Sunday, November 4, 2012

NaBloPoMo Day 4: The Natural Father

The writing prompt: According to biology, it takes two to make a baby. However, when it comes to adoption often the natural father seems to be left out of the conversation more often than not. Do you feel that’s a valid statement? Were your natural parents treated as equals in your adoptive household? As a child, did you wonder about your natural father? Were you given any details about him? How did that make you feel? What is your view on natural fathers’ rights?

I've known that I was adopted for as long as I can remember. But what did that mean to me as a child? My earliest understanding was mother-focused. I understood that I had not grown in my adoptive mother's "belly," as was the norm, but had joined the family through some other way. Eventually I was given a word for the woman whose womb I had been in: "birth mother." At what point in my life did I become aware that there would also have been a male involved, that somewhere out there was a man who was in some sense a "father" to me? I don't recall.

Birth father. Natural father. First father. Whatever you want to call him, he was fairly abstract concept for most of my life. I rarely thought about him. I was not consciously aware of his absence, and yet … in my teen years a girl in my small town went through a very public reunion with a man who was revealed to be her biological father (previously we had all assumed her father was a different man), and it disturbed my emotional equilibrium in a way I didn't fully understand. I didn't consciously connect her situation with my own, but I was very agitated by it. Only much later did I understand why this was so.

When I made contact with my mother in 1995 she shared some information about my biological father, including his name, and sent me a picture of the two of them at her junior prom. For the next 17 years, my father was a handsome 18-year-old in a white sports jacket, but still very much an abstract figure. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know that all of that changed this summer when I met him in person. 

My father and I majored in the same subject in college, participated in the same sports in high school, and wear corrective inserts in our shoes for the same malady. And yet even these similarities don't fully capture my connection to him. What struck me most when I met him is that he is my father. He simply is. Forty-five years of separation did not undo that. And yet, at the same time we are strangers. Less so now than previously, but we are still new in this relationship, tentatively feeling our way forward.

As the law of strange coincidences would have it, the day I met my father was the same day I first held in my hand the document that declares me fatherless. I am talking about my original birth certificate. When I arrived home that afternoon, I found that it had arrived in the mail. Because my parents were unmarried, he is not listed on that document, though my mother could have, and did, name him. She remembers seeing him listed in the adoption paperwork as my “alleged” father. I won’t be seeking a paternity test; I know who he is.

As an unmarried father in the mid-1960s, my father had few options and fewer rights. Legally, he didn’t exist. He was not present at my birth, nor was he required to sign any papers relinquishing me. Now, I’m not saying that he lacked free will or that he couldn’t have made choices that would have changed the outcome of our story. It’s easy to look back from this vantage point decades later and say that this or that could have happened differently, but I’m not interested in that. I understand the context in which my adoption occurred, and the lack of support that my young parents received. I’m simply making the point that at the time of my birth, “natural fathers’ rights,” as we know them now, did not exist.

Has that changed? Yes and no. Currently, laws regulating fathers’ rights vary dramatically from state to state. Adoption agencies are aware of this, and some of the less scrupulous ones take advantage of the discrepancy by encouraging the expectant mothers they are working with to give birth in states that have weak fathers’ rights laws. When I read about a father who wants to parent but has been stripped of his rights by an adoption that occurred without his consent, I feel sad and angry. Though I don’t believe that adoptions should never occur, I do believe that in most circumstances it is preferable for a child to be raised by biological relatives than to be severed from them by adoption. If an adoption can be prevented by the active participation of a biological father, I am in favor of his participation.

But now it’s time for my confession … the thing I have never directly stated on this blog. Though my husband and I have a very open relationship with our adopted daughter’s biological mother, brothers, and other maternal family members, we have no contact with her biological father. And this is completely intentional. We do not consider him to be a safe person for our daughter to have a relationship with. He was abusive to Ashley’s first mother, and he was abusive to the woman he was with after their divorce. I know this because of the disclosure information we received prior to Ashley’s placement, and I know it because of things that Erica, Ashley’s biological mother, has told me. She shares our opinion that Ashley would not benefit from contact with him at this point.

So, in the end, what it comes down to is this: I believe in fathers’ rights and I believe in openness, but I place the safety of my daughter above all of this. Ashley has two mama-bear protectors, and we are united in this viewpoint. Perhaps we are hypocrites, but, first and foremost, we are mothers. 

