' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: To Tell or Not to Tell (the unvarnished truth), that is the question

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

To Tell or Not to Tell (the unvarnished truth), that is the question

 The truth--who has claim to it? When do you have to tell someone the Truth? When you know something and they don't but maybe it affect their live? Ah, the internal conundrum.

A few months ago we included a notice about The Ethicist column in The New York Times in which The Ethicist (the name alone would freak me out) told a man who had fathered the girl across the street that he had no right ever to tell her he was her father, unless her mother, and her legal father (who thought he was her biological father) all agreed beforehand. The Ethicist came down on the side then of withholding the truth from the individual. You can see this probably did not sit well with First Mother. 

At the time I said that what if all these people never agreed, did the individual ever have the right to know the truth? Yes, I said, unequivocally--especially since the man asking was the real biological father, not some meddling neighbor.

Now Ariel Kaminer, The Ethicist, had another truth-telling column in the January 8 issue of the NYTimes Magazine: Name Withheld from El Paso writes and says he has a "self-contained" yard where he keeps a dog, and into that yard from which the dog cannot escape a neighbor's cat has strayed. Cat ends up "sleeping with the fishes." Owner of said cat is recovering from "extensive cancer treatment." Should Name Withheld tell the cancer patient neighbor that his dog killed the cat, or can he let her think the cat is out there "playing in the park?"

The Ethicist says: "False hope is not a gift. Please tell her the whole truth."  Hi, Neighbor, my dog killed your cat....now don't you feel better knowing the truth? Can we still be friends, now that I've got that off my chest?

What? According to The Ethicist, it's right to inform the neighbor that his or her cat, left to his own devices, decided to come into an area where there is a loose dog of unknown friendliness roaming, and that he suffered the consequences, but it's okay to keep silent about something as true knowledge of one's father?

I think The Ethicist needs to rethink his or her priorities. And I think she's wrong on both counts. If you have a cat and let it roam freely outside, where it kills birds, especially fledglings in the spring and summer, and other small rodents such as chipmunks, the cat's owner also has to accept that the cat himself may come to a swift and brutal demise also. Some dogs, like cats, will chase and kill other animals; it is also in their nature. I once had to scream bloody murder at my late dog Jack to drop the squirrel he had in his mouth. He and the two dog buddies he was with turned to me and looked shocked that I could yell that loud, but Jack dropped the squirrel and it ran away. Death averted that day, and maybe Jack learned that squirrels were off limits.

But to return to the main here--Do individuals have the right to know the truth of their origins? If they do not, then the whole argument about the right to an original birth certificate for all, adopted individuals included, is an iffy proposition. If it's all right not to tell someone who their real father is, then it is also permissible to keep adoptees' birth certificates under lock and key from the person they were issued for and about: the individual whose birth certificate it is.As I've said here before: Embarrassment alone is not reason enough to deny the truth of one's origins.

I read somewhere that approximately ten percent of the families who come in for blood work to see if a parent is a donor match for his child discovers that the biological father is someone other than the man so named on the birth certificate. It happened in my own family, and I admit I never learned if my own first cousin knew that his "father," a man he told me he despised, was not his biological father. I hesitated to tell my cousin, wrestled with how I might find out if he knew the truth, but before I did anything, my cousin died. Another relative discovered that her daughter was not her husband's offspring, but that of a man she had a brief affair with twenty years earlier. My relative's marriage was on the rocks, as the daughter herself found her dad having a cozy dinner with someone he was having an affair with. Now my cousin, the young woman's mother, is married to the father of her daughter. Yes, I know not all such complications have such sweet endings, perfect for a romance novel, but this one did. Last I heard, all was well. And my cousin is very happy.

And to hear a song about learning the truth...which apparently Eddie Vedder talked about in a PBS special.--lorraine

Source: A Dog’s Right to Life?
See also: 
Biological Fathers everywhere hiding in plain sight


  1. I am complete opposite of 'The Ethicist' -- LOL -- if I were the father, I would've told my child - no matter what anyone thought as soon as she was an adult.

