Dana: And, but I told my mom the next morning and you know, and they told us, they said, look, here’s, what’s going to happen. He could last a couple of days. He could last a couple hours. You’ll know because he’ll, he’ll, his breathing will become very labored and it will seem like it’s very hard for him to breathe, but then he’ll, he’ll start to take less and less breaths and then he’ll take.

[00:24:05] Dana: Last, his last few best will be very deep and then he’ll let go. So the nurses and the doctors, they prepped us for it. I kind of had his dog come in and I put his dog in bed with him and I played his favorite music. You know, we just had that I took all the, I took all the machines out of the room that were beeping and making noises and lighting up that weren’t keeping him comfortable and just got rid of those and, you know, burn candles and just tried to make it nice. So the next day, my mom has not been back to her house for two days or taken a shower, done anything.

[00:24:34] Dana: And, um. I had concocted this weird, this weird thing, and that was mom, did you and dad have sex before he left, to go on the ship?

[00:24:44] Dana: And she said, well, yes. And I said, so how do you know that I’m not his? Now, mind you, by this time I’d thrown out all the blood type stuff in my head, right? Because I’m desperate to make this make, I’m desperate to make this go my way. So she goes, well, I don’t know. Um, she goes, well, I got my period after your dad left.

[00:25:02] Dana: And, and I said, well, mom, that wasn’t your period. That was implantation bleeding, which is a bleeding that you can get when you’re pregnant. A lot of women have that and they think it’s a period, but it’s not. It’s. You know, it’s the egg implanting.

[00:25:16] Dana: So she said, yeah, I guess it could have been, I don’t know. And I said, mom, there’s no way that that man is not my biological father. Um, I think this was a mistake. I think that it’s him and I want to, I want a paternity test. So when you’ve come back from on your way back from the house, can you stop at the drug store and get a paternity test?

[00:25:35] Dana: Because I’m going to prove. Like this, there’s no way, there’s no way it’s somebody else. Now, mind you, I hadn’t seen a picture of this other guy. Hadn’t, I didn’t know anything. I just knew that my dad was my dad and I was going to prove it to them. And before my dad left this planet, I was going to prove that he was my biological father.

[00:25:51] Dana: So my mom goes off to home to take a shower and stuff. And my sister and I are there and we’re with my dad and we’re constantly talking to him because the nurses said, even though he’s unconscious and he’s on morphine, the last thing to go is the hearing. So we were just telling stories and just about all the good times we had and telling him what an awesome daddy was and that we were going to take care of mom and it was okay for him to let go.

[00:26:14] Dana: We were here with them and so he starts like around noon He starts doing the labor breathing and mom’s still not back. So I call her up. I’m like, hey and she thinks something’s wrong What’s happening? What’s happening? Um, oh nothing. We just we know we’re getting hungry We wondered if you know, we’re gonna wait for you to go to lunch meanwhile my Sister’s holding my dad and she’s like looking at me like what she’s not she’s not on her way and I kind of shake My head and then she’s like, oh no, I’m at the bridge and they’ve got it closed off There’s been an accident or something and I don’t think I can get across and so now I’m like, oh, okay Well, you know, I guess we’ll see you when we see you.

[00:26:49] Dana: I gotta go. Bye And my dad’s doing the death rattle breathe one that they do. And so I told ginger, I’m like, she can’t get across the bridge. We had to do this. And so I’m on one side holding my dad’s hand. My sister’s on the other side, holding his hand. And we’re just, he’s taking those last breaths and we’re.

[00:27:06] Dana: And we’re just silently looking at each other and looking at him and, and telling him. And then we start to tell him it’s okay. And cause he’s having some, I can tell he doesn’t want to let go. And he kind of froze his brow. And so I leaned down into his ear and I say, you were the best daddy I could have ever had.

[00:27:23] Dana: We love you so much and we’re going to take care of mom and it’s okay. And then he took this one last breath and he just, And he was still, and he didn’t take another one. And I looked at my sister and I said, daddy’s gone. And my sister said something very unlike her. And, uh, so weird because she’s not, she’s not a scientific person at all.

[00:27:46] Dana: She’s very spiritual. And she says, yes, he’s gone. But his day, his DNA will always live on in us. Like that’s, those were the first words out of her mouth. And she didn’t know she had no idea.

[00:27:57] Alexis: Yeah.

[00:27:58] Dana: And so then we were just kind of with it. And the nurse came in, the nurse was so sweet.

[00:28:06] Dana: She came in and she called dad’s death and cause they have to like, I guess, put the time down or something. And she actually cried with us. And then I said, listen, you need to tell me, you need to tell me before my mom comes in, because I want to go out and talk to her before she comes in.

[00:28:20] Dana: I don’t want to just come in and find her husband dead. So she said, okay. So she went out, it wasn’t five minutes before she turns around. She comes back in your mom’s down the hall. I’m like, Oh my God. So I go out and my mom has two shopping bags and she sees me. She’s, you know, she’s got that mom radar.

[00:28:38] Dana: She immediately knows something’s wrong. She drops the bags and she goes running. And she just run. It’s almost like she knew. She saw maybe the look on my face and just knew. And she ran into the room. And, and then my sister kind of came out and closed the door behind her. And I could hear my mom talking to my dad.

[00:28:55] Dana: And one of the first things she said to him was, This was not our deal. Like we were going to grow old together. This was not, this was not the plan. And so we just kind of let her have that time with them to like process the fact that she was not gonna, you know, he was 73 and you know, she was not going to have this man to grow old with anymore.

