You can choose friends, lovers, partners in crime, friends and best friends, enemies too, but you cannot choose a family. The one you have is the one you are with forever. That includes a fair share of best moments, childhood nostalgia, reunions, and not-so-happy memories of dinner table arguments, clashing beliefs, and you know how it goes…
But since we are so sure we know our family members so well, we can easily miss the fact that it’s possible we know very little about them. How come, you ask? Well, this illuminating thread from Ask Reddit has some answers.
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“What ‘family secret’ did you learn that totally shocked you?” one Redditor asked, and the result is thousands of spilled family secrets that were not meant to reach the daylight. Below we wrapped up some of the most shocking ones people shared.
I was adopted by the man I always knew as ‘Dad’. I was always asked “did you think of him differently after you found out?” My response has and always will be yes. I respect him a hell of a lot more than I ever did before.
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Ages ago I arranged a meeting with the local dope dealer through a real half a*s friend and surprise surprise it was my dad. Needless to say major questions were asked on both sides.
My god the look on our faces must’ve been priceless!
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My mom married my stepfather in the mid 80s. My mom and dad had been divorced since my birth in the early 70s. So, living primarily with my mom, she would of course go out on dates, and eventually I would get the old boyfriend introduction which usually went well. With my soon to be step father, I always knew there was something a little off. Couldn’t ever really pin down what it was, but he was just off, if ever so slightly. But hey, my mom really liked this guy, so I was in. Made my way through some awkward teenage years with him, and off to college. Still, I felt like I was missing something with him.
Then, in 1997, and my mom and step dad divorce. Towards then end, he would grow very impatient and I guess they would fight a lot, but I wasn’t around to see it as I had long since moved out and had my own life to lead in a different state. Didn’t ever hear him come up much in conversation after that.
Now, fast forward to 2007. My mom, unfortunately had cancer and it was nearing the end of her life. I spent the last two weeks with her at her house, just talking and letting her know how much I loved her and what a great mom she had been. For those that have never seen a loved one pass away from cancer, it’s not very pleasant. They tend to get a little loopy, forgetful and generally speaking, aren’t 109% with it. So, sitting on the couch next to her on one of these days, she exclaims “Well, I suppose I can tell you about your stepfather now”. My eyes perked right up, I knew it I knew it, something was off about him! Maybe he went AWOL from the Army? Maybe he had a kid I didn’t know about? She continued on “Your stepfather was a gay porn star in the 70s”. This, I had not expected.
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While some secrets are better left with the people who carry them, others surely benefit from getting out into broad daylight. But generally speaking, keeping a secret of any kind is an art form of its own. First, it’s a commitment for another person, and then, it’s a responsibility that you carry along for… well, forever.
So to find out more about what it takes to keep secrets and the power of controlling what you share with others, we spoke with Dr. Audrey Tang, an award-winning author and leadership coach.
“A secret is one of the most powerful shows of trust because it can endow another with their greatest weapon against you,” she said and added that “Sadly, sometimes, we ourselves are not always discerning with who we tell; sometimes, we might not have realized that friendship was going to take that turn…” Tang explained that this is less about the ability to keep secrets and more about the person whose secrets you hold.
Found out when I was 22 but apparently I had an older sister.
She died very young due to a heart defect or something before I was born but yeah no one in my (very very large) family ever let it slip the whole time.
I only found out because my other 2 older sisters found a letter buried in a closet one day years ago and they told me about it way after the fact.
Never asked my parents about it, I can only imagine what kind of old wound that would dig up and they don’t need that – I just quietly visited the grave by myself once to leave a flower. It was a pretty unreal feeling.
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That my mom had fake boobs from a career as a swimsuit model in the 80s.
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My father had an affair with his brother’s wife so my cousin is also my brother.
my cousin doesn’t know though, grandma let this slip whilst wasted
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However, every secret comes with an aspect of forgetting. “If you remove any deliberate malice, some people sometimes simply forget what can and cannot be shared,” Tang told us. “My husband will say to me – don’t tell me anything about anyone, because I will forget what I have to keep a secret. While this has actually made me a better person, it’s also worth knowing that sometimes it’s nothing to do with intention to cause hurt, just that some people are forgetful!”
