' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Nashville confronts real-life issues: When a girl takes after her daddy

Friday, April 4, 2014

Nashville confronts real-life issues: When a girl takes after her daddy

Nashville, the ABC nighttime drama, plunged head first the other night into the complex issue of when to tell someone the truth about biology--as in, that baby is yours. Before we get to the heart of the matter, a recap is in order here for those who aren't regular watchers

Guitar player, singer, all-around-cool-but-troubled guy Deacon Claybourne is the biological father of superstar country singer Rayna Jaynes's oldest daughter, Maddie. She discovered this amazing fact about herself when she was 12 or so, and found her birth certificate. Now Maddie, after a growing relationship with her natural father, has posted video of herself singing a song she says she wrote with her "dad"--and then uses the name "Maddie Claybourne" (not her legal name). Her legal name is that of the man Rayna has been married to since before she was born, and whom she thought was her daddy in every sense of the word. All hell breaks loose.

Maddie takes the video down but the Internet is forever, and her song has gone viral. It's time for some media bashing here--are there really that many paparazzi in Nashville?--and it's not like the truth of Maddie's paternity came about because the National Enquirer was going through their garbage--the kid put it on the Internet. But never mind. Pretty soon the ladies on The View (in a cameo appearance) are chatting about the murky waters of Maddie's paternity, calling her a "love child." Whoopie gets points for saying that we all have stuff in our lives that we're no proud of. But how to handle the squawking mob camped outside Rayna's and Deacon's doors? Maddie and her younger sister can't even go to school! Teddy, the father who raised Maddie, is naturally caught up in the hullabaloo.  

They decide to meet the scandal head on--they'll go on TV and tell the truth.  An interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America with 
Rayna and the two fathers is quickly arranged, but Deacon says he won't do it because he's ready to kill Teddy. You see, Deacon's current girl friend has slept with Teddy, who is kinda smarmy but at least not an alcoholic--like Deacon. Deacon, for those not following the show, is a former alcoholic who has had his lapses, and they are doozies. Be that as it may, Teddy has no plans to step aside as Maddie's dad, especially to Deacon, whom he despises, mostly for being Maddie's daddy and a constant rival for Rayna's affection. He also hates the fact that the daughter he's raised is taking after Deacon and Rayna, with guitar lessons, singing, and writing songs, not studying her school work. Could she be the next Taylor Swift? The thought makes him crazy. Teddy unabashedly hates Deacon. Hates him. 

Just before Rayna goes on the air, her sister tries to comfort her by telling her she did the right thing, that Deacon would have been a no-good father, she could have never married him. But Rayna asks: "What if I had told Deacon the truth? What if I'd done that and he stopped drinking that very day?"

Her sister comes back with how by marrying the stable Teddy, and pushing Deacon aside, Rayna gave Maddie that "better life" we all know too much about. But Rayna's not convinced: 

"What's a better life--really? I'm divorced from Teddy. He's become someone I don't even recognize. Maddie's life has blown up. Our family's crazy--what's so special about his [Deacon's] life?" 
Well, okay, I'm ready to cheer. 

After Deacon gives a forthright explanation to Robin Roberts--he is Maddie's biological father, he was a drunk at the time, he just found out about this not so long ago, and now Maddie is the "best part of his life." Later that day he confronts Rayna about not having told him he was Maddie's father: 

"You should have told me, Ray. I'm sorry I was a mess. I got better. I have been good a long time. Why didn't you tell me when she was three? When she was five? Or ten? Why didn't you give me a little time to be her daddy?"
Rayna protests that as her guitar player and friend, he was always around Maddie when she was growing up. That's not good enough, Deacon says:
"That's not the same. You ever see her sleep? I never did. I never held her when she was scared, or have her cling to my leg when she was shy around strangers. Yeah, I was there all the time but I didn't know, god help me. The hard part is that I still wouldn't if she hadn't found out, Rayna. I still wouldn't know. You would be sitting right in that chair lying to my face right now, and every other day the rest of my life." 
Rayna comes back with that while he might resent that he didn't know the truth, she resents him even more for not being the person she could have married and raised their daughter with. Instead of their being together and the family they could have been, she was getting Deacon in and out of rehab for quite a while. She points out that when he first found out the truth, he didn't scoop up Maddie, he went out and got drunk, and they got into an accident and she, Rayna almost died. "When really is a good time to blow up a kid's life?" she pointedly asks. Indeed. 