[00:29:14] Dana: So that was really hard. And then she came out finally, and she hugged me and she whispered, she said, the paternity kit is in the CVS bag and I’m going to have ginger take me downstairs and you can do the test. So she, my sister, my mom said she wanted to go down and get something to eat. And, um. I went into the room and I pulled a DNA test out and I was talking to my dad who was already gone and explaining to him that I was going to like prove.

[00:29:46] Dana: To everybody and wasn’t it going to be funny when the results came back and all these years you guys thought that I was this random hairstylist’s daughter, but in reality, haha, joke’s on you. I’m your kid. You can’t deny it. And so I’m swabbing my dead, my dead dad’s pelf. And it did feel like a weird violation, but it also, but I was also like, I’m doing this because I want to prove that like, this is all a big misunderstanding.

[00:30:14] Dana: And at the time it’s so crazy because logic just completely, I mean, I’m a logical person. I just threw it out the window. I was like, I was on a mission to prove, you know, Oh yeah. Yeah.

[00:30:28] Alexis: wild mental gymnastics, the magical thinking. For me, I thought must have been a partial mistake in my DNA results because I matched with some family that I knew and not all. And so I was like, Oh, it’s partial. Somehow it got partially messed up.

[00:30:46] Dana: Yeah. It’s a,

[00:30:49] Dana: yeah.

[00:30:49] Alexis: Thank you so much for Taking us into that, um, you described it so clearly, like I just, felt like I was there with you and I can’t imagine how painful that experience was, but also you were so kind and empathetic and, you know, I feel like that was such a beautiful message to give your dad

[00:31:14] Dana: Yeah.

[00:31:15] Alexis: passed.

[00:31:17] Dana: Well, it was the truth. Yeah. It was easy because it was the truth.

[00:31:20] Alexis: Yeah, so you, you swab and you get DNA from him. What happens next?

[00:31:27] Dana: Well, um, we had to evacuate. We had to wait for the undertaker to come get my dad’s body. Then they were like, well, we don’t know if we’re going to do it. Cause you know, they’re evacuating part of the city, but they, they said, we have a guy on the way. So we had to wait for him. And so we waited and a couple hours he came and I told mom, I said, you know, let’s, let’s leave this.

[00:31:47] Dana: You know, we don’t want to see them put him in a bag or anything for the love of God that would just kill us. So. We saw, we met the guy, we signed some papers and then we left and it was strangely very hard to leave. It was very hard to leave. And then we, you know, I don’t, I’m sure other people have had that when you, you’re kind of caught unaware and you’re like, well, if I leave, then it’s real.

[00:32:12] Dana: And when we were in the elevators, I remember like the doors closing and it’s all the three of us looking at each other and just crying and being like, when those doors close, it’s going to be super final. And then we just kind of like. I got in the car and went home and we, we just silently started to pack quickly, but silently and, we packed up everything.

[00:32:36] Dana: My dad’s F one 50. And then we got in and we started to drive to my sister’s house in Ohio. We started to evacuate with the rest of the city. So we were in bumper to bumper traffic. I’m just, we’re all kind of shell shocked and we’ve cried so hard. Like, you know how, when you cry really hard, then you’re just like spent, you’re just weak and I was driving.

[00:32:58] Dana: My mom is just like. She just can’t even deal. She’s just staring straight ahead. And my, my sister’s in the back with the dogs and she’s just like, you know, crying and, and we’re, we’re just stuck in traffic. We’re just sitting there and I’m. And I’m thinking, who am I? Who is this person? Do I have a family, another family out there?

[00:33:18] Dana: Is my father still alive? Like I had all these questions. How did this happen? Is this really happening? Is this really happening? And so we were on the road for like something crazy. Like we stopped it halfway in North Carolina at my. Mom’s friend’s house, but to get there, it usually only takes five hours.

[00:33:37] Dana: It took us something like 12 hours to get there. We finally get there and we just go to sleep. My sister and I share a room. My mom’s in another room. And when I’m in bed with my sister, I almost tell her, but then we start talking about my dad and we start crying. And I’m like, I don’t, I can’t tell her right now.

[00:33:53] Dana: This would just tip this, just push her over the edge. So I didn’t tell her. I didn’t tell her for a while, actually. So then we get up the next day and we push on to Ohio, cause that’s where my dad’s family is. And, um, that’s where my sister lives and we’re going to stay there, for, you know, until it’s safe to go back, whatever.

[00:34:11] Dana: And so we drive the rest of the way and I go to stay with my best friend from high school and, um, my sister goes to her house and, I finally told my sister a couple days later ‘ cause I was having like almost nervous breakdown and she said to me, she was trying to comfort me ’cause she’s never seen me cry this hard.

[00:34:32] Dana: ’cause I’m the older sister and I, I’m kind of the tough one. And she was concerned and she kept saying, Dana, you’re starting to worry me. It’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna be okay. And I said, no, it’s not, it’s not ever gonna be okay. And, and then finally I just blurted out. And I said, dad’s not my biological father.

[00:34:48] Dana: And she goes, what? And then I start crying really hard. And then at that moment, my mom walks into the hotel room and my sister’s just like stunned. And she says, say what you just said. And I said, dad’s not my biological father. I said, she knows, she knows. And my sister goes, she looks at my mom. She goes, what, what the blank is, what is, what is happening?

[00:35:09] Dana: And my mom just burst into tears. And then. My sister is so confused and I can’t talk now because I, it’s, I just, I’m crying uncontrollably and my mom’s nodding and my sister’s like, wait a minute, is he my biological father? And that just sets me off. And then I, I finally managed to stop crying long enough to say, you look just like him.

[00:35:31] Dana: How could you say that you look exactly like, and so then she just, you know, she tries to comfort me more and she’s just like, how did this happen? What is going on? Nobody can give her any. information because we’re both crying so hard we can’t speak. So that was a whole thing. We finally get the story out and, she’s just stunned.