    And I would not tell the neighbor about the cat!

    I guess I don't qualify as an Ethicist... That's okay by me.

  2. Tell or not tell, this is my quandary for the moment... how do I tell my adult son, that he is my child... that I, a total stranger to him, carried him for nine months and then allowed his parents to adopt him.

    He has the right to know, I don't know if he has ever been told he is adopted, so I much rather be the person to tell him, rather than one day he finding out accidentally.

    If he rejects me, I know I can handle that, it will break my heart...but I can live with that...what I cannot live with is not knowing.

    Is that odd?

  3. Funny, I was just thinking about ethics and adoption,while I should be thinking about horse racing and trotter races.

    One thing, is that one's personal history colors one's view on this, an exanmple of what I consider an ethical adoption, Foundling is found near a Budhist place of worship, the victim of abandonment turns out to be very young, male and SN, make that SSSN (Severe Super Special Needs), he needs an operation on his head just to stay alive, but neither the hospital, nor the orphanage is able to give the child the aftercare he needs, without good aftercare the result will be identical to not operating, hard choice, but fortunately there happens to be a qualified nurse available, who also is a very experienced mother, no less than 12bio-children, all alive, (though the older ones already off to college or so), kid is operated, placed with nurse for three months, those three become with one thing and another thirty, but the child has to be returned to the orphanage, after a week the orphanage asks whether the child can be returned because the child does not like it in the orphanage, the child returns to his foster family, and it is at this stage, that the option of adoption is seriously considered.
    Over two-and-a-half year of living as family, an indication of the adoptee, that the foster family was more or less experienced as home, the original family already lost, the adoptee unable to experience his heritage (SSSN) and adoption necessary to keep him legally in his family, when that family would move to another country, if as in this case was the case the adoption procedure is done according the books, all perfectly legal, no hurrying, then we are speaking about what I consider an ethically satisfying adoption.

    Oh, and I do disagree with access to original OBC for adults is a horror, early puberty is a much better time, but it is something.

  4. Concerning the cat, I would not lie about it, but a little bit of creativity with the truth should be allowed concerning the cat.

    The daughter? Inform her ASAP, she should know what her paternal medical history is immediately. And no lies about whose daughter she is.

  5. Athens runner: Yes, for me the worst was always not knowing. Reality is sometimes difficult to deal with, and rejection or distance after reunion, may hurt; but knowing is always better than just that infernal question one cannnot answer.

  6. Theodore: Of course that is an adoption anyone would hope would happen, unquestionably.

  7. The mother doesn't want the truth about paternity divulged because then her husband will know she cheated on him with the neighbor. That doesn't negate the fact that the neighbor IS the father! I think his establishing paternity/parental rights trumps the marriage problems of the child's parents. I think the "ethicist" is wrong.

    As far as the cat analagy, I don't think it compares to this situation. If the cat jumped the fence (and jumped the neighbors cat!) and the cat had a kitten, THEN maybe it would be somewhat comparable! LOL!


  8. There are far too many shades of what is true and real for any answer to be correct. The cat, why would you want to tell someone that ill that you allowed your dog to kill their pet?

    But the daughter - We don't know what the situation is beyond the basics so it is impossible to say what is right or wrong about it.

    The best thought - possibly - don't tell someone else what is best for them.

  9. Did anyone see Revenge last night?

    It ended up being partly about the very subject of parentage. Turns out that one of the character's biological father isn't Daddy. And she is the half sister of the main character Amanda Clark/Emily Thorne. of course, to move the plot forward and cause more trouble, everyone knows now except..the Charlotte, the character herself!

  10. My birth mother refused to tell me who my birth father is, she has said she will take that name to the grave with her. Why ? So almost twenty years later I'm still searching for a ghost that may not even know I exist or is he still even alive? She knows and continues to live her life as a Born again Christian with her husband. They live a mile down the street from my adoptive mom and step dad. I go to her Facebook sometimes and look at her pictures of her and her grand children. It's torture in a way when I do that, but can't help myself.

