Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A First Father's Story: Surrendering our child

This is the first of three parts by birth father Joe Sanchez. The next two installments will be published tomorrow and Thursday (2/17/10).


SURRENDER
Charlotte, the woman who would later become my wife, and I were sophomores in a Pennsylvania college when she became pregnant in 1964. From the outset, her family took over the decision-making and she was placed in the Florence Crittenton Home, an institution for unwed mothers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Charlotte and I had recognized that in order to keep the baby both of us would have had to drop out of school, moved in with one of our families and rely on extensive help in order to raise the baby. We did not feel we were in a position to give the child a proper home environment. However, keeping the child was largely a moot point; Charlotte’s parents were adamantly opposed to our marriage, and she accepted their decision. They had hoped that their daughter’s relationship with me would end with the pregnancy. Our letters show that abortion was never an option; not only was it illegal in 1964, but neither Charlotte nor her family would have considered it.

I tried to keep the pregnancy a secret from my family. My mother and stepfather opened one of Charlotte’s letters and became aware of the situation. Both of them, as well as my older brother, assumed that we would be married and keep the baby. Of course, the family would help us. Understandably for a Latino-Catholic family, they stressed that the only thing for me to do was to own up to my "mistake" and make amends by marrying the mother of my child. They did not understand how Charlotte’s parents would simply "give away" their grandchild. It was hard for them to accept that the matter was completely out of my hands. When my family realized that there would be no marriage, the subject was dropped and, except for my announcement of the baby’s birth, it never came up again. After my mother died at age 92 in 2006, I was told that she always made a point of remembering my daughter’s birthday. She never said anything to me, but apparently mentioned to my siblings how much she regretted not knowing what had happened to her granddaughter.

To be fair, I was hardly the most suitable candidate for inclusion in Charlotte’s family. I was born in Cuba, had lived in Spain where I had to drop out of school at age 11, and as of 1964, had only been in the United States for seven years. Nor did my family represent anything that approximated the socio-economic status of Charlotte’s parents. They were both college graduates, and her father was an editor at Philadelphia’s biggest newspaper. By contrast, my mother and stepfather had never made it to high school. My stepfather loaded car batteries on trucks, my mother sewed in a textile factory, and my brother was a steelworker. Why would Charlotte’s parents want her adult life to start out with a baby, a foreign-born husband, and a motley crew of in-laws?

Although Charlotte and I had no way of knowing for certain, we believed that the baby would be placed in a safe and loving home, and receive all of the advantages we could not give her. We never regretted the decision and rarely even mentioned it. To us, there was no point in discussing something that was out of our hands.

Except for filling out a questionnaire, I was never consulted about anything. In fact, Crittenton had specific rules prohibiting contact between the expecting mothers and their boyfriends, the prospective fathers. Charlotte and I managed to stay in contact on a daily basis through letters. We still have all the correspondence from those months and the letters include numerous exchanges about the adoption. We were told that the adoptive parents would be fairly young, college educated, and Catholic–the preferences Charlotte had listed.

She gave birth to a baby girl who was named Margaret, my mother’s name. and she relinquished all legal right within 24 hours. Once the adoption took place, Charlotte and I never discussed our daughter. We hoped that our daughter was with people who loved her, and gave her the kind of life we were in no position to offer her.

Last year we learned that our daughter's adoptive parents were in their 40s at the time of the adoption,  not Catholic, and did not even live in Pennsylvania. I guess the child of two college students is more "attractive" to adoptive parents. I should also note that race seemed to be a big factor. As the result of my Latin surname, they requested a picture of me--I suppose they wanted to ascertain that I was Caucasian!


Charlotte and I were married two years later, shortly after graduating from college; we enjoyed a very happy life for 18 years. By choice, we never had children. When we were married in 1966, we had expected to have children. However, after postponing the decision for years (graduate school, Peace Corps service, starting new jobs) we came to the conclusion that we wanted to maintain a lifestyle without children. As with many other choices in life, we were well aware of the trade-offs. We simply thought that remaining childless was right for us and never regretted it. The fact that Charlotte had given birth to Margaret was not a factor. When our lives took different paths, we were divorced in 1988. As painful as the divorce was, we remain very good friends to this day. Charlotte remarried and her second husband did not approve of her staying in touch with me. Our contacts became more sporadic, but the link was never broken.

Tomorrow: THE SEARCH

8 comments :

  1. Isn't this sad? They married and are life partners. How awful that their daugther was relinquished.

    Thank you for sharing this.

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  2. Yes, thank you for sharing. It's good to hear the perspective of a first father.

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  3. Oh didn't not the divorce part, even so they are still in good contact with each other, that says a lot.

    And yes, the lies, that was my experience too, not having my wishes repsected, asking for a certain type of couple and getting the complete opposite.

    Making one simple request that was not respected, once a year a letter with some news about how she was doing. Through the agency, that's all. No not even that was respected.

    oh so much meditation and forgiveness work to do....

    Look forward to reading more about this.

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  4. Joe,
    Thank you for sharing your first part of your story. I often wonder what my son's father thought back then and what he thinks now. I'll probably never know but it's so good to read that you and your daughter's mother are involved in a relationship now. I applaud you for your honesty. And I can't wait to read the next parts of your story.

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  5. Thank you, Lorraine, for posting this from Joe. I can't wait to read the rest of his posts...

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  7. All I can is "wow." First fathers are largely ignored. Not all want to be. Thanks to Joe for sharing his experience.

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  8. I look forward to the rest of this story. Very cool to get a father's perspective.

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