[00:35:50] Dana: And then her, her family come and, um, she’s like, well, I’m not going to tell anybody it’s, this is your story to tell whatever. I start crying really hard and I just tell everybody, and they, they think it’s, ’cause, you know, dad died. So I just say, I gotta go back to the room.

[00:36:04] Dana: So I go back to the room, I cry myself to sleep. I’m like, PA I pass out. I wake up the next morning and my sister’s not there. And I ask my mom, where’s Ginger? And she goes, well, she went, stayed at her house with her family. I call my sister and I’m like, how could you leave me? Like, where are you? Can you come back? I really need you to be here. And she goes, she was listening. I’m not going to lie to you. I freaked out. I’ve done something I’ve never done. She goes, I woke up this morning. I went downstairs and I just shotgun to beer.

[00:36:29] Dana: I’m like,

[00:36:30] Alexis: Wow, so it

[00:36:32] Alexis: really profoundly

[00:36:33] Dana: Yeah, and we, and we kind of laugh because that’s like something my dad would have done. She goes, yeah, I just shotgunned a beer. She goes, Dana, this is fucking crazy. And I said, I know. She goes, I can’t drive.

[00:36:44] Dana: I said, okay, well I’ll have mom come get you. So mom goes and gets her and we just spend the day together. Just like, cause now I can feel like I can talk about it. But, I’m like, let’s not talk about it in front of mom. Cause it’s gonna upset her, so. But we had time to process it. And then, so long story short, two weeks later, I’m flying home back to Los Angeles.

[00:37:04] Dana: I’m on the plane. I’m writing my dad’s obituary and I paid for internet on the plane. Cause I had to check some dates and stuff. Cause I’m writing all about his life. My dad was the police Lieutenant in our small town and like beloved by a lot of people. And so I’m writing this obituary and I get an email.

[00:37:24] Dana: You know how it kind of slides in front of your, on your screen. I see it’s from the lab and I’m like, yes, oh my God, I’m going to get validated. So I click open now, mind you, I’m on an airplane. And the irony is when I sit down, I noticed the woman next to me is drinking. Oh, she’s already has a glass of wine and she’s probably already two glasses in and she’s been crying.

[00:37:47] Dana: And I don’t say anything to her. And then finally, um, I kind of look at her and I say, are you okay? And she says, well, my friend just passed away from breast cancer and I’m, I’m going to her funeral and I’m like, Oh my God, I’m so sorry. And we talk about a friend a little bit and, then I go back to, to writing.

[00:38:03] Dana: And then, so anyway, that the thing comes in from a lab, I’m very excited. I click, I open it, you know, you know, those like DNA results, all these numbers, whatever. And, you know, and I’m looking at it. Yes, it’s working. It’s all this like, gibberish, whatever. And I, my eyes scan and I go down to the bottom and it says, percentage of possibility of paternity.

[00:38:25] Dana: 0%. And it was like being stabbed in the heart again, all over again, because in that two weeks, I, again, don’t ask me how I had convinced myself that this test was going to prove, like, I was going to like prove everybody wrong. And now it was really final. There was no, like, that was it. And so it’s like, it kind of kept happening.

[00:38:50] Dana: I kept having to relive it. And so I burst into tears and closed my laptop and just was crying uncontrollably. And the woman next to me, she goes, Oh my God, what is wrong? What happened? Are you okay? And I said, I just found out through a paternity test that my dad’s not my biological father and she would just now.

[00:39:11] Dana: And I said, yeah. That, that, that test, you know, here, I’ll show you. And I opened it up and I showed her and she just looked at me dumbfounded. And she reached up and pressed the, the call button for the flight attendant. And he came over and she goes, we’re going to need the big bottle, the whole bottle of wine.

[00:39:28] Dana: You just bring a whole bottle of wine to us. My friend just died of breast cancer and she just found out her dad is now her biological father. And he just looked at us. And the woman said, she found out like just now, like literally three minutes ago, go get the wine. And so this guy just looks at us like, and we’re both sobbing.

[00:39:47] Dana: And he just, he just comes back and hands us a full bottle. Sadly it was, you know, it was. Not the best wine, but we didn’t care. And we, we killed that whole bottle of wine and I’m not a drinker. So I pretty much passed out. But by the time I got to LA, I was just like, I could barely get off the plane.

[00:40:05] Dana: Um, and I’m, I’m still friends with that woman today. Like we keep in touch on Facebook. Yeah. Yeah. Because we helped each other through this really awful, like a really awful plane ride. We lived it, lived to tell it. So then I, so then I. I finally start to think about Googling, right? But I can’t bring myself to do it.

[00:40:28] Dana: So I wait until I’m back in Ohio for my dad’s, uh, celebration of life. And I’m at my best friend’s house. And I say, listen, I need to tell you something. Can, can we go out and get a drink? Because like she’s, she’s got five kids and like, you know, big house and a lot going on. So she’s like, yeah, absolutely.

[00:40:45] Dana: Let’s go out and get a glass of wine. So we go out and I tell her this whole story that I just told you. And at the end of the story, she looks at me and she goes, yeah, Ginger called me and told me the whole story. And I went, what? What? And. You know, she’s also known my we all grew up together and she’s like ginger feels like she failed you because she felt like she didn’t support you in the way you need to be supported.

[00:41:08] Dana: So she called me and she like tipped me off so I could like decide what I was going to say and how I was going to support you. And I was like, she told, no, she totally supported me. So I immediately of course called her and I was like, why are you so crazy? Like you were fine. So then I went, we went back to Kim’s house.

