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Dear Amy: I am adopted and have been in contact with my birth mother for five years. I have met her husband and their two sons — my half-brothers. They have also met my husband, and our other family members.

My birth mother was disowned by her parents when she became pregnant. She was sent to a maternity home. After I was born, she went to live with her grandparents.

I have learned that my birth father is deceased but was married with four children when I was conceived. According to my birth mother, he didn't know about her pregnancy. After much thought, I reached out to them.

Months later, I received a formal, terse letter signed by all four of them. They want nothing to do with me and threatened to contact their attorney. They warned me to "stay away" from their mother (his widow).

They said that given the circumstances (i.e. an extramarital affair), I would be an "embarrassment" to their family. I have no desire to hurt these people. I was only hoping for a DNA test to confirm paternity.

I am upset, to say the least. What do you think?

Amy says: When people react the way your birth father's family has, they are acting out of fear.

It seems most likely that knowledge of your very existence threatens to upend their ideas about their father — and themselves. Judging only on the facts you present, your birth father does not seem like the greatest guy in the world. Ironically, if his family would let you in, you might learn otherwise.

DNA testing has upended many family relationships, because it exposes the truth: that life is complicated, that no family is perfect, and that many of us live comfortably with half-buried secrets and sometimes in outright denial.

We all come from somewhere, and the truth is not always pretty, but beauty is born when you absorb and accept the truth — and keep going.

You have every reason to be upset. I think you also have every reason to celebrate your own resilience, the joys of your combined families, and your healthy quest for knowledge. You should do some legal research of your own to see what your options are, regarding forcing this issue — if you choose to.

Send questions to Amy Dickinson at askamy@ amydickinson.com. Twitter: @askingamy Facebook: @ADickinsonDaily.