Sunday, June 19, 2011

First Fathers Matter

Jane

It’s easy to understand why first fathers think they don’t matter to their children. The fact is that they do matter in spite of efforts by law makers to obliterate them. Many states prohibit vital statistics registrars from including the names of unmarried fathers on birth certificates unless both parents file affidavits of paternity, something they are likely unaware of.
(When adoptees get that long-sought original birth certificate many find the space for father's name left blank or containing the words “unknown" or "n/a" leaving the child to wonder if his mother was a slut or a Madonna. Shocking as it seems, I saw a 1969 Oregon birth certificate which had the word "Negro" in the father's name space. I was told in law school that the reason for not allowing registrars to include unwed fathers’ names on birth certificate based on information from mothers alone is that mothers may give false names, seeking to embarrass prominent men.)

Until 1972, laws in all states regarded fathers of children born out of wedlock as dead when it came to adoption. (States considered them very much alive when mothers kept their babies and applied for welfare, aggressively pursuing fathers for child support.) In Stanley v. Illinois, the US Supreme Court held that unmarried fathers had a constitutional right to nurture their children unless proved unfit. The decision sent the adoption industry into overdrive, convincing state legislatures to pass laws erecting procedural barriers to prevent fathers from contesting adoption of their children. Unmarried fathers Benjamin Mills, Jr., Benjamin Wyrembek, Otto Kirchner, and others who sought to raise their children were pilloried by the media.

The Kids Are All RightState laws allow anonymous sperm donations, reinforcing the idea that biological fathers don’t matter, that they have no more significance than a blood donor.  
Children are naturally curious about their fathers. For many, it's more than curiosity; knowing their fathers care for them is a real plus even if their fathers are scoundrels who cried “it aint’ mine! “I don’t know nuttin’ about no kid.” “What do you mean you weren’t on the pill?” Or like my daughter Megan’s father, “I’m sorry this happened but there’s nothing I can do.” (Offering to help support your child would have been a good start, dude.)

The Mistress's DaughterIn some cases, fathers were married to other women. Fathers urged adoption for their child to protect their wives and children from being hurt by their infidelity. Even today, fathers like John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger, went to great efforts to keep their love children secret.

In fairness, though, these fathers, likely did not realize the pain their child’s mother would suffer from being separated from her child. After all, many of us first mothers were clueless and we were a lot more involved. And neither of us had any idea how adoption would affect our child, schooled as we were in the blank slate theory.

The Other Mother : A True StoryMany fathers did try to stand by their woman. Well-meaning parents convinced them that a hasty marriage with a baby on the way was a mistake with life-long consequences. “His father had given him the advice that he planned to follow…. He had said to Chris, that with such a bad start, our marriage would never last. To begin marriage in debt to our parents, not able to stand on our own two feet for who knows how long, and with a new baby to take care of, would doom us. He was sure we would get married ‘in a few years.’” (Carol Schaefer, The Other Mother). Although Carol and her son’s father did not marry, about 20 percent of birth parents did marry after the surrender.

Whether scoundrels, adulterers, or misguided young men, we at First Mother Forum encourage first/birth fathers to step forward. The rewards can be amazing.

Road to a MiracleWhen Mark Shaw’s surrendered daughter, Marni Morrison, found him last year, “He welcomed her, her husband, and their children with open arms. He has no other children..... ‘I look at this as a gift of a lifetime’” he told Leanne Italie of the Associated Press. Shaw has written a book about his reunion, Road to A Miracle.

Of course, not all reunions go so well. Joe Sanchez and his surrendered daughter met once. They email but she has avoided discussions about further meetings. He is disappointed that the relationship is not stronger but satisfied that he has had the opportunity to know her.

The Invisible Men of AdoptionGary Coles’ son Mark refusal to meet him when Coles contacted him in 1994. After another unsuccessful attempt at a meeting in 1997, Coles began sending his son birthday cards. In 2009, Mark agreed to meet him for a cup of coffee. They have not seen each other since. Nonetheless less, Coles is gratified by the meeting. “Because I had kept my expectations in check, I do not feel deflated by the outcome of our get-together.” He continues to send birthday cards. Coles has written three books about the birth father experience, Ever After: Fathers and the Impact of Adoption (2004), Transparent: Seeing Through the Legacy of Adoption (2005) and The Invisible Men of Adoption (2010).

Regardless of whatever happens, I’ve never met a first father who regretted meeting his child.
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Lorraine here tonight: Back from out of town, and found that a friend sent me this link from the New York Times today--A Father’s Day Plea to Sperm Donors. The story is as the headline promises: don't have children with anonymous donors, written by a son who would like to know his sperm-donor/birth father. I talk about this whenever possible but feel it falls on deaf ears. Even friends have daughters who use anonymous sperm to have children, even today. It is unconscionably cruel to the child. It is unquestionably immoral.

