' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: After reunion, birth father rejects returning daughter

Thursday, January 29, 2015

After reunion, birth father rejects returning daughter

Dear FMF: 

I am a 44-year-old adoptee who found my birth parents this year. My birth father had listed himself in a mutual consent registry in California 15 years ago, but I didn't find out until I spent a year getting my non-identifying information. He stayed with his teenage girlfriend while she was pregnant with me, and when he married (someone else), he told his wife he had a child who might show up one day. Through him I was able to meet my mother, and that is going well. 

My birth father and I had a warm and emotional first meeting in a local park, and met there again two weeks later with my two-year-old daughter. He did not invite me to meet his family, he said, because of upcoming surgery.
 So we wrote long letters back and forth, and he was warm and supportive, signing them, "Love, your father" etc. ... until he didn't. Then he ignored my birthday. Then he said his computer broke. Five months in he said that my emotional problems made it impossible for me to be part of his family. I wrote back like ...Whaaat? I have never even been to your house (it's 20 minutes away). After that he cut off all contact, saying his wife sees me as "the other woman" and he feels he must choose between us. 

He called me sheepishly a month later, and said his wife read all our letters and searched his phone every day for calls and analyzed me as being crazy (I wrote about feeling sad and angry and confused), he disagreed, so she passed them on to her granddaughter and daughter who also analyzed" them...these were very emotional and private letters as you might imagine.

Why did my birth father suddenly reject me, after we got off to such a great start?--Monica

Oh, I wish I had the answers to every reunion that goes awry. Biological fathers seem to be all over the lot, some wanting a relationship, but with more falling into the rather neutral zone of, Yes, I am your father...but little interest in taking it beyond that. They might respond to an adoptee with a letter, or a single meeting, but aren't interested in more.

Though some biological fathers want to know their sons and daughters, and bring them into their families, many run into the kind of problem that yours did. Often the wife feels threatened by this new and strange relationship--even if she knew about--possibly because she feels it will take away from the relationship she has with her husband, and other children. Despite the fact adoptees are not thinking of dollars when they contact their fathers, it seems that many wives interpret their contact that way. When he dies, will the proverbial pot have to be divided up with one more?

I was personally disturbed when an old friend of mine discovered that he had a son in college (same college, same major, both smoked same obscure brand of cigarettes). He sounded thrilled when he called me with the news of this new son. But he said, his wife, whom I also knew as a liberal, smart woman, did not want to a) tell their two other children who were adolescents, because it would be "too confusing" and b) also not tell my friend's father, the adoptee's grandfather, because it would be "too much of a shock." Well, I knew his grandfather was relatively wealthy, and I suspect that she was worried that her children's share of the inheritance might be shared one more time. I didn't live close to these people anymore--but they had been at my wedding--yet after hearing that, I didn't want further contact, unless I knew that the status of the adoptee son changed. Yes, I felt his rejection of his son personally in relation to my daughter. I never talked to my friend again, and that was at least 20 years ago.

In my own case, as I've written, my daughter's father (someone I once would have eagerly lived with and married) kept putting off meeting her after we reunited. Though he was with me at the hospital and supported me during the pregnancy, now, upon our reunion, he was, it seemed, weak and distant. He also had a problem with alcohol, and that seemed to be part of his refusal; and he also avoided emotional issues whenever possible. Then he unexpectedly died. He did have a new wife, and another child at the time, but that wife was not against him meeting my daughter Jane. At the time of his death, he and his second wife were no longer living together, and she actually called me, and we met. She brought up how he avoided talking about anything emotional. He simply recoiled. Yet in many ways, he was a good man. Just not in relation to our daughter. 

Recently there was a story from Michigan about an 81-year-old man who found an old letter--from 1958--informing him that he had a five-year-old son. He found the letter going though his recently deceased wife's belongings. The son was now 61! He and his wife were childless; his wife had never told her husband about the letter. Oy, I thought, how selfish is that? Father and son have been reunited.