[00:41:25] Dana: That’s my best friend. With her next to me, I’m like, let’s, let’s start doing, let’s, let’s start doing some Googling, let’s start doing some sleuthing. So I googled Michelangelo, cosmetology school, Jacksonville, Florida, and an obituary came up

[00:41:40] Alexis: Oh,

[00:41:41] Dana: and, uh, yeah,

[00:41:42] Alexis: I mean, I

[00:41:42] Dana: right away. Boom.

[00:41:44] Dana: Yeah. Right.

[00:41:46] Dana: I mean, I didn’t know his last name.

[00:41:47] Alexis: Yeah.

[00:41:48] Dana: Um, my mom didn’t, she couldn’t spell it. So it turns out, I’m not going to say it here, but so it came up right away and there’s a little black and white photo of him and it turns out he sold his cosmetology school and here’s, here’s a chilling thing. So he sells his cosmetology school. Cause he used to be, he was like an amateur photographer.

[00:42:07] Dana: He sells it in his forties. He retires and he becomes a photographer. And guess what? I went to undergraduate. Guess what? I have a BFA in

[00:42:16] Alexis: Wow.

[00:42:17] Dana: photography and I just, I’m staring at that. And I show Kim, I’m like, are you seeing this? And she’s reading the obituary about how he’s a photographer and a painter and an inventor and a teacher.

[00:42:28] Dana: And she’s like, it’s like they’re listing all the things you are. He was everything but a writer. So I’m looking at this little picture and I’m still not sure. I’m like, I don’t know, is that him? I mean, it has to be, right? Who else is, who else has that name?

[00:42:41] Dana: But it doesn’t, I can’t tell if it looks like me. So we get on and he had died in 2002.. So I felt a weird twinge like, Oh, I’m never going to meet this guy. That’s weird. I’m never going to meet my biological father. And Kim was like, are you okay? I’m like, I strangely knew that he was dead. I kind of, I felt it when my mom told me I didn’t have like an expectation to meet him in a weird way.

[00:43:07] Dana: So then I get on Facebook because the last name is Italian and it’s very, it’s, I’ve never seen it before. It’s unusual. So we get on Facebook and we start Googling. And of course there are four names that are listed as his children. So I start Googling those names. The first guy doesn’t look anything like me.

[00:43:22] Dana: I’m like, there’s, I don’t know how to keep, I guess maybe he could be it. So I’m on Facebook and I’m looking at his daughters and he has one daughter that kind of looks like me. I’m like, maybe, and Kim’s like, I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. So then I’m on her Facebook page and I’m scrolling through all her photos and I stopped dead in my tracks.

[00:43:39] Dana: It looks like she’s got a toddler. Picture of me. She looks like she has a baby picture of me on her Facebook page. And I’m like, what? And I showed it to Kim and she’s like, Oh my God, that looks like you when you were a baby. I’m like, I know. It was this woman’s. oldest daughter. And I said, wow.

[00:43:55] Dana: And so then I started looking and I said, I think these are, I think this is it. I think, I think these are my people. I just don’t look like my brother cause we’re half, but wow, his, his granddaughter looks just like me. So then I Googled some more, I Facebooked some more people and then I found a brother, who looked just like me, like when we were in high school, we could have been fraternal twins.

[00:44:15] Dana: And that was freaky. Cause if you’ve never, I don’t have a brother. And if you’ve never seen a man that looks like you to suddenly see a man that looks like you, it’s weird.

[00:44:24] Dana: So I got, I finally started reaching out to these people. And saying, Hey, I know this might sound weird, but my father just passed away and a secret came out and it turns out that I, you know, I think we might share, I think we might have the same father, but I’m not sure.

[00:44:40] Dana: So it got to the, the oldest. And he emailed me back fairly quickly and said, you know what? We’ve had other half siblings pop up. It turns out our father was a prolific ladies, man.

[00:44:56] Alexis: Oh.

[00:44:56] Dana: the, over the course of a year, so first there were four, then there were five, then there were seven, then there were eight, then there were nine.

[00:45:05] Dana: So it turns out Michelangelo put 10 babies in nine different ladies

[00:45:13] Alexis: Okay.

[00:45:14] Dana: from, and yeah,

[00:45:16] Alexis: Prolific is probably the best

[00:45:18] Dana: yeah, right. Yeah. Like he, he was Nick Cannon before Nick Cannon was Nick Cannon. Right. And um, So yeah, so his, his part time job was like, like making, making good looking babies. Cause I have, I have a half sister who was a supermodel in the eighties and it was really weird because I recognize some of the Vogue covers and the Cosmo covers that she was on.

[00:45:44] Dana: I’m like, Oh my God, I remember these covers. Like I can’t believe that woman is my half sister. And then I have another sister who is a famous.

[00:45:53] Dana: And then I have this brother who we could have been twins in high school and he, and it turns out we’re all in the arts. We’re either in entertainment or when we’re all in arts. And then I have a half brother and that’s a whole other story. This brother, I had a brother who was adopted at birth. Raised in New York, moved out to LA probably like 10 or 15 years before I did, lived within a couple blocks from me and was a cameraman in Hollywood when I was a screenwriter and dated one of my friends.

[00:46:30] Alexis: oh my gosh. So it’s just like so close to home for you and so many connections.

[00:46:36] Dana: like, what are the odds? What are the odds that? So we were both born in Jacksonville. Oh, and get this. We were in utero at the same time. So he was born in July of 1965. I was born in March of 1966. So Michelangelo had two ladies pregnant at the same time. And then Jeff was adopted at birth. Raised in New York, moved out to LA and then I was like, we moved up to Ohio when I was six months.

[00:47:04] Dana: I came out to LA. I think he came in the late, he came in like in the late eighties and I came in, I moved to LA in 1995 and then we lived like within a couple of blocks from each other. I mean, thank God we didn’t date.