“At a push, one might also argue that those with low impulse control may also blurt out a secret when they are not focused on their interactions, and other things which can reduce our willpower can include intoxication and even a lack of sleep, which can reduce our cognitive focus,” Tang explained.
My family owned black slaves. We’re Native American.
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My great grandpa murdered one of his own children. The family was a bunch of poor backwoods hicks and having trouble feeding their kids. My great grandma was pregnant and didn’t learn until delivery that she was pregnant with twins. Great grandpas solution was to bash one of the babies heads against the wash basin.
My grandpa wrote a letter to my mom on his deathbed and this was one of the things he wrote about in the letter. When my mom told me my blood turned to ice water. The sheer evilness completely shocked me.
That my “mom” is actually my grandma, my “dad” is my step grandpa, and my “sister” who is 13 years older than me is my mom. And my biological dad was 21 when he got her pregnant.
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However, when it comes to keeping secrets, the sharing is more often than not a deliberate act, Tang argues. “Some friendships are sadly hazardous to our mental health – especially if someone is deliberately choosing to tell our secrets – this can happen in a toxic friendship where perhaps jealousy or envy results in one party ‘acting out’ rather than working to develop their own strengths within themselves.”
So, ever since I started living in apartments for myself, I’ve had these big pink towels, and every time someone brought it up I’ve told this story. When I got the first apartment, I went to visit my grandparents with my mom so we could raid her basement for stuff she had lying around that I could use in my new home. And among the stuff that we found were these giant boxes of big pink towels and jasmine incense. Now, the towels I didn’t question, but my grandparents didn’t seem like the type to use incense, let alone in bulk, so I asked about it. And when I did, my mom and my grandma shared a look and one said to the other “I guess he’s old enough to know.”
So the story goes that my grandpa, amongst other things, ran two shopping centers. At one point, one of these shopping centers had a massage parlor. They seemed alright and always paid their rent. Then one day my grandpa gets a call that eyewitness accounts went something like this:
“Hello. Yes, this is …. ……. . Yes. Yes, what… A WH*REHOUSE?! WHAT DO MEAN I’M RUNNING A WH*REHOUSE?!”
Apparently, this was a “full-service” massage parlor and the owner split once the cops got wind of it, leaving behind the whole operation. So my grandpa technically became the owner of a very large supply of pink towels, jasmine incense, baby oil, and tissues. And, never one to throw things away, he kept all of it in his basement. And they were pretty good towels, so I took a bunch and some of the jasmine incense. I may call them for more at some point.
I found out that my mom had this pet puppy that played too rough with her one evening and bit her hand (didn’t break the skin, just freaked her out since she wasn’t used to puppies) and my grandpa had everyone leave the house and he murdered the dog in the living room.
The day after I learned this, my mom and I went to visit my grandpa who was preparing to move out of state and wanted to give her some pictures he found. One of the pictures was of the little white dog and he caught my mom staring at it. My grandpa took it, chuckled to himself, and just lightly said, “Took care of that little guy.” Absolute pyschopath.
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Great grandma was a witch who could speak to spirits. I figured out that she was obviously a bit touched when I was diagnosed with schizophrenia with delusions, which was probably exactly what she had. Thank goodness for good mental health professionals
According to Tang, “it becomes all too easy to, rather than to show acceptance of difference or even learn from that other person, try to negate that of the other or try and wield power over them.” Moreover, “Sharing someone’s secret, especially one we know they might be ashamed of, is a great way to do both, and by bringing someone down (rather than working to raise ourselves up), we feel better about ourselves – and don’t need to admit we need to do something about our own insecurities,” she explained.
My great uncle who never “settled down” and died of “cancer,” was actually gay and died of AIDS in the 80s.
My aunt with a very “holier-than-thou” attitude has been having a 40+ year affair with a childhood sweetheart. This is a person that was always quick to criticize other people’s family issues and tried so hard to present her and her family as “perfect”. Her husband is an as**ole to our family and she lets him completely get away with it. I guess we know why now.
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Grandfather was a bit more important a Nazi than he admitted.
Tang reminds everyone that we need to think carefully about our relationships and consider the behavior of those we choose to trust. “If someone is sharing secrets with you, how long will it be before they are sharing secrets with others?”