Plain old-fashioned jealously may cause a wife to discourage, or in this case to obstruct, a relationship with his new found child. This appears to be happening in our letter-writer's case. We've seen this happen particularly where the child is a daughter. The wife sees her husband as obsessed with the new child. She imagines--perhaps because it is convenient to do so--that something unsavory may be going on. She fears that her husband will prefer the daughter to her and to their children. She may fear that the daughter brings back memories of her mother--and that he never got over his early love.

The wife may worry about scandal--she doesn't want her friends and relatives to know that her husband fathered a child out of wedlock or walked out on his pregnant girl friend. So low class!

Why do these men let their wives dictate their relationships?  Some are wimps; some want to avoid anything unpleasant. Jane's daughter Rebecca wrote to her father when she was 19. He wrote back saying his wife was opposed to him having any contact, but he felt he owed her one letter. She contacted him again ten years later and he agreed to meet her because he was now divorced.

Some men, often exceedingly charming, can never have more than superficial relationships. These men live in the present only. They meet their child, develop what appears to be a warm relationship, get distracted, and put it in the past. 

Yet I've heard other stories--adoptees being accepted by and into birth father families, while rejecting the first mother. We've even had a birth father write a post for us about his love for his child. The contractor who did some work on our house ran into me one day in the supermarket, and because he knew about my book, told me that a "new" sister contacted his father--a child his father did not know about, as I recall--and they all met and, he said, she was so like his siblings there was no doubt she was their sister. He was enjoying having an older sister. End of story. 

But in your own case, there is nothing you can do to alter the situation. We can't have relationships
with people who don't want them. And in any relationship, the amount of closeness will always be determined by the person who wants the least. Your father is accepting that the only way he can have peace in his house is for him to not be in contact. I have to say, the wife sounds like a monster--checking his cell phone, not only reading your letters, but passing them on to her daughter and granddaughter, who, I assume are not blood relatives of yours. 

We do know that some mothers reject reunion. I keep thinking about a famous woman who is the first mother of a woman I've met in New York. Her mother has rejected all entreaties to meeting. I hate it, it happens and there is not really a damn thing we can do about it. What is different is that mothers have the child, get the hormones telling her to love and protect that child, and losing the child for most of us is like losing a limb.

More publicity about reunions should make it easier for closeted mothers and father to come out, but when anyone is confronted with that kind of relationship, there is nothing one can do. As a first mother once wrote here: The people who want to be in your life will be. You don't have to go chasing after them. These words might not be much solace today, and perhaps all your tears are not yet shed, or your anger not yet diffused. We think reunion is going to be the end of a long, sad path, but it often is only the door to another.--lorraine
Rod McKuen died the other day and I was reminded that shortly after I "came out" of the closet as a "natural mother" in a piece in Town & Country, I was on the Today show...with Rod McKuen who had not long before published his memoir, “Finding My Father: One Man’s Search for Identity” (1976), about his quest for his biological heritage. He never knew who his father was. 

That morning I was on remote reaction, as I was more than a little stunned about being on national television at all, even though I had some TV experience on other matters. But now--coming out of the closet which I had hide in for a decade--Who was watching? Was my daughter's father? Her adoptive parents? The kids I went to high school with? My college friends? My girl friend from the fifth grade? Did I remember to say the birth date and where? I think I did. So McKuen and I did not connect except for a few pleasantries. He was likely to feel frosty about who I was--and that I was sharing the interview time--but there we were, two strangers on a lifeboat for that moment. It would have been in October of 1976, as the story in which I "come out" was in that issue of Town & Country.--lorraine

We chatted amiably but made no real connection.

Please share your story about birth/biological fathers. If you watch the video below, I'm sorry, you will have to wait through an ad.