[00:47:19] Alexis: Yes.

[00:47:21] Dana: Same industry. He dated one of my friends. He dated my friend, Kathy, which I didn’t find out because I wasn’t, I didn’t, I wasn’t really great friends with Kathy, but when Jeff and I met and I, and we were going through photos of when he lived in Marina del Rey.

[00:47:35] Dana: I lived in Venice. We were going through old photos of him and I saw these pictures of him with Kathy. I’m like, Oh my God, you dated Kathy. I was friends with Kathy. And he’s like, what? He said, yeah, I didn’t date her. I dated her for like a couple of months. And then it turns out he started dating her probably about a year after, cause I moved and Kathy and I no longer, like if you’re in LA, you kind of tend to only hang out with people that are in your neighborhood because you, otherwise it’s a 45 minute drive.

[00:48:03] Dana: I moved out of the neighborhood and I didn’t really hang out with Kathy that much anymore. We were friendly, but. I just missed like me, cause like I met all her boyfriends, so I would have met him had I stayed in that neighborhood. Isn’t it crazy? And then he turned out to be the one that went off the rails, stalked me.

[00:48:22] Dana: Like stalked me, stalked his ex girlfriend, ended up, I ended up driving him to rehab. I knew him for like five months. And at the end of five months, I was driving him to rehab. He had completely gone off the rails. He, he had a host of problems and he ended up getting arrested a couple of times and, he threatened the life of a sitting official of an elected official.

[00:48:45] Dana: So the FBI got involved and he, um, yeah, he, he’d had, he had an untimely and he committed suicide in the LA County jail. And that was a whole other, that was a whole other trauma that like, I won’t even go into here. But, um, Yeah, it was weird to meet him and then within a year, lose him to mental illness and alcoholism.

[00:49:09] Alexis: So how soon exactly you identified who your biological father was and found the siblings? Did you reach out to them? Was it like days or?

[00:49:23] Dana: No, it was weeks. It was weeks. I had to like, I had to process everything. And even then I think it was too early. Like I, I, and like I said, I was devastated by the loss of my dad. And I think this was a way for me to bury myself and not have to deal with the fact that now I had this void in my life. And so I kind of.

[00:49:44] Dana: Busied myself with reaching out to these people and getting to know them. And I was lucky. They all embraced me with open arms. And a lot of them didn’t know each other because remember we, we were all different, we had different mothers.

[00:49:56] Alexis: Yeah, and you’re kind of just uncovering it all as you went.

[00:50:00] Alexis: Have you met your siblings? What’s your relationship like with them now?

[00:50:04] Dana: So I have three brothers and, six sisters and I’ve met all of them except one. The model passed away before I found out she passed away. I think, in 2012. , so I didn’t meet her. I have another sister that I’ve spoken with on the phone, but I have two other sisters I’ve spoken with on the phone, but we’ve never met. And then I, I met my sister who is the wrestler and she lives here in the state of Florida.

[00:50:33] Dana: And I, met my oldest brother, Mark. He lives in Georgia. And then I met. My, second oldest brother, Terry, he lives in Atlanta, Georgia, I met Jeff, who lived in LA. And then I met my oldest sister who has since passed away. I’m really happy I got to meet her before she passed away.

[00:50:53] Dana: And when she met me, she walked in because I was visiting Mark and Mark and Peggy were kind of raised together because they were like the original four that, That he had married the mothers. And so they, they were the, so the first four children, he, he was in their lives. So when Peggy, who’s the oldest, she walked into Mark’s house and I was in the kitchen and she gasped and she goes, Oh my God, you look so much like daddy.

[00:51:16] Dana: Because out of all the kids, I kind of have his face.

[00:51:20] Alexis: Oh wow.

[00:51:21] Dana: Yeah, it’s really weird. Um, all the kids either have green eyes or blue eyes. I’m the only one that has brown eyes He had green eyes, but I have his like I just have his I have his face I’ve got his eyebrows and the shape of his face and his nose he was a real Joker charismatic a showman There’s a picture of him performing in drag. And he looks a lot like me. It’s really weird. And, and I will say this, seeing a picture of my biological father in drag, I had to laugh because it suddenly made my life.

[00:51:53] Dana: Make a lot of sense. Most of my, not that my biological father was gay because he wasn’t gay. Obviously he has 10 children. He was a hairstylist. He was a swinger. He, was a man who was really ahead of his time. He was an artist and. He had a sailboat with an all female crew and like a huge, like a big boat, sailed around the islands.

[00:52:20] Dana: And he was just this fantastical kind of larger than life person. And so when I remember seeing that picture, some of my friends said, well, of course. Of course your biological father did drag, like, and, and, and was Italian. Like, there’s no way, like, doesn’t that make more sense? Like you were raised by a German policeman.

[00:52:39] Dana: Cause that’s my, my dad was a policeman and my dad was from Germany, born in Germany,

[00:52:44] Alexis: Mm.

[00:52:45] Dana: but you were sired by an Italian hairdresser. Like, of course you were, it makes everyone’s like this, like, of course, like the, now everything makes sense. And I have to admit, it kind of does make sense. So, I can laugh about it now, but like I say, when I talk about my dad and when I cry, it’s just because I miss my dad.

[00:53:05] Dana: I miss him, um, we used to butt heads all the time, but in a loving way. We always gave each other shit and we always, we just, we had fun together and we love to yell at each other. We love to get in arguments and, I just miss him, you know?

[00:53:22] Alexis: Yeah, How is your relationship with your mom now?

[00:53:27] Dana: My mom and I’ve always had a great relationship. She had, she had me when she was very young. She was 18 when I was born. My mom is an old soul and she’s, and Because we’re not friends. She’s definitely my mom, but I feel, I’ve always been very close to her and we’ve got like a shorthand and never once And it’s so funny that she kept saying when she first told me in the hospital hallway, don’t hate us, don’t hate us.

