' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: A Birth Father Refuses to Meet His Daughter

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Birth Father Refuses to Meet His Daughter

While we are talking about men's reactions to learning about a first child who had been surrendered to adoption, here is a section of the memoir I'm writing that relates to my daughter, Jane, and her biological father, Brian. This section picks up after Birthmark has been published, and I have found Jane. The year is 1983; Jane was seventeen. Jane lived in Wisconsin; her adoptive mother was a nurse, her father an insurance adjuster. At the time of this part of the story, Brian was a reporter for Newsday on Long Island, where I live.

Copyright 2009 Lorraine Dusky

Chapter 11 No-Show Dad

If the point of Birthmark had been to shine a light on the truth of adoption and the injustice of sealed birth records, as well as to show that mothers did not forget, then further publicity of our “happy ending” was a good thing. With Jane’s and her parents’ agreement, I initiated reunion stories in the media when she came back to Sag Harbor the following summer for an extended stay—most of the summer! Imagine my elation! Imagine my joy! Evan, my husband's son, was also spending the summer between college semesters with us. In two years, I’d gone from a single woman singing the blues to a wife and mother, two times over.

Sure, it happens to a lot of women, but to me? Not something I would have allowed myself to imagine. How much the changes in my life affected me was evident apparently in the lines of my face. A couple of months after I’d been reunited with Jane, someone a friend of a friend asked her if I’d had a face lift or “something done.” He said I looked “different, younger.” I was forty at the time.

Jane and I did a TV show in Boston, interviews with the local weeklies, and Long Island’s daily, Newsday, where Brian worked, sent a columnist. Her story [1] filled nearly half a page, with a picture with the two of us sitting on our back porch with our arms wrapped around each other. Ann [Jane's adoptive mother] is quoted, noting that while Jane had been curious about her biological mother, friends were against our meeting. “You never know how strong the ties are.” she said. “But we did it for Jane’s sake…. Here was this glamorous girl from New York. ‘It had to be that, didn’t it’ I thought then. I wasn't thrilled about the whole thing. I really did feel threatened.” She added that her husband was more suspicious about what I wanted, “but it was easier for him because it was a mother who came into the picture….But no, it worked out nicely.”

The writer noted that Jane was only uncomfortable with one question: What is Lorraine to you? “It’s hard to describe to other people what she is to me,” Jane answered.

Oddly enough, the writer did not ask about her father, and we offered no information. Did she know who it was? Did she even knew him? The information mill among newspaper people operates pretty well, as you might imagine; but maybe she hadn’t heard any of the gossip from Rochester, because after all, I left there in a cloud seventeen years earlier. If Jane hoped a story in Brian’s own newspaper would melt his heart, she kept it to herself, and I did not mention it. I hoped he would call. Unless he was at that moment away in detox, he had to have seen the story.

However, her father was mentioned a few weeks later, in a New York Times story, [2] that noted that he lived on Long Island, but so far had refused to meet her. The story included another mother [Alison Ward and her daughter, Holly] who had reunited with her teenage daughter. The four of us are all smiles in the accompanying photograph. “Jane, who had planned to start searching for her natural mother when she turned eighteen, views the situation this way: ‘I just feel I have two women who really care about me,’” the story read. No sweat, she seemed to be saying.

Ann was quoted in the piece, remarking that she “always wondered if [our meeting] would interfere with my relationship with Jane, but finding Lorraine has freed Jane and given her much more self-confidence. And, if anything, Jane and I are as close, if not closer, than ever.”

A spokesman for the National Council for Adoption—the opposition—was also quoted in the story, stating that the search movement could be the source of a great “potential for human sorrow” on the part of the birth mothers. “These women may have had their child through rape or incest, and a meeting could be very harmful to them.”[3] He estimated that only one to two percent of adoptees and birth parents want to meet; Florence Fisher of ALMA disputed that, and put the figure at 80 percent. Elizabeth Cole from the Child Welfare League noted that records are open in Britain and Israel and that her colleagues there “had not found the practice to be harmful.” She predicted that adoptees will eventually get their original birth records in this country. That was in 1983.

The piece ended with a zinger: “In 1979 Julie Welsh, a 33-year-old medical secretary from Fair Lawn, N.J., traced the son she had given up for adoption 12 years earlier to a family who lived only 30 minutes away. One day she summoned the courage to knock on their door. She learned that the boy’s adoptive mother had died when he was 5 and the father had married a woman who did not like him, so he was sent to a private school in New Hampshire.

“‘If you want him back you can have him back,’ Mrs. Welsh was told. She did, so the following weekend she and her husband drove up to get the boy, Jeff, who had not been allowed to come home for holidays or vacations. The Welshes, who have two other children, have legally adopted Jeff, whose first words when his mother encountered him were: ‘I’m so glad you came and found me!’”

Brian had to have seen at least one of the pieces. But he did not call. Nor had he responded to the picture and note I’d written earlier, sent to him at the office. There was no reason in making another call, only to be turned down again, but Jane had other ideas. She would get him on the phone herself—he would not turn her down if she called, right? Probably right? I admired her moxie—she was only seventeen, and she’d been the adopted kid who had seizures and wore a hockey helmet to school for four years. But what if, even then, he said, No, I won’t meet you and hung up? Was she up to this outcome? How much more pain did she have to endure? But I did not interfere; this was her call. She’s a gutsy kid, I told myself—she’s my daughter, all right.