81-year-old man discovers son he never knew he had

Steve Jobs Did Meet His Father--without knowing it
To Tell or Not to Tell (the unvarnished truth), that is the question
Biological Fathers everywhere hiding in plain sight
Father wins right to fight for his daughter in Michigan legislature

Finding My Father: One Man's Search for Identity by Rod McKuen
"I ordered "Finding My Father" and just finished it last night. I couldn't wait to get back to it each time I put it down, and don't want to ruin the outcome for anyone, but really was hoping it would turn out differently, even though it was so long ago. I couldn't believe how well Rod McKuen turned out considering how hard his life was when he was very young. There must be a special place in heaven for him for being such a good person inspite of everything he went through. This book should inspire anyone who reads it - I'm sure it has already inspired a lot of people." --Amazon reader

At the time I met McKuen, I was a little stunned about being on television and had a lot on my mind as this was my big step into the world as a mother who had relinquished a child. Who was watching? Was my daughter's father? The kids I went to high school with? My college friends? My girl friend from the fifth grade? So we really did not connect. He was likely to feel frosty about who I was, but there we were, two strangers on a lifeboat for that moment. It would have been in October of 1976, as the story in which I "come out" was in that issue of Town & Country.--lorraine

"I found this to be the most useful book for me as I travel through reunion. It has answered so many questions for me as the adoptee, as to what to expect and understand about all the different people who might be touched when a reunion takes place. I have read many books about reunion and still find this to be the one that answers my questions the best."--Amazon reader

But another reader: "This books is written from the adopted person's perspective, which is great, but it sacrifices true sensitivity to others in the triad - the birth mother, birth father and adoptive parents. The first person accounts are often awkward and forced and are not smoothly integrated. Also, the book was written in Great Britain, so the frequent uses of 'keen' and 'brilliant' and other language specific to Great Britain are a little jarring. I have asked our library to remove it from the shelves, as a few comments in the book show a deep lack of sensitivity to the birth parents and I would hate to have a searching adopted person pick up on these thoughtless assumptions."

PS: Jane and I are beginning to work on a reunion guide ourselves. In the meantime, I have been working on getting a Kickstarter program going to defray the cost of self-publishing my memoir, Hole in my Heart. It should be up in a couple of days. Boldly I go forward, but depredation lingers in my heart....


  1. Same thing happened to my son when I convinced his father to meet him. His father had gone with me to the agency and signed waivers of confidentiality when our son was only 11 years old. He left letters and photos for him. But when I reunited with our son when he turned 18, his father was missing in action, just like he was while I carried our unborn child as a 16-year-old kid scared out of my mind. From what I gathered, his wife threatened him with divorce and told him she would take their kids away from him if he consented to a reunion. I'm glad that I was finally able to convince him to meet our son one time. I know now that he just did it to get me off his back. He was killed in an accident a couple years later, so at least my son was able to see himself in his father one time.

    1. Except for the fact that the father in your story met your son once, the attitude of my daughter's birth father was similar to yours. He was with me all the way, came to the hospital every day (I was there five days),brought roses, etc. and signed a waiver when I wrote Birthmark, and then...put off meeting Jane until it was too late. I called, I wrote and sent a photograph (she looked a lot like him), and his wife told me that Jane also wrote herself because she found a letter from her in his papers. Largely due to his drinking, they were separated at the time of his death.

      I was left with such a different memory of the man I was once deeply in love with. I don't know how he would have handled a reunion, or my searching, if we had stayed together, as I so desperately wanted, even after I relinquished my daughter because he said I had to.

      I've seen a picture of a daughter from his second marriage; she looks a lot like Jane did.

  2. I read this exact Adoption Reunion Handbook and vast amount of literature prior to meeting him and heeded the book's advice of moving forward at the pace of the person who wants the least. I easily recognized that he would want the least and politely asked if it would be ok to send him a cheerful well-wish by email during holidays. He said he reserves holidays for family and I'm not family, but said he could reserve one day a year to send me an email on my birthday and then asked me when my birthday was (he was there for birth). Apparently I didn't low-ball it enough. I believe empathy and reflection are key to a healthy approach and am giving him time to hopefully gain that. His response was so uncalled for that I pulled a Frozen and "let it go" for a while.

  3. I wish I had a story about my birth father. I had a major break in my search this week (through a combination of DNA matching and Facebook) and was able to identify my birth father. Unfortunately, I also found out that he passed away in November. I wish I'd tried harder to find him sooner.