[00:53:54] Dana: And I, I think the first words out of my mouth were, how could you ever think that I would hate you for this or anything like I, you guys are the two people I love the most in the world. So my mom is the person I love most in the world and that never changed even for a millisecond. Like when, when COVID happened, I got in my car and I drove from LA to Jacksonville cause I didn’t, cause you know, everyone had to shelter in place.

[00:54:19] Dana: And I’m like, well, I’m going to shelter with the person I love the most. So

[00:54:22] Alexis: Yeah.

[00:54:23] Dana: here I am. So yeah, it didn’t, it didn’t change our relationship in any way. And my mom was. Was as soon as I found out and she said she was look don’t make me the hero because I was gonna take it to My grave, but because you found out I’m gonna tell you the truth and I’m gonna tell you everything And this is your story to tell and you tell whoever you want.

[00:54:40] Dana: And this is all you now but my mom’s cool like that and She said there were a few times I wanted to tell you but your father didn’t want to share you with the other family That was like his big fear and he also was afraid Because you were so different from us, he was afraid that when we told you, you would go look for the other family.

[00:55:01] Dana: And then his biggest fear was that you would leave us and go be with the other family because I was very different than my family. I was an artist, really like a free spirit and I grew up in this tiny town in Ohio and I thought I should be living in New York City somewhere.

[00:55:19] Dana: Like I never made sense to me. And I was always like, how did I get here? Why am I with these boring people? Like my parents never took me to museums. Like art was not part of the vocabulary and I was all about it. Like that’s all I wanted to do was like make art and I mean, I was listening to like Coltrane at like 12 years old.

[00:55:36] Dana: And being really into it. And my parents were like, this is noise. Why are you? I’m like, that’s, that’s John Coltrane. That’s Miles Davis. What are you talking about? And I kind of always knew that I just thought I was the black sheep and I didn’t fit in, but. You know, it turns out I had different biology. And the more I started finding out about my biological father, I think some of that stuff is definitely nature.

[00:55:57] Dana: Like it’s hardwired into you because Jeff was a cameraman, Terry’s in film as well, and makes music and writes the model was also a published songwriter and was in bands. The youngest is a songwriter. The wrestler, that’s entertainment, like we’re all, we all are very similar and we have a lot of weird things in common.

[00:56:21] Dana: Like the second oldest girl and Mark, who’s the oldest boy, they both have rescue farms. They rescue animals. They like, they both, they each have two donkeys that they rescued. What are the odds of that? These are two people we’ve never met.

[00:56:35] Alexis: Your family is such a good example of this because there are so many of you and to be

[00:56:41] Alexis: all of these

[00:56:43] Alexis: across so many children is amazing.

[00:56:47] Dana: Oh, it’s, it’s creepy. It’s creepy. Terry and Jeff, who, who, who never got to meet by the way, but they talked on the phone, they both had built sound studios in their houses. They’re both real. And our father was really into ham radio when it came out and he used to build radios and,, both Terry and Jeff, not ever knowing that built recording studios in their houses.

[00:57:11] Dana: Who does that?

[00:57:12] Alexis: that’s so, so interesting.

[00:57:15] Dana: Isn’t it crazy?

[00:57:17] Alexis: Yeah, I’m curious, and, and maybe I’m asking this a little bit out of a personal place,

[00:57:24] Dana: Yeah.

[00:57:25] Alexis: you have processed the fact that both of your parents knew? Because most of the people that I talk to in our community, maybe there was a question or the mom knew and she was keeping it from the dad. of your parents knew.

[00:57:43] Alexis: that feel?

[00:57:44] Dana: It never crossed my mind because my parents were together from the time they were teenagers. And I knew that there, they didn’t have any secrets from each other. I knew they were super tight. And I also, I knew, I know my dad and like when my mom told me that story and when everything that she said, I’m like, yep, yep, yep.

[00:58:04] Dana: I almost was not angry, but I was like, how could you guys ever think I would hate you or be mad at you? Because that’s why they, that’s kind of why they didn’t tell me. And, um, I thought that was kind of sad and weird because I would have thought that they would have known me better, but I think they did it out of fear.

[00:58:22] Dana: But it made sense. It made sense to me. And then the thing I wanted to know, and I kind of spent that next year kind of unpacking was kind of going up to each of the people in my life that my dad was the closest to and trying to find out if he told anybody, because I wanted to see, I wanted to know what he, if he told anybody, and I don’t know why I wanted to know that.

[00:58:45] Dana: I don’t know why. I just, I guess did. He didn’t, well, he didn’t tell, yeah, he didn’t tell anybody. And he didn’t tell people that I would have thought he would have told, like his brother and I asked mom, I’m like, do you think, do you think dad told anybody? You know, your, your dad and I, we were each other’s best friend.

 Like we were it, like nobody else needed to know except for the two of us. She goes, why would he have needed to tell anybody? And you also have to look at my parents, but neither one of them really had parents. My mom had parents, but she was taken away from her parents young and put into foster care.

[00:59:15] Dana: And like at the age of like four or something. And then my dad was born during the war in Germany. And his parent, his. He never knew his dad. His dad died before he was born and his mom died when he was three. So these are two people who didn’t have parents and fell in love and wanted to make a family.

[00:59:33] Dana: Right. And so they did, and I think they both came from such chaos, but it was really important to them to provide a stable, boring, drama free household, which they did.

[00:59:46] Alexis: Mm.

[00:59:47] Dana: And so that’s why I was so surprised. I’m like, Nothing exciting ever happens in my family. And all of a sudden it’s like, I’m like, you know, I’m a screenwriter.