Yes, this is commercial television. This is not Shakespeare, but it's pretty damn good and the themes are just as true as the 
bard's, which pretty convoluted, by the way--that's partly why he is great. By dealing with the issue here--a young teen's paternity that had been hidden not only from her but also her real father--the show is mining territory that we are familiar with--fathers raising children who were "fathered" by someone else. Even The Ethicisit column in the New York Times Magazine has covered this issue. I read that a full ten percent of fathers are discovered not to be the biological father of children they are raising. It happens. We are human. Monogamy is not a given, women have the babies of men who do not raise them. Though this story line in Nashville isn't per se about adoption, the issues that it bring up are the same--or or similar to--what we have confronted in our own lives. 

What if I'd kept my daughter and her father did what he said he was going to do--leave his wife and marry me? What if I'd just kept Jane? Who knows what would have happened. Did we really give our children a better life by letting them be adopted? Not in every situation, maybe not even in most situations. Money isn't everything. Deacon might have stepped up to the plate, and certainly many of us might have been able to. 

Nashville, the music 
When is the right time to "blow up a kids's life" by telling them the truth of their origins? Some adoptive parents--especially older people, people my age--seem to be unable to deal with the issue and their adopted children often find out the truth when they apply for a passport, like my friend Jeff Hancock, or when their parents die, like my other friend, James Lane. Another friend was told by his dying father never to bring up adoption with his mother as it would "kill her." We hear from adoptees all the time who are in this awful predicament. 

How hard is it for adoptive parents to accept the reality of how much "their" children will resemble the biological parents, instead of them, the parents who have raised the children? It was certainly difficult for my daughter's adoptive mother--Jane and I were alike in many ways--and as the years progressed, her adoptive mother came to hate me more and more, to the point where she couldn't even speak to me, or hear my name without saying something nasty. Early stage Alzheimer's began removing the filters, and her hatred of me became more vitriolic. Teddy's issues were hers. 

How do first fathers deal with their reunited children? My daughter's father wouldn't even meet her before he died--and alcoholism was an issue in his life. Yet in Albany recently, Assemblyman Sean Ryan from Buffalo came to a press conference on our bill to unseal birth certificates and spoke about being reunited with a daughter who had been relinquished, and how their relationship was a positive thing in his life. There is no one answer. 

Adoption is emotionally messy from start to finish for everybody. And we all know how hard it can be to confront reality. I felt I couldn't keep my daughter for a lot of reasons--the zeitgeist of times, the insistence of her father that she be given up, we would wed later, my feeling of being overwhelmed and alone--but did I really give her a better life with people who could pay the rent, had good health insurance and a two-story house on a nice street? I have no answer to that. I write now and remember the day my husband said: You knows how it would have turned out? You would have been a great mother." Now my daughter is dead and tomorrow would have been  her birthday. We are all just muddling through.

The script writers and producers of Nashville at least are bringing all these issues to light to millions in a sensitive and real way. Deacon has problems but he's a good father. Rayna wonders if she did the right thing by not telling him the truth way back when. Teddy is having trouble handling his reduced position in his oldest daughter's life. Maddie is following her biological father (and mother) into music. I'm grateful and am staying tuned in. Plus, I like country music. My father grew up knowing the folk songs in the hills of Pennsylvania, and he used to sing them to me at bedtime. My fondness for the twangy sounds and simple lyrics undoubtedly started there. In looks and deeds, I was his daughter through and through.--lorraine

SUNDAY NIGHT(4/6):   No surprise here, tonight I am watching the Country Music Awards....!!



  1. Jenny from the blocApril 4, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    Thank you! I thought I might be the only one who was watching this show and could hardly believe that story line. Huzzah!

  2. Lorraine, wishing you and Jane peace on her birthday. May the happy memories you shared soothe you as you mark this special day. The experiences you share so eloquently help so many of us on similar paths. Thank you.

  3. I have never seen this show, but it brings up some interesting issues!

    "Blowing up a kid's life"....that reminds me of my best friend. She never knew she was adopted, even though she asked questions constantly, until her AP's were dead and she was 48 years old. And then she found out she was black market. It nearly destroyed her. It has taken her years to come to terms with it. But it ruined her marriage, and whatever is left of her adoptive family wants nothing to do with her.

