' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: To Birth/First fathers: Come out, come out wherever you are, DNA may find you

Thursday, January 4, 2018

To Birth/First fathers: Come out, come out wherever you are, DNA may find you

Amy Dickinson
I was thrilled to read Amy Dickinson's advice to "Burdened," a man in his 70's who fathered a child -- a terrible mistake he said -- when he was 16 with his 16-year-old girl friend. He writes:
"Both sets of parents were supportive and arranged for my girlfriend to enroll in what was at that time referred to as an unwed-mother's home. At birth, the child was immediately placed for adoption and went to a loving home."
What jumped out is that the birth father writing here notes that the grandparents were supportive--but apparently that support included an immediate, no-questions-asked adoption plan.

Now some fifty years later, Burdened is fearful that the child may show up at his doorstep. While he shared this "sordid part of his history" with his wife, he never discussed it with anyone else. Searching for the child would be a fool's errand, he wrote. He's wondering if he should tell his children about their half-sibling.

Dickinson said absolutely Yes--he should tell his children about the child,  and Yes he should search. He needed to own this part of his history. She pointed out that he framed the situation in negatives, using words such as sordid, secret, and fool's errand. He needed to try and replace these words with truth, light, acceptance, forgiveness. She also notes that indeed, he may be found by his adult child, who would now be in his or her fifties or sixties:

"You are correct that DNA testing and internet tracking have brought countless stories like yours into the light. You can't control how people receive this story, but please--claim this, and understand that life is messy, and that's OK."

Dickinson urges him to this history not because the child might show up at his doorstep, but because it's the truth. Those who love him should support his efforts. Trying to "track down" the child could be liberating to him and perhaps to others.

Despite his misgivings, it is positive that a man would agonize over his child lost to adoption. Unlike first mothers, he doesn't appear to grieve his loss, and isn't concerned whether his child was all right, but he does experience that familiar terror of discovery by those closest to him. He did not, in other words, go on with his life and forget as we may imagine that men do.

In addition to Dickinson's wise words, I'd tell Burdened that once he works through his fears, he should consider what might be beneficial for the child and his first mother, probably his first girl friend. Adults adopted as infants don't consider their first parents as prey to be tracked down and terrorized. They search because the adult child wants and needs to know his background, the story of his conception, why he was given away, who he looks like, his family medical history, other information which the non-adopted take for granted. Burdened's child may have tried to search for his father but found it impossible without even a name. He may have decided not to search, fearful of rejection. For his father to find him would be a huge re-affirmation of his worth, as well as giving him important information about himself. Burdened might also find, as some men have, a rewarding relationship that enriches his own life.

Burdened should also consider contacting his child's first mother. She may be "burdened" as well, grieving for her child but fearful of rejection and having her secret exposed. Knowing that Burdened has not forgotten her, or their child, could be comforting. She may have information that will help Burdened's search. Indeed, she may already be in a reunion with the child.

We hope Burdened, instead of simply being burdened with fear, will educate himself about adoption and reunion. Links to resources are on FMF's Laws, Searching Reunion page. Reading memoirs by first parents can be invaluable. Lorraine's Hole In My Heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption tells what it was like in the Sixties to get pregnant when not married--your family members (especially your wife and other children) may also find it enlightening; Gary Clapton's Birth Fathers and their Adoption Experiences; and Gary Coles' Ever After: Fathers and the Impact of Adoption are excellent on the subject of birth fathers. Concerned United Birthparents can put him touch with other first fathers as well as first mothers and adoptees. It's a start.--jane

You Might Also Like
Laws, Searching Reunion
Plea from adoptees to first mothers in the closet: Give us a chance
Should adoptees contact their siblings when first parents are reluctant?
First Fathers Matter
Father's Names on Birth certificates: More artifice than fact 
Man fathered a child; now dreads the DNA knock on the door
Also from Amy Dickinson
Adoption Disclosure reveals surprise siblings
Secret daughter wants to know siblings
Birth Fathers and their Adoption Experiences by Gary Clapton, recounts the experiences of thirty young men, mainly teenagers, whose children were adopted from birth. What is striking is that, decades on, the events of that period continue to resonate for these men in a way that lends a passion and deep emotional quality to their accounts.

This is a book that should be read not only by workers in adoption and fostering but also by those who work in teenage pregnancy--and by anyone who believes that men who are not involved with their children are likely to be indifferent to them. --Fatherhood Institute


  1. Thank you for writing about this Ask Amy column. It saddened me AND ticked me off that someone in this day and age would use the word "sordid" to describe a pregnancy. The thinking behind that terminology still plague mothers and their children today. There is still lots of work to do.

    1. Yes, the father's thinking is still in the 1960's. He bought the adoption myth hook, line, and sinker. He wrote that the child went to a "loving" home although he actually has no idea where the child went.

  2. I am sure that I know--or knew--many birth fathers. When Birthmark came out in 1979, I had a piece in Newsweek (My Turn) about search etc. Well, good lord it set a fire among people I knew, if only peripherally. I heard about how my outrageous concept (that I wanted to find my daughter) and that I was public about this lit up several dinner parties that might result in guys "pounding the table." I was mystified for a while, and encountered the same kind of bitter, angry opposition from men--always much more heated than anything a woman could say to me--and I finally began to assume that the loudest screamers fell into one of two categories: a) men who had fathered children who did not want to be found; and b) male attorneys who had paid a lot of money for their kids.

