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Fully Known

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) Andrew Mahoney
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Chaplain Corps

This is the absurdity of my last three years of life. My goal is not to ostracize or critique those who hurt me, only to reveal how in immense pain and grief there is always a chance to build back stronger and better.

I am high in openness and, as a chaplain, share stories from my life into my sermons. The current sermon series, is “Fully Known,” with the premise, our greatest need as people is to be fully known. This reminds me that service members need to be fully understood, share without fear of reprisal, be comfortable being themselves, and know that vulnerability is strength. 

There is a deep spiritual meaning behind this concept and each week we look at different characters in scripture, getting to know them, and in doing so, better understand ourselves. 

As I see characters in scriptures struggle, I am reminded of my own. I take heart in knowing that others have tread the path I am taking and that others have walked the miles in my shoes. But no story in the Bible could have prepared me for the period of mourning I was about to go through.

During Christmas of 2019, my wife gave me a DNA test to prove I was Irish. A heritage I claimed because my last name was Mahoney. The DNA results came back in February 2020. All things panned out initially.  I was Irish, but only 13 percent. It also said I was 33 percent Danish and Swedish, which seemed odd to me. I was not familiar with this part of my heritage.

While taking a closer look on the website, I clicked on an icon that said, “DNA matches.” Familiar faces were displayed; my mom, my two half-sisters, and all my cousins on my mother’s side. 

To my dismay, there was no Mahoney’s on there. Strangely, there was a name between my sister’s and my mom, the name read Gary Hansen. I instantly knew this was where my Danish and Swedish heritage was coming from.

I took the mouse, quickly scrolled over his name and clicked. The website said this man was either my grandpa, uncle, half-brother or nephew. I sat back in my chair and thought, “No way. This can’t be possible.” The website gave me an age range which immediately ruled out nephew, half-brother, and grandpa. This left one possibility.  This was my uncle.  But how?

This test revealed to me the man who I thought was my father was not.   He has been dead for the past 33 years. I have a few memories of him, his name was Leo Mahoney, a proud Vietnam Veteran, somebody worth calling father.  Sadly, he died by suicide when I was three.

I had wrapped my head around my father’s tragic history as young boy and was constantly on the lookout for myself – my own mental health. 

This DNA test revealed that my dad was not dead, instead he was very much alive and well. His name is Craig Hansen, brother of my Uncle Gary Hansen. Half my identity dissolved as this revelation continued to manifest.

As the story continued to unfold it became less and less bleak. Cloaked in my grief was a discovery. Not only was my father alive, a term I have never said unless it was about God, but he had a daughter, my new half-sister. 

I reached out to my family with boldness and vulnerability. My first conversations with my dad and my sister was overwhelmingly beautiful.

I talked to my sister for two hours on the phone during our first call. It was like talking to the female version of myself. I learned about my nephews and nieces, about my unknown family, and about myself.

Things about my life were beginning to make sense.

I understood why I was so good at baseball, grandpa, about my stubbornness, dad, and why I was cold blooded, my sister.

With each word they spoke about themselves and their past, I was simultaneously blessed and skewered. Each word a delight and a hot coal in my soul.

I discovered a word called desiderium, which in essence is a grieving or longing for something that was lost. I lost thirty-three years with this family.

I was so glad to have them in my life, but it still hurt. I missed so much.

These initial interactions I felt like an outsider. We shared DNA, but we didn’t share common memories or any other social and cultural things that make a family.  This has begun to change over time.

Because of this revelation, I have now had two Christmas’s with my new family, met my dad on multiple occasions, hunted on his land, and learned about a heritage I never knew I had. I have gained so much. 

As I reflect on overcoming adversity I think about what an overcomer is. An overcomer to me is someone who takes life’s hits and is able to respond by getting up and saying not me, not now, not today.

The overcomer is the one who can be afraid and still move forward, and can tell stories about themselves because in the story there is healing. My charge to you is tell your stories to build a better future and empower others to be an overcomer.