22 comments :

  1. Thanks for this post, Jane. My father did not consent to my adoption. Catholic Charities and my maternal grandparents were allowed to place me with strangers despite the fact that my father and his parents wanted to raise me. Unfortunately, fathers did not have the right to raise their own children in 1971.

    And as you pointed out, my original birth certificate is completely blank where the father's information should be. This is despite the fact that my father's identity was well-known to all involved along with the fact that he wanted to raise me.

    My father searched for me and he would be the first to say that he suffered a primal wound from losing his only child. He matters to me. So much.

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  2. Fathers are not to be discounted. My son and I were reunited when he was 25 years old. Within the first two minutes we were alone together he said “Who’s my father? Do you know where he is?” I figured he’d want to know about his father and came prepared with the latest information I could gather but I was surprised by the immediacy and intensity of his questions. In the years since I’ve wondered if he agreed to meet me so he could find out about his father. It was information he obviously had to have. Where else was he going to get it?

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  3. A little cheery note for Father's Day: at my church we had a young visiting priest who included in the Father's blessing birthfathers and adoptive fathers, as well as godfathers and the usual. I thanked him after Mass and told him I was a birthmother in reunion.

    Also the NY Times has a review of Robert Jay Lifton's new book, "Witness To An Extreme Century." He was the husband of our own B.J. Lifton who passed away this year. I intend to get the book.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/books/review/book-review-witness-to-an-extreme-century-by-robert-jay-lifton.html?_r=1&ref=books

    Happy Father's day to all Dads, and bless my children's fathers and my late father who was the best.

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  4. Father's Day is a very painful day for me. My n-father simply did not want me. He refused to marry my mother and did not want the responsibility of a child. Despite this as stated in a previous post, I would like to have his last name as it IS MINE and reflects my lineage. My a-father was a deadbeat dad and general all around jerk. Those who have fathers are very blessed. I cannot fathom what having a father would be like.

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  5. A Father’s Day Plea to Sperm Donors

    A plea to end anonymous sperm fathers by the son of one of them////Where are you, Father?

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  6. Where are you, William Parker? You were in Buena Park, California in October 1968. You lived on Knott Ave. You left before you knew about me. The State of California terminated your rights to be my father when you had no idea you were a father. I wont stop looking for you until I find you or I take my last breath. Happy Father's Day, Dad. -Mara

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  7. Robin, why would you want your father's last name since he was evidently a creep? Since your parents were not married it would be your mother's last name on your OBC, not his. Just wondering.

    The passport thing can be a nightmare with any kind of name change, you being adopted it can get even more difficult. I would think twice about it for that reason.

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  8. Uh...I was told that the father of my child's name was on the birth certificate..not just mine and "unknown" or "blank."

    I think it's perfectly understandable to want to know who you were, what the name is, etc. Those things belong to you.

    It is more unnatural to not want to know.

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  9. State laws regarding including the father's name on a birth certificate if the father and mother are not married vary. Oregon does not allow the father's name. However, mothers may give any name they choose as the child's last name.

    California allows the father's name on the birth certificate. I gave Megan her father's last name.

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  10. I was told in 1968 in NJ that I could not put the father's name on the BC nor give my son his father's last name. I guess this must vary from state to state.

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  11. The people who collect birth certificate information typically work for the hospital, not the State Vital Stats office. They may be applying their own values about what last name a mother may put on a birth certificate rather than following state law.

    I have heard that some hospital functionaries tell women they cannot give their child a first name if the child is slated for adoption. I just read a memoir, "Jessica Lost," where the functionary put "Female" rather than the first name chosen by the birth parents.

    There are mean people out there and some of them have too much power.

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  12. Thank you for bringing this up Maryanne. I was wondering about this myself.
    The differences between state laws makes things very confusing. Like Maryanne, I was not allowed to put my child's father's name on the BC, so I wrongly assumed this was the case in all situations.

    I guess Robin wants to make her surname consistent with the one given to her on her OBC.
    Is that right Robin?
    Anyway I'm really sorry your dad was such a jerk.

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  13. @Maryanne,
    You are not the first person to ask me that. Partly because it is so ingrained in our culture that children take their father's names. I know many women who kept their maiden names upon marriage but 99% gave their children the father's surname. Also, during the pregnancy my mother was hysterical about the need for me to have my father's name. Since my father wanted to deny to the world that he was a father and refused to give me his name, I feel like well then I'll just TAKE IT. It seemed to be the last thing he would have wanted. Btw, you are very generous to refer to him as a creep. He sounded like a complete and total a-hole to me.

