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Father’s Day, Birth Fathers and Adoption

jumpThis week at this month’s All Adoption Meeting we talked about fathers and there were fathers there (there aren’t always) of both the birth and adoptive variety and we talked about birth fathers in particular. I am thinking about that as I read the prompt from the Open Adoption Bloggers:

Father’s Day is this weekend in many places and–as we did in 2009 and 2012–I thought we spend a roundtable focusing on dads. As always,  feel free to adapt the prompt to fit your personal situation, whether that means interpreting “your father” as one of your fathers, a father figure, or something else altogether.

Write about adoption and your father.

I can’t write about adoption and my father because 1) I’m no longer writing a personal blog; and 2) if I was writing a personal blog, my ideas about what I’m willing to say about family members has changed a lot since I first started writing into the void in 2001. So I can’t write about my father or my children’s fathers (because one of my children has two fathers seeing as how she’s adopted) therefore I am just sitting here and thinking about fathers and thinking about how many of them are missing from the adoption stories.

Because they are often missing we end up building a narrative about why they are missing. Some of these narratives are based on fact and some are based on less fact than others and some aren’t based on any facts at all. We have these stereotypes about fathers — that they don’t matter as much as mothers; that they don’t love their babies as much as moms do; that they’re always trying to get out of the hard work of parenting — but they’re just stereotypes.

OK, I will tell a personal story that is not my personal story only I will leave out lots of details to keep it private.

Many many years ago when I was a young dating girl there was a boy I dated who thought maybe — just maybe — he had a son. What he knew was this: There was a girl he briefly dated who showed up at school pregnant and nobody knew what happened next but the rumor was that she placed her baby boy for adoption. At least she came back to school not pregnant and there wasn’t a baby living at her house and this is how everyone assumed that happened. And this young man (who was very young when I knew him so even younger when this happened) didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know how to approach this young woman about the pregnancy way back then and he didn’t know how to talk to her about the adoption after.

It’s no wonder because he was, as I said, very young. He was at the age where he was just learning how to navigate relationships and he got in over his head. She was in over her head, too. I’m sure that their parents felt in over their heads, too, because raising teenagers is hard.

Basically his story is the story of feeling overwhelmed and not having a guidebook. And worse yet, not knowing that he is important (that fathers are important) because we have this cultural message that fathers are important but mostly in the financial sense. As a teenage boy without a job being raised by a single mom who had her own struggles, he didn’t think he had any business involving himself in his ex-girlfriend’s decision. After all, what did he have to offer but his own self? Which was not, he felt, much to offer. He decided it was best if he just leave her be especially since the break up wasn’t a particularly good one.

During our All Adoption Meeting when we were talking about fathers  I was thinking about this boy I knew more than 25 years ago, and I was thinking that if he was the father and if the mom did choose adoption that the adoptive parents (and perhaps the social workers or lawyers) probably have this idea about who he is and this idea would be based on fact (that he didn’t step up or even talk to her, which is a pretty jerky thing to do) but not entirely on fact (because he’s not a jerk even if his behavior was jerky; he was just a kid in over his head).

Not that he stands for every birth father anymore than any particular birth mother stands for every birth mother, mind you, but I thought about this story and thought about the adoption situations I know and that I live and thought about birth fathers and I missed their voices in the discussion. I miss their stories.

Ann Fessler, who wrote The Girls Who Went Away and directed A Girl Like Her (based on the book) has been talking about a project about the birth dads of the baby scoop era. I think it’s a project that’s sorely needed.


The Myth of the Forever Family

My article on adoption disruption and dissolution is up at Brain Child (and of course on newsstands now):

When we adopted our daughter, Madison, six years ago, the judge was clear. Legally, adoption bound our daughter to our family as if she had been born to us. She would have the same rights as our biological son. We owed her the same level of commitment. A few weeks later, Madison’s amended birth certificate would arrive, with my name as her birth mother and my husband’s name as her birth father. All of her original birth records would be locked up, sealed away, inaccessible. At the end of the brief ceremony, the judge banged his gavel and officially pronounced us—in the language of the mainstream adoption community—“a forever family.”

That ceremony lawfully inducted us into the myth that adoptive families are expected to live by. Our families are supposed to be “just like” biological families. That’s why we adoptive parents roll our eyes when celebrity magazines talk about Angelina Jolie’s “adopted children” instead of just calling them her kids and we swear up and down that we are the “real parents.” Some hopeful adoptive parents even wear T-shirts that announce that they are “Paper Pregnant,” as if they feel the need to validate their way of building a family by equating adoption with a fundamental physical experience.

In many ways these adoption myths serve us and our kids well. Children should not face discrimination for how they arrive to a family. They should have inheritance rights. Adoptive parents should never question their obligation to the children they commit to parenting.

But in other ways, adoption myths betray our children by giving lie to their origins. They are not born to us. We do not create them. They arrive to our families with histories that precede their lives with us. Embracing our children means embracing their stories even when they are difficult to hear.

The hard truth is that adoption is not just like giving birth. It is rarely as straightforward. And as much as we would like to think otherwise, not all forever families are forever.

via Brain, Child :: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers.

There was A LOT of great discussion that could not make it into the article, which I am very sorry about. I also talked to families who ended up not feeling comfortable being quoted for the piece but whose experiences informed my process. You can discuss the article here (at the Brain Child discussion blog) and I’ll be checking in there. I’ve also invited the people I interviewed to weigh in but they are busy people so we’ll just have to see.

This was a hard but rewarding piece to write and I just hope that I did justice to the topic.

One more thing — whenever I write about my daughter’s sealed-away birth certificate and the new fake one that she has, the editors stop me and ask me if I’m SURE about that. The editors at Salon even said, “Is that legal?” So many people outside of adoption get that it’s insane, which makes it more bizarre that it’s controversial to people inside adoption.

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