[00:59:57] Dana: I had to leave Ohio and go find stories and have, go have experiences and have exciting, crazy shit happen to me so I could write about it. And the whole time, like it was something crazy was right under my nose. And I didn’t know it.

[01:00:12] Alexis: Yeah, yeah. So, into kind of the next chapter, what helped you and process this experience? Thank you.

[01:00:26] Dana: Well, as soon as kind of like everybody knew that I wanted to know that I was close with, then I just started telling everybody who would listen because the more I talked about it, the more it seemed true. And I needed it. I needed because it still felt like a movie. It’s I was still disassociating and I, it’s still, I was still not feeling.

[01:00:46] Dana: Like this was my life and I, I still sometimes feel like that, but so I would have started telling everybody. Like I, I would tell Uber drivers, tell everybody it grounded it. It made it like seem, yes, this is something that happened to you. This is not a movie. You are not living in an alternate. This is not a different dimension, Dana Schmallenberg, this is your life.

[01:01:09] Dana: So I just kind of started talking about it. And then, so that helped, but what really helped was I found an online support group, a private Facebook group called DNA NPE friends. And I got on there and I started, reading everybody else’s stories. And it’s like you said, everybody has. We used the same words, untethered, unmoored, we felt like our heads were going to explode.

[01:01:33] Dana: We felt that there was like our whole lives were a lie, like everything, like we were just associating it. All of a sudden I had this new family, right? And so that helped. And then I kept trying to find a therapist who understood this and nobody did. But I did happen to find a good therapist. I did a lot of somatic experiencing, cause I had, was holding a lot of grief in, in my body.

[01:01:56] Dana: I did a lot of like shadow work and she just created this safe space for me and kind of met me where I was. And it was like three years of, of pretty much at first, like sometimes I would go twice a week because I had a full on identity crisis and, um, Yeah, she had to help put me back together.

[01:02:15] Dana: And then as I was going through that, and then when COVID hit and I saw how it seemed like everybody was falling apart, I thought to myself, I don’t want anybody to go through what I just went through these five years, I just went through hell my entire being just kind of shattered in a million pieces and I had to pick it all up and put it back together. And even, even though I was on the support chat groups that there was no, there didn’t seem like to be any resources. In fact, your podcast didn’t even exist yet.

[01:02:47] Dana: And I was like. Yeah, I was like, there’s, there’s nothing out there. I was just, I needed help and I didn’t want to feel alone. I wanted, so I, and I was doing, you know, I was Googling all the time and there just was very little out there. This was 2017. And then like five years later, there was still not a lot out there.

[01:03:05] Dana: So over COVID, I started teaching film at Jacksonville University. And while I was there, I was on college campus. And I remember thinking. God, I really miss learning. I miss going to school. And here’s, here’s another irony. When I moved to LA back in 1995, I gave myself five years to sell a screenplay. And I said, if I don’t sell a screenplay, I’m going to go back to school and I’m going to get another degree.

[01:03:31] Dana: I’m going to go for psychology because that’s my, the other thing that I wanted to do with my life was I wanted to become a psychotherapist. And so five years came and went. I had not sold a screenplay and I was actually fine with it because I’m like, okay, I’m going to do my plan B, which was like, I’m going to go to school cause I’m fascinated by psychology and always have been.

[01:03:49] Dana: And I kind of always thought that’s what I would do if the art and entertainment thing didn’t work out, I’m like, that’s fine. You know, I’ll, I’ll go do this. Cause I was constantly like, for fun, I was reading psychology books. Right.

[01:04:01] Alexis: Mm

[01:04:01] Dana: So I started applying to graduate schools in the fall of 2001 and, , I had a friend who left. Sony where he was working and he went out on his own as producer and he said, Hey, I really liked that idea that you had. I’d like to, I’d like to take it out as a pitch. I said, you know what?

[01:04:17] Dana: I’m not going to do this anymore. I’m going to go back to school and I’m going to, I’m going to study psychology. And so I was waiting in the spring to get my, acceptance letters back and he came to me again. He’s like, come on. He’s like, look, if I set the pitch meetings up with studios, will you come and just pitch?

[01:04:37] Dana: You don’t have to write it. Just, just pitch it. I’m like, Oh, fine. Okay. So we went out and we pitched it. I sold it in the room at the second studio.

[01:04:44] Alexis: Yeah, that put a pause on, that put a pause on going back to school.

[01:04:49] Dana: So, so that happened and then I got, I actually got into a couple of schools. I applied to five, I got into two and, um, I was still wasn’t sure. I was like, I don’t know, should I do this? I only sold one screenplay. And then I immediately got an offer. I got like a two year deal at Disney, like a two year first look deal at Disney.

[01:05:07] Dana: And then I was like, okay, this is real. I’m going to do the screenwriting thing. And so then I ended up doing that for 20, 22 years. And so then when COVID hit and we were all kind of at home. And I was seeing how people were falling apart and they couldn’t get mental health care.

[01:05:21] Dana: And I had just been through this like five year odyssey of like finding myself and going through all this therapy and doing a lot, doing a lot of work on my own. I said, I think I’m going to, I’m going to go back. I’m going to go back and be the person that I needed. in 2017. She didn’t exist then. I’m going to become her.

[01:05:42] Alexis: Yeah, that’s amazing. So, you went back to school.

[01:05:46] Dana: Yeah. So I went to school and now I’m in my second year of my master’s program. I’m currently doing my prep, my practicum. I’m seeing patients. I see about 10 patients a week. I graduate, in another two semesters and then I will do a two year internship. And at that time, you know, I’ll see patients full time, but I’ll be under a supervisor, which means they’ll okay all my treatment plans and all they’ll confirm all my diagnoses.