    Friends have suggested that I take my maternal family's last name but now with this passport issue rearing its ugly head I think I'm going to have to keep my a-father's name. I don't need any more complications in my life. I'll just have to keep signing things in tiny, tiny print since using his name practically makes me physically ill.

    @Anon 2:17,
    Thank you for your expression of sorrow that my n-father was such a jerk. Well, at least he was good looking and I inherited his looks... tee hee. I do not have my OBC but my adoption decree does not have my first father's name. The first name my n-mother gave me also did not make it on the papers and I am just "Baby Girl".

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  14. Jane, did you ever see your daughter's OBC to see if her father's name actually made it there? I have heard too many stories where a named child ended up "Baby Girl" and precious few where the father's name was on the official OBC. I also know of a NJ mom who raised her daughter but never married the father and had to go through a lot of legal stuff including the father giving permission to put his name on years later. It was not something you could just do here at the time.

    My son's first and last name were on the decree of adoption his adoptive parents got, so they knew my maiden name all along. They kept his first name, and I never cared about the last name anyhow.

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  15. As far as California state law goes, you cannot put the father's name on the birth certificate UNLESS he signs an acknowledgement of paternity. This law was put into place in 1980---before that time, the dad's names were always listed.

    I relinquished our son in early 1972, and I do know for a fact that his father's name is on the OBC. I befriended the director of medical records at the hospital he was born in, and she snuck my son a copy of his OBC. I will always be grateful for this woman because the State now tells me, my son, and his adoptive parents that none of us have the right to see his OBC, even though we ALL want it.

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  16. RAVEN:

    Your comment so clearly explains the inequities of the stupid sealed- records statutes. Thanks for commenting.

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  17. My father's name is on my birth cert. and I am listed publicly in the California Birth Index under his name.

    @ Raven: depending on what county your son was adopted in his adoptive parents may have access to his b.c.. I would be included in his adoption record which, again depending on which county he was born they could access. Marin, yes, SF no, Orange yes, L.A. no, like that. So even if he was born in SF but adopted in Marin he could get it, but not the reverse.

    You have to go through the adoption records though and not vital statistics.

    I just think it is important for people to know this and many don't for some reason. California actually already is a tiered state, adoptees and natural parents just don't make the tiers.

    Ahhh, sucks to be us, but we already knew that ;)

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  18. Raven,
    I had my son on California in 66. My son was able to get original b cert by petitioning court. No money involved no
    Lawyer involved only my son and my request first judge denied second approved it took a whole yr to get original.
    I did have to notorize my signature. Also had to prove death of his dad. We had death certificate. We got b cert in 95 or so.

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  19. Lee Here!

    I listed the bfather on my daughter's obc. I could have elected NOT to put his name on there - but I decided it would be better if I did, just in case she came looking after I had gone. Also, I noticed my bdaughter is listed in "Ancestry" dot com, as my child, with her original name!! Which surprised me! Anyone else (first moms) have your son/daughter listed with your ancestors?? Just curious!

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  20. JOY: Thanks for the tip about my son's aparents possibly having a copy of his OBC. Unfortunately, I don't think they received a copy at finalization, or if they did, my name and his father's name was redacted. His folks tried to find me when he was 14 by studying the baby plaques on some wall at the hospital he was born in - they had the wrong name though. They assumed that a "Christopher" who was born on the same day was my son...it was the wrong baby. Oh, he was born and relinquished in San Diego County.

    Like you, Joy, my son has three listings in the California Birth Index: one under my maiden name, one under his natural father's name, and one under his adoptive parents name.

    MOTHER: Thanks for the info about petitioning the court to release the OBC here in California. My son and I were turned down by the judge the first time around - maybe I need to try again. (Sad to say, my son lost his OBC during his druggie days, and there's no way I can get a replacement. The director of medical records retired about 10 years ago. Which reminds me, I was so surprised to discover that the hospital kept a copy of his OBC.)

    LEE: It sounds like one of your relatives entered your daughter in your family tree and then submitted it as a public tree at Ancestry.com. If whoever entered your daughter's data didn't know about her existence, they probably discovered it thru the California Birth Index (CBI). You'd be surprised at all the distant relatives I've discovered at Ancestry by using the CBI and the Texas Birth Index. If you're into genealogy, you might want to check out a demo of "Roots Magic" - the software enables you to list both natural families and adoptive families for the same person. When I did my son's genealogy, I gave him the background on all four parents and our ancestors.

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  21. Hi Raven,
    No, I don't believe ANYONE from my family put that there - I believe it was "automatically" put there from the California Birth Index place. I believe Ancestry dot com just uploads and matches names them up with people searching in their database. I certainly didn't put it there, and my last name is VERY rare!! LOL!

    Lee

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  22. Fathers definitely matter. My father is listed on my birth certificate. At least I have that.

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