My great grandfather was a horrible gambler. He was always losing money. In order to pay it back he “lent” out his daughters, he had 5 of them. They would do “wife” duties for the men who he owed money. It could be anything from making dinner, cleaning the house or having sex. I dont know for sure when it started but it ended when my grandmother was 8 and she was the youngest, the oldest was 17.
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That my mom and dad divorced because of my dad’s affair… with his stepdaughter. My half sister. My mom’s own daughter.
My great uncle was a boot legger in the Mafia that had the FBI searching for him. He ran to Canada and they never found him.
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My favourite uncle cheated on my auntie. Ended up knocking the woman up. She had the child and my uncle was forced to tell my aunt. Aunt divorced my uncle. He became an alcoholic and I had absolutely no idea.
I thought all the times we were going for car rides as a kid, he purposely drove crazy because it was entertaining for me and my cousins but it turned out he was just plastered.
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That the women that my dad was having sex with (cheating on my mom) were all men.
Bonus: They are still married 30 years later.
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Not my family, but I thought I’d contribute.
Friend turns 15, and she’s told she’s adopted. Turns out that both her parents died in a car crash when she was just a baby, and her uncle adopted her and raised her. Told her that both parents were dead.
A year later, a man messages her on Facebook saying that he’s her half brother. Turns out the dad lived through the car crash and later remarried, her adopted parents were lying to her as they knew all along, the dad just didn’t want to keep her.
That’s the “secret”, so to speak. However, the story continues, as her biological father wanted to meet her. She flies out to meet him, stays with him, meet his wife and her half-siblings. Struggles with the idea of reconnecting with him, because she both loathes and loves him. Loathes him for not wanting her and getting a new family, loves him for wanting to make a difference in her life and reconnect. She takes the plunge anyway. 6 months later he dies from lung cancer. Life’s cruel joke on her.
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I didn’t find out until recently, in my thirties. So at this age pretty much nothing shocks you. But it would have shocked me in my teens, when my mother was super religious, warning us against premarital sex. In my early twenties, she tried to stop my girlfriend and I from living together when we moved to a city where we knew no one. (Obviously, we lived together. But we had to hide it from her when she came to visit.) When some unmarried friends of mine had a baby unexpectedly, and the child was born with a physical handicap, she even insinuated to me that it was punishment from God for having a baby out of wedlock.
So guess what… a few months ago, my aunt mentioned in passing that the reason my parents got married after only knowing each other four months was because my mother was pregnant. (She ended up miscarrying, which is why we’d never figured it out before.)
That Great grandpa was a decorated soldier who fought in the Indian regiment of british troops in WW1.
In reality, he was a cook, who deserted after seeing men sent to attack machine guns with their bodies. Him and a bunch of others Nope’d the f**k out of there while stealing a bunch of supplies.
This was corroborated by the other deserters that returned with him. Took them a few years to get from france to vadodara in the current state of gujarat, India They sold the guns and rations along the way for money and great grandpa picked up an STD from a iraqi wh*re (luckily grandpa was born before he left). They blame the STD on why he went “funny” in the head towards his end.
Also the little bit of money he brought back from the stolen and sold army gear helped my grandpa buy some land and kick start my family fortunes so that we could move out of the untouchable class.
My grandma inherited several hundred thousand dollars from her step dad.
The juicy part is that to this day, no one knows how he got it. No one even knew he had that kind of money until he died. Since I’m from the south, my guess is rum running or something like that but we don’t know and likely never will.
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That my aunt wasn’t born looking like that, When she was younger some kids in the neighborhood ganged up on her and attacked her with a 2×4. I never knew and once I found out I just felt so sorry for her. I was never told what happened to the attackers.
I’ll submit one b/c I think it’s totally nuts, but it wasn’t my family’s secret. Family that I’ve known my whole life lived across the street, the daughter of the family married a cousin of mine, etc. Learned just a couple years ago that the dad of the family didn’t go away to the Peace Corp for those years he was gone in the ’80’s when we were kids. He was in prison for trying to rob a bank b/c the family hit such hard times when their second kid was born. The dad is the sweetest person ever and we never doubted for a second that he would do something like join the Peace Corp (that kind of guy), but the prison thing was a real wtf moment for EVERYONE.