[01:06:13] Dana: And I’m going to specialize in, NPEs and just, I, I don’t want people to, they should have more resources. Their lives shouldn’t have to fall apart when this happens.

[01:06:27] Alexis: Yes, I’m so glad that you are pursuing this and that there are

[01:06:31] Alexis: to be

[01:06:32] Dana: thank you. I’m so glad that you’re, I’m so glad you’re doing this, the retreats that you’re doing because oh my gosh, if that existed, I would have signed up for that so fast. I was flailing. I was flailing. I was looking for anything to hang on to. And I would spend hours on like a Facebook page just re pouring over everybody else’s stories and like, and, and offering support and, you know, did like emailing back and forth with other MPs. And like, I don’t, I don’t even think there was one. I don’t even think there was a podcast out when it first started for me. Cause I think I looked and there wasn’t one.

[01:07:08] Alexis: don’t think so. I think Everything’s Relative started after, and Danny Shapiro’s might have started after as

[01:07:15] Dana: Yeah. Yeah. started after 2017. Yeah, there was nothing really in 2017, except for this Facebook page. And at the time there were only like barely 700 people on it. Now there’s like 9, 500.

[01:07:28] Alexis: right,

[01:07:30] Dana: so yeah, there, there was just like, I, like I said, I was flailing and had you, had you, had I seen a retreat, I’d have been like, I will, I will walk there if I have to.

[01:07:38] Dana: Cause I just. I needed somebody. I needed to be with my people. I need to be because nobody understands you like even the friends who love you. They don’t, they don’t get it.

[01:07:49] Alexis: You’ve also created a course, which for anyone listening, uh, Dana has shared it with me. I’ve gone through it and looked and, and there’s just these great, modules on things like identity, betrayal, trauma, just. All of the things that are so unique, I think, to this DNA discovery, DNA surprise world. Can you share a little bit about your course and how people

[01:08:15] Dana: thank you. Um, yeah, I, I just launched it and, um, it is called net navigating your DNA bombshell. from shell shock to secure new identity, because that’s kind of what I felt like I was doing. And I think that’s what a lot of us feel. We feel like we get a bomb dropped on us. So what I did was I, you know, I’m taking all these classes.

[01:08:39] Dana: I’m learning how to read studies and research papers. And, it was really important to me to Research all the different ways that we can heal from this trauma. And also because the big component of it is an identity crisis, I think. And so I spent a year just reading everything I could on, grief and betrayal and identity crisis and shadow work and integrating a new identity.

[01:09:06] Dana: Then I wrote it and the writing part comes easy for me cause that’s what I’ve been doing for 22 years. So I wrote it and then I had to film it and I did it all myself and it took me longer than it should have, but thankfully I do have a background, in film and television. So I was able to put this course together and what I wanted to do was I wanted to put together something.

[01:09:28] Dana: That I would have wanted and needed back when the bombshell got dropped on me. And it’s a course that you kind of take at your own pace. It has videos where I’m kind of guiding you through everything. They’re also guided meditations that you can download onto your phone or your computer, the like MP3s.

[01:09:45] Dana: And I kind of take you through grief releasing exercises and, shadow exercises, and then there are. Journal pages to download with journal prompts to kind of process some of the things. And it’s just, um, you know, it’s like, it’s like go at your own pace kind of thing because this is some deep, deep work.

[01:10:07] Dana: And I also offer some coaching to come along with it for those who want to dive a little deeper into it. It was a labor of love, but it also, it, yeah, it took a, it took a lot of work, but I don’t want people’s lives to have to fall apart like mine did.

[01:10:23] Dana: It’s www navigational narratives. com Um, I’m on Instagram, but I haven’t really started. I’m just kind of compiling everything that I, that I can and trying to put it into like bite size, nuggets that you can like, because the work is so deep, you know, you only want to give people a little bit at a time because we’re already in overwhelm when we find this out, the last thing you want to do is to continue to overwhelm someone.

[01:10:49] Alexis: Yes, thank you for creating this resource. amazing to see so many more resources, you know, start to come out, you know, like you said, there weren’t a ton seven years ago and beyond. And so to see more podcasts, this course, books and other resources for

[01:11:10] Dana: and, and the meetups, I, I, I’m dying to go to a meetup. Like there’s not one in the Jacksonville area, but like I get back to LA a lot. And so I’m, and like with, with your retreat, like, I want to be in the company of other people who have had this experience because I think that could be really healing.

[01:11:27] Alexis: Yes, well, we’ll see you in September for sure.

[01:11:31] Dana: Yes. Yes.

[01:11:32] Dana: Oh,

[01:11:36] Alexis: all of these resources in the show notes for anyone who’s listening right now. And Dana, just thank you so much for coming on the podcast and sharing your story. It’s great. Amazing to hear your journey where you started and then taking that all the way to giving back to the community and hearing that you’re in such a good place right now and that you have such a good sense of humor about it all.

[01:12:03] Alexis: Like, I think that that’s very inspiring. It can really give hope to a lot of people.

[01:12:08] Dana: thank you. And thank you for this podcast, because like I said, for a long time, it, nothing like that existed. I can now listen to these podcasts without totally losing it and sobbing for hours. And you know, it’s, it’s like you said, I love it when we use that word. Community because community is, I’m getting choked up again.

[01:12:30] Dana: It is kind of what saved me, I think it is what, cause as much as I love my friends and my family, it was the other people who have experienced this to get the validation that I wasn’t crazy and that this was something that was deep and needed to be healed and being able to also be there for them was very healing for me.

[01:12:52] Dana: So I thank you for, allowing a platform for, for all of us to share our stories and, become a community.


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