    Adoptive parents accepting their child's biological background.....reminds me of my own situation. My AP's have convinced themselves that I share their background. I never looked like them, but there was no TRUTHFUL mention of where I got my freckles and blond hair. There were stories. Fairy tales. I guess I was supposed to just absorb their ethnic background like a sponge, while my own was forgotten.

    First fathers....I have no idea. There was never any mention of mine. A lot of first fathers, as we know, are simply cast aside. When my friend recently found family on her first father's side through DNA testing, my mother said "I can't see doing that at all. Why would she want to know any of those people?"

    "Adoption is emotionally messy". Yes indeed. Period.

    Thanks Lorraine. We all muddle through, as you say.

    My thoughts are with you today, on what must be a very difficult day for you....

  4. Lorraine, my heart goes out to you today, and you and your daughter are deeply in my thoughts.

    Julia Emily:

    Yesterday I read an article written by Deanna Doss Shrodes at her Adoptee Restoration blog which answered your amum's question 'Why would she want to know any of those people?' (a comment which is flooring in its level of denial and apparent superiority).

    'We shouldn’t have to give ANY reason for why we want to search, reunite or have an active relationship with our family.

    Why? Because they are family.


    The full article on the blog is here: http://www.adopteerestoration.com/2013/07/adoptees-dont-need-excuse-to-search-and.html

  5. I have both of the issues of the two adoptees you mention...my adoptive parents took my secret to their graves, and I then found out that I would not be able to get a passport because my Amended Birth Certificate is dated 2 1/2 years after my birth... No child should ever be kept in the dark about their beginnings...it should be discussed openly for their entire lives....they should most importantly be able to grieve, be validated, and supported in their decisions concerning their adoption and what they need for peace with it. To deny any of that, is detrimental to any adoptee.

  6. Lorraine, I am thinking of you and Jane on this day. And your husband is right: you would have been--and were--a great mother.

    About biodads who reunite, in his recently published memoir, Graham Nash tells the story of David Crosby's successful and happy reunion with his son James Raymond. While playing the coffeehouse circuit around 1961, the Cros impregnated and ran out on a young lover.

    Several decades later, while awaiting a liver transplant, Crosby received a letter from his son's adoptive father. Not only have the mixed-family dynamics been harmonious, but Raymond, already a talented working musician, has played and recorded many times in recent years with his bdad and friends like Nash.

    It's almost more blessings than the old reprobate deserves, but I admire the afather for writing the letter in the first place, and it all seems to have worked out very nicely for not quite everyone: I haven't been able to learn a thing about James Raymond's mother.

  7. While I am not a huge TV watcher, the fact that many shows are handling the issue of adoption at more than just a superficial level (for example, going beyond simply mentioning that a character is adopted without developing the story further) has not escaped me. I really hope this is indicative of an increase in public awareness of the complexity of adoption.

    I have mentioned before on this forum that one of my friends did not find out that her "mom" was really her step-mom until her wedding day. Her mother died in an accident when she was a toddler, her father remarried but never told my friend that it was a step-mother raising her. Throughout her childhood and adolescent years, my friend had lots of questions: why did certain relatives come to meet only her once a year and not her two younger siblings, why did her two younger siblings look like each other but she looked nothing like them, who was the lady in the photo she found in a box up in the attic, the lady who looked just like her? All her questions were silenced. The situation led to some very turbulent teen years for her, because she knew something important was kept hidden from her. Finally, things blew up on her wedding day, and the truth came out. Now, more than 20 years later, she seems to have arrived at some sense of peace with her family. But, as Joanne Currao commented, such trauma is unnecessary and detrimental to the adoptee (although my friend was not a formal adoptee, her situation was similar because she was missing a biological parent).

    As someone fortunate enough to have been raised by my biological parents, I appreciate how much the looks and other characteristics I share with them dictate how I conduct myself in life. It is vital to our existence and identity as human beings in many ways (even when you don't get along with your family), yet it is something we minimize. My adopted son has his mother's beautiful eyes, both his parents' athletic build, his mother's respectful nature, his father's fierce devotion to his own father (my son's grandfather), and so many other characteristics that I want to make sure he understands so he can better appreciate who he is as a person. He may not understand its importance when he is young, but I definitely think it will help him when he gets older. To deny who your child is is the ultimate rejection.