  11. I understand completely.
    Facebook can be a happy thing but sometimes a taunter.

    I don't know why someone would do that to you. My deepest sympathy.

    Joan Baez is singing some sad song in the background (it's a hard life...) as I write and ... take care of yourself.

  12. The Ethicist needs to read this column.

    Let's say that at some point in the unknown future the young woman in question, or one of her children, has a difficult to diagnose genetic disease and her father's family medical history would be invaluable.

    If the ethicist's advice is followed she, or her offspring, could die because the lie was perpetuated. I hope the Ethicist thinks this is ok.

    On the other hand cats should not be allowed to roam free.

  13. Agree with you completely re The Ethicist! Truth is what matters most in reunion. As an adoptee, I can't imagine a time when I didn't know I was different--kind of like you know before you know thing.

    For me, it was about a year into reunion before I had the TRUTH, the full picture of who these people were, these people who chose to give me up--The Bios. What were the extenuating circumstances that made them unable to parent? Rape? No money? Religious difference? An illicit affair?

    The truth is that I was spawned from selfish and indulged "rich kids" who couldn't be bothered to parent. It just would've cramped their style. They continue to see the world only from their own point of view, and have not considered in any way how their actions and choices have impacted me. Sadly, we are now estranged.

    Funny how life unfolds......while my 8th grade-level educated, blue-collar, nearly deaf dad toiled in a job he hated in order to put food on our lower- middle class table, my birthparents were able to live a very different life.

    My bio father was a college graduate, and was planning on being an English teacher. He was raised on acres of land with an attorney classic car buff father, a stay-at-home mom who played in golf competitions, and maids and stable hands. After my birth he went to Korea on a cushy Viet Nam assignment (his parents knew people that helped keep him off the front lines). He went on to date my bio mom off and on for 10 years, while pursuing a career in hospital administration, and hobbies, tons of hobbies. Like his parents he enjoyed golf, along with sail boat racing, and motorcycle racing. He eventually married, but never wanted kids. He was funny that way....just never liked 'em, I guess. Got in the way of all the fun.

    My bio mother was also from an affluent background. Both of her parents were college graduates, and she was raised by an African American nanny while her mom shopped in the finest of stores hours away from the lumber yards her husband owned, as did his dad before him. My bio mother went to interior design school and was able to open up a couple of businesses with her parents' financial help. During her first marriage she had her tubes tied. During her second marriage, she used artificial insemination to become pregnant with the sperm of her then husband, using a donor egg from an unnamed source. She gave birth to her son at age 48. She divorced that husband within a few years and has a 50% custody arrangement. I noticed that during the time she has her son, she enjoys spin cycling and dating most nights. I also noticed what a sad, disconnected child he seems to be. Funny, when I asked her if she knew any of the bio info on her son's donor, she said she didn't and it really didn't matter. She never liked questions...

    Ah, the bios--she is still 19 and he is still 23. There is SO much more to the story and perhaps I'll write in again with more as your comments apply to my situation.

    I am forever grateful to have found the truth and it has unblocked me in a variety of ways. I don't regret it for a minute, even though the truth was disappointing. The moral of the story is that people tell on themselves and the ever-important truth is eventually revealed. Had I not had the maturity to distance myself, I would have experienced more trauma in trying to relate to people with an agenda whose lives are built on lies and illusions.

    And for me?....I live happily ever after, from rags to riches in every way. I am very blessed and can now rest easily as I know how difficult it was for me growing up, that I was indeed better off with my mom and dad.

    Furthermore, if you are interested in a movie about learning the truth, weather or not it is pleasant, I recommend "Incendies".

    Wondering if you have read the recent Elle Magazine article entitled, "Mother Knows Best" by journalist Nina Burleigh.....Can't wait to see the comments on that one!

  14. Diane:

    I'll check out Elle for that story. Haven't seen it.