13 comments:

  1. I don't think you are hypocrites. I think if the situation was different and safer, you would explore a relationship with Ashley's father.

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  2. Thanks, Andy! Yes, you are right. I actually feel sad that she doesn't have a relationship with him, but I just don't think it is in her best interest as things currently stand.

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  3. Rebecca, I am a biodad in a reuinion with my 20something daughter. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  4. Yes to what Andy said.... safety and security both mentally and physically are number one in my opinion. That said, you never know what might transpire in the future. AND you have not denied his existence and will certainly discuss him in the future I imagine.


    I do think that biological fathers do tend to get short shrift in the adoption equation (plus they aren't very vocal). I can kind of see why. Let's face it, it's easy to create life and not even know it as a man. As a woman, impossible. The pain of placement is huge for a woman while a father may not even be aware that it happened. The problem is as we know 50% of a childn's DNA comes from Dad not to mention the important role fathers play in their children's lives generally speaking. We have a rare adoption where we know our son's biological parents on both sides, and because we have a son, the physical similarities are unmistakable. I can't look at my son without thinking of his biological father. It's pretty clear to me, they also share athletic abilities as well but I will let my son lead us on that path.

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  5. I'd be interested to hear how you guys approach openness about her biological father. While Ashley may not have contact with him, I wonder if you still promote an environment of openness (e.g. talking about him, answering questions etc)?

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  6. Great question, and you've hit on an important point! Yes, we do have that kind of openness. She's been able to ask her first mom questions about him. She also has a picture. For now, this is enough for her, but that may change as she gets older. I'm careful not to describe him in a strongly negative way but rather as someone who unfortunately has been unable to control his temper.

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  7. One of my joys recently has been watching Ashley on the soccer field. I love knowing that she gets that ability from her mom and from her mom's dad. It doesn't detract at all for me that it's not an ability I share. I just love watching her score goals! :-)

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  8. Rebecca...my biological father just IS my father, too...I know precisely what you mean...and we have been apart for 46 years. He has always been my father and will be my father forever...

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  9. hgf, I just wanted to share a quick thought on this:

    "(plus they aren't very vocal). I can kind of see why. Let's face it, it's easy to create life and not even know it as a man"
    As a first father, I can attest that every step in the adoption process presumes and supports the absence of the birthfather. Some men aren't in the picture because they don't know about the adoption and some because they don't want to be there. Many, however, aren't involved because they are PUSHED out by the adoption process and the culture surrounding it. That said, it's people like you who are changing this. Thank you.

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  10. Our situation is a little different, and we are dealing with it as best we can. DD's birthfather wanted nothing to do with her. To the point that he refused all attempts at contact and wouldn't sign any paperwork. He basically waited it out until TPR just happened and people would leave him alone. Her birthmom has given us pictures of him, and we know a few scant details (I would assume that she'd answer any questions our daughter has as she gets older). While we don't talk about him much, we do include him in our nighttime prayers, to acknowledge that he was her first father. But it's hard, because he literally had zero involvement.

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  11. Thanks for your comment. Have you seen this:
    http://lavenderluz.com/2013/01/open-adoption-grid.html

    I love it. So clear. Bdad situations like yours or my daughter's put us in box 3, though for different reasons.

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  12. I am a father lost to my daughter, but not my younger, second daughter of eight months. At one year of age of I became a single parent, I had to grow up. Its been 29 years I am fortunate (not glad as I sometimes describe to myself & others how I feel, pain exists at the same time I am glad, so fortunate seems more appropriate. To be united with my first daughter. She had to search to find me.
    After a great day under the sun our families coming together for the first time, hugs given, as we were leaving a-mom brought up her daughter's search for me, she brought up the a-father was in the hospital then went into all the german kings & their reasons for their cultural & religious choices, I cut to the chase, I was boiling inside, I knew I could not speak for any one but myself nor did I wish to hurt her, so I said I had been reading about adoption & that I had lost 20lbs hence our 1st contact, that is all I said & she shut up. Luckily I & my family have been invited back for dinner at their home, I wished I could have listened further without interuption, but making my child responsible for finding me, who knows what kind of pain she would face or who I could be, I felt in that instance a great sadness, yet once again why there had been so much loss & length of time for her to find me, I hate adoption secrets, It has hurt me, my daughters & our family. I wonder about his family, & his maturity, will he grow emotionally? What will she have to face later? Are their ways to find out safely?

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