  8. Hi Joanne: My AP's certainly plan to take this secret to their graves. For the life of me, I do not understand why. So many years have passed, I have a grown daughter and a teenager...I am obviously not going anywhere. I feel like they don't trust me with my own information. Or, more like it, they don't respect me enough as an adult to be willing to discuss anything.

    I also have the amended BC problem....my filing date being almost 4 years after I was born. But I do not have an amended BC, so I just ordered a copy online and I am eager to see what I receive.

    Cherry: I will read that article ASAP. Thanks!

    And yes, my mother's comment upset me. I was not shocked, because this is the type of thing she always says. But, considering she knows my friend, and that I grew up with this girl and we are very dear friends, I was upset by it. Because whatever she says about my friend, in a roundabout way, is really meant for me.

    But, I have a lot of irons in the fire. I'm waiting for non-id, and now a copy of my amended BC. My husband and I are going to apply for passports, so I will have to somehow bring this subject up with my AP's. I'm a wreck, but this is more than I ever did before, and SOMETHING has to come out of this!

    I am intensely curious about "the girl". I wonder if she is still living, or is she gone, and how did she cope with this situation all these years?

    Thanks to everyone here, for listening and caring and sharing!

  9. MrsTarquinBiscuitbarrel, great story about David Crosby and his son. "Nashville" playing out in real life! Only better, because the adoptive father initiated the contact.

  10. Thanks, Jay and Julia. My story is very similar to your friends, Julia. I found out at 48 also that I was adopted...2 years ago and 2 years after the death of my remaining adoptive parent. It has been horrible since. The sense of betrayal is exquisite...by my adoptive parents and adoptive brother who still to this say says he would do have continued to keep me in the dark had he to do it all again. My story was actually published on a website called "Secret Sons and Daughters". Even when confronted with the fact that I carry a genetic defect for Cystic Fibrosis, my adoptive mother chose to keep the lie going and instead told me to "ignore the result because it is probably a false positive". That might have had fatal implications for my children and future generations, but it was more important to her that I not find out my truth. Believe me, I know my adoptive mother's reasoning...she was petrified that I would search, find and love my first mother more...rather than understand the deep intrinsic need I had to find my truth. Here is the link to the story if you are interested: http://secretsonsanddaughters.org/2014/03/11/adoption-domino-effect/

  11. Joanne C, I really don't understand how people can do these things to other human beings. It comes from a lack of introspection, or trying to understand what it is like to walk in another's shoes. Your story makes me shudder inside. I have never heard of a late discovery adoptee who wasn't shattered by the news of their origins.

  12. Hi Joanne: your story of discovering at age 48 that you were adopted closely mirrors that of my friend. She was shattered. Her parents lied to her until the day they died. And it caused so many problems after she found out. Now she is basically alone, with none of her adoptive family wanting anything to do with her. They basically turned on her, for no reason that I could see.

    Your story, especially the way you describe your adoptive mother, makes me so upset, because I know exactly how your adoptive mother was thinking. And as hard as it is for people to believe, adoptive parents behave this way.

    My AP's at least told me I was adopted. They must have been told to do so, or I am sure they would have buried it. The way they handle the subject is just like you mother....they are very threatened and very worried that I might find out something or search for someone. It is the most frustrating thing in the world, and there isn't anything I can do to change them now.

    I am eager to read your story. Thanks for the link!

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  14. Lorraine, you are absolutely right that people for the most part lack introspection.... Just in the last week alone, I have been told that I could have been an abortion, that I did not know that I was adopted so therefore there should be no "trauma" in my life, and someone sent me a lovely poem {sarcasm} about how I grew in my mother's heart rather than her tummy....and this person had absolutely no clue what my relationship with my adoptive mother was. This is just one week of the un-feeling things that non-adopted say to us adoptees all the time. A day in the life of an adoptee. They would rather see us as the lone dissenter...an unhappy adoptee as the rarity because there is something wrong with them personally...and most definitely NOT the way adoptees really feel about being adopted. I feel that the more we educate, the more people will have to understand that this is not a minority of adoptees...that adoption is trauma.

  15. Joanne, thank you for sharing the link to your story. I read it and was deeply saddened.

    Unfortunately, to this day, there are adoptive parents who are as secretive as yours were. What floors me, however, is that your adopted brother, who made contact with his own biological family, also decided to keep this information from you?!!! I don't understand that at all.