    I also heard that last one told me by a friend who was privvy to these male eruptions and did not know she would tell me what happened. As did the couple who told me about the actor/director Ben Gazarra "pounding the table." It usually feel into something like this: What in the hell does she think she is!!!!!!!!"

    Just a mother, sir. Just a mother who can't forget her daughter. That's who I am.

    Or this: I paid $25,000 for this adoption (when $25,000 was more than it is now) and if she thinks she's going to screw it up....." Another time I was dressed down angrily at a dinner party by a well-known New York Times writer whose wife finally stopped that vituperative tongue-lashing when she said, Alden, we just got back from Wales and what were you doing there? Looking for the graves of your ancestors....What don't you understand. Since he was a known philanderer, I am a hundred percent positive he had a child that his wife did not know about.

    Because people er, tell me stuff, I know two birth fathers--no, make that three, but that one's son was not adopted but in the Sixties, he promised the boy's grandfather when the child was born that he would disappear and never never make himself known to the son. That is what the times were like. What an asshole the boy's grandfather was to think extracting such a promise from a high school or college-aged young man was a good idea. I't important to keep talking about this because those of the next generations cannot imagine the stigma having a child outside was marriage was. Cannot imagine. But it was real, it was pervasive, it was ingrained.

    Yet now I am aware of men who gladly have opened their hearts and homes to their daughters and sons who were adopted, and feel glad when I hear of such stories. But we have a way to go with those fathers who never thought they would be found.

  3. Ironically, my daughter called me recently and asked if I would contact her BF and ask him to tell his children that he had another child. I wrote to him right before Christmas and we are now awaiting his response.

    1. You have to let us know how this turns out, Sandy! I'm hoping for the best.

  4. It's heartening to hear Amy Dickinson's advice. Maybe it's a sign that the social stigma veil may finally be lifting.

  5. On another note, I'm tempted to do a DNA test to see if someone surfaces who is the offspring of some of my male relatives. It would not surprise me. But it might surprise them because all too often, especially back in the 60s, first mothers didn't always let the father know because, after all, it was her own fault [sic].

  6. Tony and I got the DNA kits but still haven't done them. I will be chronicling what we find when we do!

  7. Having a child outside of marriage was the most 'criminal' thing in the world. All anyone needs to do to see how wide spread and devastating (sometimes terminal) the condemnation of mothers was (and in some circles still is) and the 'criminalizing' of an unwed pregnancy with corresponding punishment is, is to read articles like the one below from the BBC. It's one more example of how things "used to be" in the world. And that's not really so very long ago. Old thinking takes many generations to change. There are stories from all over about what has been done to mothers. I think some of us felt like we were 'left to die', no help at all, fired from our jobs, thrown out of our homes, shamed and shunned by family, church, social workers, the doctor and nurses, not told of any support services that might have been available at the time, drugged, and baby disappeared into the ether.

    Fathers were seemingly let off the hook, but they weren't, not really. Many of them carry the shame and guilt and grief as much as mothers did and do. Their lives were damaged too.

    I hope this father will make a place in his heart and in his family for his son. There is a lot of healing that can come from it, for generations to come. Do it for your son, yourself and future descendants.

    It just makes me sick to think he has carried shame all these years. Is he still under the heel of those that imposed the sentence?


    Uganda's Punishment Island: 'I was left to die on an island for getting pregnant'
    BBC.com/news/world-africa April 27, 2017.

  8. I also saw that answer and thought is was very good. Bet that dear old Dad did not think it was so "sordid" when he was getting it on with the mom. He is sadly typical of a lot of 60s birthfathers who never looked back. Yeah, "good home", that is what my son's father used to say to me too, until we both found out otherwise. But he has been "looking back" ever since, with some help from me and lots of regret. In a letter to me years ago, he said "the one thing he regretted as man" was how he treated me. Yup. So he is forgiven by me and more so by our son, but the scar is still there.

  9. This post has really stirred up all the hectoring and anger and shaming I was subject to at the hands of men. There's one dinner party when the writer Alden Whitman went at me mercilessly for several minutes while the rest of the table (10 others) listened intently. His wife finally stopped the barrage of anger by asking him what had they just been doing in Wales on a recent trip? Looking for the graves of his ancestors. I am sure that he had fathered a child that she did not know about and he HATED and was ANGRY that I might lead someone to reveal his "secret." I wonder if his wife ever thought his anger--seemingly arising out of nowhere--had a basis in his own involvement in the issue. In my case, there is nothing to forgive but that kind of vituperative tongue-lashing you don't forget. This was in the fall of 1980, a year after Birthmark came out.

    1. Otherwise intelligent men opposed Ballot Measure 58 in Oregon which allowed adoptees access to their original birth certificates. I always wondered if part of the opposition was because they were afraid their names might be on the birth certificates.

    2. I find both you and Lorraine's sense that many powerful men influencing adoption politics have a personal stake in controlling this information very interesting. It only makes sense that many many mistressess and secretaries and interns and maids must have given up their babies. You should hook this up to the me too moment going on now. People still really don't see the connection between adoption and patriarchy.

    3. Yes, absolutely adoption is directly connected and, in many cases, caused by patriarchy. It's tragic that feminists turn a blind eye to the truth about infant adoption perhaps they want to adopt. How to hook up adoption with the me too movement, though. Any ideas?

  10. My daughter was born in the era of shame when it was a sin to get pregnant - 1969. I ended up marrying the father and together we were reunited with our daughter many years later. Her father, my then boyfriend and now husband, was thrilled to get reunited and was the absolute best dad a daughter could ever have. So I would encourage adoptees to take a chance and contact their fathers.


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