    Ah yes, it's always better to know the truth than just wonder and wonder and wonder....I can't imagine that kind of life.

  15. First time here, though I've been reading FMF for quite a while now and I applaud the openness and bravery you all show in sharing your stories and opinions with the world. You certainly have helped me and I hope that Im able contribute in a positive way.
    Just so you know, Im a First Mum & an Adoptee so that's where my perspective comes from.
    This topic hit a raw nerve with me as I didn't find out I was adopted until age 11, after both my aparents had passed away. And then I discovered the apapers by 'accident'. That hurt beyond any pain imaginable & I lost it and have never really fully recovered from the shock, even though I'm in my 40's. But it was an awakening of sorts too;having always felt different and out of place growing up, it was like NOW I know why I have always that way;alien. Now I understand the weird looks from my aMum when someone would comment how I looked like my aDad.
    On top of this discovery that I was adopted,only 10yrs ago I discovered that the rumour in the family is that my aDad was really my First Dad; a child from one of his affairs. Now there's no one left alive to ask, no way to prove it or otherwise.

  16. Slightly off topic but maybe an idea for a new blog is a theory I have about infants and small children (you may have already blogged/know about this and if so, please humour me!)
    I believe that part of the reason I always felt I didn't fit-in is that when I was very small, up to 3 yrs old or so, that the adults in my life probably thought I didn't understand their topics of conversation, so probably chatted about me, my biological family, my adoption, all of that, in front of me. But I feel that on some level I did understand; through their body language and facial expressions, and that I was being 'imprinted' with negatives about my identity and a sense of who I was and where I belonged. I say this because my first memories in my life and the feeling attached to them are ones of being alone, being different from those around me, of being abandoned.
    What do others think, feel about my 'theory'?

  17. Back to my tale...
    I'm as lost as I ever was. I'm in Canada and have my 'identifing' info and did a search for my First Mum and found she died some yrs ago. However the place she lived does not allow for searches of the type needed to look for any other relatives, which sucks.
    With all of this the truth has and is very important to me but I feel there are good or bad ways to tell people, and a time and place for when to do so.
    You'ld think having one through all of this I would hate adoption (I do now!) but when at 15 I became pregnant with my son and after he was born I was terrified of loosing him & was broken hearted at the thought of giving him up, so cancelled the 'assumed' and 'pressured' adoption. I tried my best for 6 months to be a good mother to him but everybody turned their backs on me and wouldn't help me; I even had a S.W. coming around every week to tell me what a crap job I was doing and if I loved my son he should be given up. I eventually caved; I was a child caring for a child alone with no family support, nothing, I didn't feel I had a choice.Heartbreak & loss were becoming a pattern in my life and I had huge walls up for many years.I numbed out after this and felt I was the lowest of the low.
    So my son is now in his 30's and despite going to a very caring couple has had a rough time of it sometimes(got mental health conditions from me), and was bullied for being adopted, as he has always known he was. We recently connected which was amazingly loving at first but quickly started to go wrong.At least we have begun the 'dance'though. Early on I told him alot of the truth; his past from our perspective and also about my life and think some of it was too much for him to hear, so he's pulled back for the time being. But I believe he will be back in my life. He does care and reading here about the different reunion experiences people have had I am more prepared for what lies ahead. I found out early on that his 'image' of who I am and the reality of who I am are quite different and know that threw him for a bit of a loop, but hopefully time and patience on both our parts will bring us closer as we both do want to have a relationship with one another. So, I am here for him when he's ready.
    And the truth; as I said, it can be good or bad but is vital in my opinion; just got to choose how and when to share it I suppose.
    I hope my first contribution to FMF hasn't offended anyone and look forward to reading & contributing more in the future.

  18. Lostlass: people rarely post at these old posts. if you want to start a discussion--and your ? is a good one--you need to post at the last couple of posts where people are still reading regularly. Click on "home" and work from there.

  19. Thanks Lorraine, will do.
    Just catching up!



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