So, from the upstairs phone in the hallway—the same one where I’d taken her name down two years before—I dialed his direct number at Newsday and handed her the receiver. Please stay, she whispered as the phone rang, I might need you. Brian answered.

But she was also his daughter, she was also a teenager afraid of rejection, and now her courage failed her. “Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?” I could hear his voice faintly coming through the line but Jane could not make herself speak. Her eyes were shiny globes of infinite sorrow. Go ahead, say something, I urged with a nod of the head, Say something. Say Hello. Say anything.

She could not find her voice. Maybe I should have grabbed the phone out of his hands and yelled at him to be a man and just say hello to his daughter, but he’d been so clear—even irritated the last time I’d called—about not being ready, just “not now,” and maybe my intervention now might just make him angry, and that might be worse than this impasse. That might set back everything, if she were ever to meet him. Maybe.

Brian hung up after twenty seconds or so.

Jane looked me, sad and terrified and disappointed all at once, a look that broke my heart. She ran down the steps and out of the house. No, she did not want me to come. She did not want to talk about the aborted phone call, or him or anything when she got back, and what really, could there be to say? We never spoke of that phone call again.

Of course now I was really angry with Brian. This was someone who had spoken of “honor” and “character” when we had been together. He turned out to be a straw man. He didn’t even have the backbone to meet his daughter.

[1] Marilyn Goldstein, “ Forging A Family Bond After 17 Years, Long Island Diary, Newsday, July 21, 1983.

[2] Judy Klemesrud, “Mothers Find the Children They Gave Up,” New York Times, Aug. 29,1983.

[3] While that seems to be the great bugaboo about open records to uninformed people or those opposed to open records, there are no indications, no statistics from states with open records that these women object to meeting their children in any greater number than women who were not the victims of rape or incest. Of course last week, we had a story from New Jersey about a woman who was suing the state when she a child contacted her. For such women, I have little understanding, as the child is wholly innocent in such a circumstance.


  1. More judgmental guilt tripping, I see. If the man doesn't want to meet his daughter, that's his right. Why can't you people get this through your head?

  2. Anonymous,
    You have got to be kidding me right? You people? What are we? Are we just like African Americans where we all look alike and act alike? This was a painful experience for both mother and daughter.

    I am going to go one step further. He was a parent therefore he should act like one. Every adoptee and every parent owe each other one phone call. This is something that I feel very passionate about. If they want no further contact, that is up to them. There needs to be truth.

  3. Anon any man who would not meet his own daughter isn't a man at all, but a coward. You seem to be missing the empathy gene.


  4. Although in this instance, no one knows what he would have said or done. A phone call that could have changed everything? Maybe, maybe not.

  5. Closure is what it is all about. As a daughter of a man that was left in a boarding home in 1928 and died in 1965 as a child, closure is what your are looking for. What is the medical history of your biological family? Why does a man die at 37, what is the family history. The birth family has rights, but so does the adopted child as he or she becomes an adult. Not all reunions are wonderful and perfect, but that is the chance you take when you go looking. It is like having amnesia and there is one person out there that has the key to your past. Yes, some birth parents do not want to be found for whatever reasons, but when you bring a child into this world you have an obligation to be accountable for whatever reason you gave him up. If a relationship develops after that is up to both parties. Some reunions are good and some are not, but the bottom line is that you finally have answers to questions that have haunted your entire life. Questions such as who do I look like? Do I have other brothers and sisters? Where did my people come from? What nationalities am I? Was there something wrong with me? Did they love me enough to give me a better life? Who am I? Closure - good, bad, or indifferent is what you get and it sets you free, finally.
    Jan Gooding Cornett

  6. Did he never come around? It sounds like that was it and neither you nor Jane heard from him again. Sad.

  7. Me, too wondering what happened later, as Maryanne commented...

    I have no idea where my son's father is and my son has opted not to search for him (even though I gave him what little info I had and said I was fine with him searching). His father knew I was pregnant when he left me, but doesn't know the outcome, whether I had a boy or girl, if I kept him or gave him up. I suspect my son wouldn't get a warm reception.

  8. A parent has obligations and responsibilities; not only to the child.

    Shirking them is callous, to say the least.

    If you would abstain from meeting the child perhaps you should abstain from having the child, too.

  9. Anonymous,
    Why is there is a loop hole in the "Family Values" platform when it comes to birth parents and their children who were adopted.
    What happened to the society who encourages fathers to take on some responsibility. Yes the father has the right to not see his child but that doesn't make it morally right. A child should have the right to know his heritage, to know his biological family.

    The "Family Values" handbook must have a rule that says "if you give your child up for adoption you have no responsibility to your child, not now or ever. In fact we want you to just stay away, its not really your child and your not really their parent".

    I am a birth father, I did find my son and he wanted to be found. He does want to know his heritage, he does want to know that his parents are not bad people, that they are just average people.

    Why is it ok to tell minority fathers that that they need to take some responsibility, but then turn around and tell birth fathers that you don't have to take any responsibility, in fact society would rather you just stayed away and don't even try to take any responsibility.

    Maybe society is part of the reason that more birth fathers don't come out. Signing the adoption papers was not my get out of jail free card. Society doesn't make it easy for a birth father to do what is morally right - by taking some responsibility.



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