    I am glad you are now in reunion with some members of your first family, although I will continue to wish for a happy reunion with your mother as well. And "domino effect" is right, Joanne, that one act of adoption takes away true ancestry for generations to come. What a far-reaching loss. Thank goodness you managed to make some contact with first family members.

    So stupid for people to tell you to be happy you didn't get aborted! Seriously? The whole point of trauma for an adoptee is the fact that he/she got put into an unnatural life situation without their input (unless it is an older child, but that is rare in adoption). How does the question of whether or not your parents decide to abort you (again, not your choice) help you deal with the complexity of this important family choice that was made for you to live out the rest of your life?!! In fact, I recall my husband saying that in one of his ethics classes, he read a case where a man sued his parents for not aborting him. They were pro-lifers and he was born with some serious defects that adversely impacted his life. I don't know what the outcome of that case was, but clearly there are at least some who wish their parents had not given birth to them. I think there can be just as many reasons to be angry when you are given away to adoption and worse, not even given a chance to live the truth until you are 48 years old. Stupid, stupid retort, to tell you to be grateful you were not aborted.

  16. @ Joanne: The comments you mentioned have been thrown at me, too. Always from non-adopted people, who think they know it all.

    Those with the least information (and the smallest brains) always make the most noise!

    The "you could have been a abortion" thing really gets me going. ANYBODY could have been an abortion. That is not something peculiar to adopted people. But that's a famous line that I have heard many times.

    And, I'm afraid, the "adoption vs. abortion" crusade going on with the pro-lifers has adoption painted as the solution to all the problems in the world! And it is a tangled mess. I don't know how it is going to get straightened out.

  17. What are first mothers told?

    Other people have bad things happen to them too.....
    (meaning: Get Over it.)

    I thought to myself, Gee, would you say that to someone who lost an arm in battle?

    1. Oddly enough, Lorraine, when I was as adolescent I met a Vietnam veteran who'd lost a foot in battle. And yes, indeedy, he'd actually been TOLD by some insensitive clot at the VA that lots of people have terrible things happen to them.

      "You didn't come home in a body bag, did you?" said the insensitive clot. "Get over it!" Fortunately, everyone (people of every age) at the party who heard the story responded, to my young mind, appropriately. Lots of head-shaking and incredulous noises, followed by back-slapping and "Can I get you a beer?"

      And later the veteran played his guitar and sang the loveliest version of "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing" I've ever heard.

      Don't know what happened to the man. I only met him once, that summer night in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. But the anecdote ranks high on my list of Insensitive Clots Telling Wounded People to "Just Get Over It."

      With the unspoken subtitle, "'Cause I Haven't Got Time For Your Pain."

  18. Julia Emily said 'I don't know how it is going to get straightened out.'

    I think the clarity and undeniable integrity of what we contributors here and elsewhere are saying is crucial to things changing.

    All of us who write here were once ignorant about the realities of adoption, despite all of us having extremely close experience of it.

    Yet we changed, I'm betting because we read something that opened our mind or helped us to understand. It may not have been one thing, it may have been many cumulative phrases that shifted our understanding (like small droplets of rain, inexorably carving huge caverns out of limestone). But it happened - few of us here are where we once were, in terms of our understanding, and now we know we will never go back.

    It is often so painful to have to read some of the mindblowingly ignorant (and often cruel) things that are said regarding adoption, but our response gives us an opportunity to put forward what it's REALLY like. Not everyone will listen or learn - many will defend their position because it suits them - but on the Internet, words reach far. And we are an articulate bunch here, whether through the precision or the passion of our words.

    Also, all of the huge movements for social change begin small, via individuals who just can't stand it anymore. I think we are those people. We have to keep talking, writing, expressing our reality.

    And I gain strength from each of you to do that.

  19. Exactly, Lorraine. It is really hard to believe that people say these things.

    My own adoptive mother has no feelings at all for my first mother. She doesn't see her as a mother at all....there is no sympathy there. She was a vehicle through which my folks "got" me. And it ended there.

    And I find these comments usually come from people who have never had anything happen to them. They never experienced anything like relinquishing a child, or being adopted, but they have all the answers. And they never shut up about it!!



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