  4. I have come to think that my birth father never knew about me. The secrecy surrounding my birth and adoption was of epic proportions. My non id says that he was never named, and not one shred of information about him is available. Then my mother disappeared. I would bet my house that he doesn't even know. Sadly, back in the 50's, I think that happened a lot.

  5. It is hard to watch an eighty-year-old man cry, although I'm beyond glad that he and his son now have each other for as long as they can.

    I wish someone had stuffed a sock down the throat of the smarmy young newsman who burbled, after the film segment, about moving forward and not dwelling on the past. Callow youth! Clearly the emotions expressed made him uncomfortable, which made him say, in a great many more words: Dude, chill.

    Your statement that a relationship will be governed by whomever wants the LEAST contact gave me chills, it was that profound, that true. I know that my bsisters are beyond pleased that our mutual bfather has chosen to have virtually no contact with me in the past thirty years, and none at all since 2007.

    There never seemed to be enough to go around when we were girls, in terms of parental time and interest. So if that pie is cut into two slabs instead of three, I'm sure my sisters think, so much the better.

    In terms of money, from my mid-childhood on, my father earned a generous salary and presumably there would have been, again, enough to go around. But again, my parents always were incredibly stingy with me (I cut cardboard insoles for worn-out shoes routinely) and were Johnny-on-the-spot, checkbook open, for my sisters, many times. I won't say I'm not jealous of that. I would be a fool (excuse me, more of a fool) to say so.

    And yet, given that my relationship with my father was so negative back in the day when I was frantic for any attention at all, I wonder why it still hurts so to be the discarded daughter? He's in his eighties now and the possibility of doing any more physical violence to me is nil. Yet that awful ongoing silence seems like a reproach in itself.

    The one thing I did "wrong," vis a vis my bparents, was to insist on being myself. Yet my father actually quoted Polonius at me ("To thine own self be true")! As it happens, my own self ultimately was unacceptable to them, the happily married, professionally successful (when I was younger), mother of a thriving family... well, they couldn't stand that.

    1. MrsT, I related to so much to when you said, "And yet, given that my relationship with my father was so negative back in the day when I was frantic for any attention at all, I wonder why it still hurts so to be the discarded daughter?" I am dealing with the hurt of my parents' rejection as well, and wondering why I care so much? They hurt me and my family and refuse to accept responsibility or apologize- being right is more important to my father than having a relationship with his child and grandchildren. It always has been, but this time, I'm not the kid he can bully into apologizing when I'm not in the wrong. I think we never stop wanting approval and love from our parents- it is hard wired into children. Even in the most abusive situations, children still seek love and protection from their caregiver, horrible as that person may be.

      It sounds like you might have been physically abused, which I was not, but you mention that even though he cannot physically hurt you, the silence is a reproach in itself. My best friend (since childhood- so she has seen everything) reminded me the other night that emotional abuse is equally as harmful because it attacks the very core of who you are, and on top of that, no one from the outside can notice and stop it. There are no bruises to show on the outside, only the ones on your heart and soul.

      "The one thing I did "wrong," vis a vis my bparents, was to insist on being myself." Yes, this. I also protected my children at my parents' expense, which I will never, ever apologize for or regret. You have to live with the person you see in the mirror every day, not your parents. Being true to yourself has come at a high cost, but it's far less than the cost of sacrificing that for the false love of people who will never accept you for who you are.

      Many hugs to you. I empathize so much.

    2. I just read your comment, Mrs. T, and what you describe is unusual but it happens. One person in a family becomes the scapegoat for all the problems and issues. It happened, but not so severely as you describe to another friend of mine, a woman.

      But you did survive, and here you are, a smart, strong woman with a good family of her own and someone I feel I know as a friend. xxx

  6. My birth father did not know about me, I don't think, until last summer (though he probably should have had an inkling back when my first mother was pregnant). He denied it, but the family resemblance is strong enough that his wife did "allow" me to ask some questions about the family. That correspondence was deeply unsatisfying in some ways because I'm not related to her at all, but I did learn a little about what is likely my blood line. It ended abruptly when she realized her "threat" of a DNA test was something I welcomed -- so that's never happened. I honestly wish I'd just gotten to have ONE conversation with him.