Not so much a family secret I learned, but when I learned our “family secret” wasn’t so secret at all.
Growing up my grandparents would make popovers for every family gathering. For whatever reason my parents told me that popovers were our family’s secret recipe, or maybe I was just a stupid kid and thought a secret recipe meant nobody else made that food at all.
Anyway, fast forward about 20 years when my wife and I were at a restaurant and they had popovers on the menu. I wondered out loud how this restaurant knew our family’s secret recipe. My wife got confused and asked to to explain, whereupon I immediately realized how dumb I was. She will never let me forget that.
My great grandfather was a quiet kind man and treasurer for his chapter of the Elks Lodge in Texas. He was attacked on his way home from an Elks Lodge meeting. He suffered amnesia and regained consciousness as a sailor on his way to Haiti. After landing, he lived in the country for a few months before getting into a bar brawl with a police officer and getting knocked out.
He regained consciousness in jail, with a new-found memory of who he was. Her told this tale to a priest from jail, who believed him and wanted to help. The priest wrote my great grandmother and the American government and somehow convinced the Haitian government to let him return to America.
He returned to my great grandmother, had two children, and was a law abiding citizen for the rest of his life.
This story is so UNBELIEVABLE that when my mother told it to me 6 months ago I was convinced it was a hoax. She has documents (the letters from the priest and others) and testimonials of his friends that say this behavior was uncharacteristic. I dunno, crazy man…..
Maybe an inverse sort of deal, but my family were apparently millionaires in the late 1800s. I guess they had always been very wealthy. But between that wealth getting split up every generation and my family living on the run for many generations, all that money was gone by the time I came around. Only thing left was a chunk of property in Mexico that is completely worthless aside from a small bit of money from it cause there’s a highway going through it.
This totally shocked me because in my lifetime my family has been quite poor. Full on redneck on top of that. And lots of issues with addiction.
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You might need to draw a diagram to understand this one.
My dad was born when my grandma was 18 and my “grandpa” was 14. He never looked like his “dad” and always thought his mom had an affair (for context, my dad’s family is all Lebanese but he is very fair-skinned, which was partially why he assumed it had been an affair). When his “dad’s” father, my great-grand-father, was on his death bed due to cancer, a relative confessed to my dad that his “grandfather” was actually his father. My dad had my stepmom take hair out of his real father’s head and had it sent for DNA testing which confirmed it (yeah, little morbid if you ask me).
So basically, my grandma had an affair with a married man when she was 18, had one, possibly 2, children with him, then married his SON and had another 4 kids. So my dad’s siblings are both his siblings and his nieces/nephews, and the man who raised him is actually his brother.
Yeah, I don’t talk to that side of the family anymore.
My grandmother as I knew her was a hyper religious Christian woman that had every bit of conservative 1950’s social viewpoints (she was racist, sexist, etc)
Found out she was pimped out at 16, got pregnant by the pimp, she didn’t want the kids as her father would kill her as they were mixed-race, so the pimp took custody and moved to a different state.
She was the door kicker in a motorcycle gang. Her brother killed a guy and is serving life in prison – she was part of the same gang.
My uncle being a murderer wasn’t a shock as he’s been imprisoned since before I was born and I had visited him when I was young.
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When I was 13 years old, I was initiated into the family witchcraft tradition. The biggest shock was running into two classmates at a Sabbat (Pagan holiday).
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I found out very recently that my maiden name (and subsequently rest of my family’s name) was supposed to be completely different but was changed by deed poll when my grandfather was 11 by his stepfather. So before my father, we aren’t actually related to anyone with this surname, it means nothing to our heritage or whatever
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My dad is a straight man.
Everyone in the family assumed he fell somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum but he had to marry mom for appearance sake back in the ’60s. We were wrong. No Transparent shenanigans for us. He fooled around on mom with another woman.
One is mine. One is my friends
Mine: Uncle killed a man in the old country. Gang fight. Picked up one of those big cigarette garbage things and hit another dude in the head. He did time in jail and was disowned by his family. My mom is the only person to visit him.
My friend. He was told his parents died. Turns out his dad is his uncle and the woman who raised him (his “aunt”) is actually his mom
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