  7. These comments make me realize, if I needed reminding, just how different men are from women. I think most of the frustration in my life has come from hoping and waiting for a man to wake up and "see into the heart of things." In my experience, they would rather swim with sharks. One of my very best friends is a man I've known for 30 years, and we've never ever had a romantic anything. I'm married, and he's involved with a woman, and he's one of the very few friends I feel I can tell anything and everything to. What do I get from him? (He's a PhD in English from Duke and a lit. professor). Well, he's a great listener. He is amazed by some of the things I tell him about women and basically has no clue. He may be extreme, but I think he's pretty typical. He helps me see that men just don't have the same faculties we do, and if you adjust your expectations accordingly, you can be lots happier. Or so I have found. Men are simple creatures. Maybe nature has intended it that way. Focus, concentrate, and kill that mastadon, while the woman forages, keeps the children from falling into the fire, maintains her friendships through talk, and worries.

  8. Monica, I am so sorry that your father pulled away after such a strong start. My mother did the same to me in our reunion and it felt like being abandoned all over again. It triggered those fears of being unwanted and not having parents who would fight for me (who gave up on me). Even though your father is saying that he feels he had to chose between you and his wife, please know that this does not reflect on you as a person. I still struggle with this...how could my mother not want me (then or now)? But on my good days, I remember that her rejection of me is actually all about her. It still hurts but I know it's because she still isn't ready and that does not reflect negatively upon me in any way. I got the same "emotional problem" line from my mother, which was interesting since I hadn't really brought it up. That made me realize that my mother couldn't handle her emotions. Until she does, she has lost me again.

    On the flip side, I am so happy because my dad and I have really bonded. I relate so much to this post because all of these attitudes are what his wife is expressing. I am lucky that my dad is so strong as he told me that he won't let anything or anyone come between us again.

  9. Thank you, Tiffany. Your words helped so much, and every single one of them was right, right, right.

    Yes, we are hard wired to crave our parents' acceptance, and grieve when we don't get it. Given the dance I did for so long, I actually thought there MIGHT come a time when my father and I might have SOME kind of relationship... obviously, it didn't happen.

    I do not know what he consciously remembers of both the physical and emotional abuse he heaped upon me with seemingly little filter: it could happen so fast! But there must be a roily, lingering, don't-go-there sensation that keeps him from contacting me at all.

    Thanks for the spot-on understanding. I was tempted to delete the post!

  10. My daughter's father died before she was 6 years old. In fact he died and was buried on her sixth birthday. He was the first person to hold her..and he never really got to see her after she was 3 but once...he loved her very much.

  11. I have no clue why any mother or father reject their kid and cannot imagine doing it unless the found person was utterly despicable and beyond redemption...a pedophile or animal abuser, for example.

    My son's father would not reject him, and in fact sent small gestures over the years I did not know about until lately, like a wedding present and Christmas greetings. Our son has finally been in touch with him on email and I am delighted. Not all birth fathers are rotten, and some deeply regret their actions.

  12. I feel as you do Maryanne - rejecting one's child is downright cruel. My daughter's father, who is now my husband of 40+ years was ecstatic to find our daughter and did everything under the sun to try to make things right. He felt he was the luckiest man on the planet to have been given another chance for a relationship. He's actually a wonderful person and I'm grateful that he's part of my life.

  13. side note , the 80-something guy whose wife his that letter.. there was an update in the news saying he and the "son" got DNA tests and they are not related. However they bonded and plan to continue a father/son relationship.

  14. Becky: Do you have a link? That is too bad. then the and the son in the story will probably not be able to find his father...

  15. I just met my father in nov. 2015. Hes 73 I'm 55. It has caused all kinds of problems for me and my family and also for him.

  16. Hi Im 55 years old and just met my father last nov. He is 73. He didn't believe I was his child. The reunion has changed my life! My family has been so upset especially my husband and daughter. My husband is very jealous. My story is so complicated.



COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.