Father as an Identity, an Experience, A Privilege

Next week is Father’s Day. For anyone connected to adoption, this holiday, like Mother’s Day generates many mixed emotions and thoughts. In our most recent podcast, adoption coaches Kim, Sharon, and Sally explored this complicated situation with three men—a birth father, an adoptee, and an adoptive father. Their stories were unique and complex. Typical of adoption, their thoughts and feelings about Father’s Day revealed many layers of emotion, diversity, and experience.

Unique Individual experiences

I was struck by the range of experiences that Tony, Thomas and TC shared. For example, throughout much of his life, had male role models yet Tony had no father interacting directly in his life. Plus, the messages he received regarding his birth dad were negative and focused on his dad’s shortcomings

Thomas on the other hand, was both a father to a child he had placed in an open adoption as well as to children he raised. In another unusual twist, Thomas and his wife were married at the time they placed their son. Twenty-five plus years later, they are still married, still in relationship with their placed son and also are unofficial foster parents.

On the other hand, TC’s experience was quite different. Being raised by a domineering, authoritative father left TC with a desire to never be called a dad by name. Instead, he sees himself as a “parent,” thus freeing himself from the baggage of his lifelong experience of fatherhood that was steeped in toxic masculinity.

Adoption connected fatherhood

The way each of these men experienced fathers throughout their life was deeply colored by the degree of connection, attunement, and physical presence from childhood until the current moment. Each has distilled their own version of how they see and define fathers. It has also influenced how they felt about becoming a dad themselves.

Readers of this blog can infer from the insights shared by Tony, Thomas and TC that one of the best ways to be a father to a child Is to show up authentically, consistently, and with affection and attunement. Father is much more than a title. It is a commitment of one’s presence, heart, energy, time, attention, and, responsibility.

Whether a man’s commitment to fathering a child is limited only to the act of conception or includes participating in an open adoption or to being an engaged, loving parent, a father’s choices have a life-long impact on his child.


All adoptees have a birth father.

And some have no adoptive fathers while others have two! Even when a birth father is absent from a child’s life, he still remains a potent presence. An adoptee will feel the pain of rejection.

The child will wonder about this absent father and will wrestle with questions about the man who helped to create him. For example:

  • What does he look like?
  • How much of him is within me?
  • In what ways am I like him?
  • Why did he agree to the adoption?
  • Why didn’t he want me?
  • Wasn’t there anyone in his family that might have made room for me?
  • Does he think about me?
  • What parts of me are influenced by his DNA?
  • What am I missing by not having him in my life?

Depending on how much the adoptee knows about his birth father, this curiosity may generate mixed emotions. The amount of knowledge the adoptee has may influence whether Dad is a model he wants to follow or reject. Either way the birth father’s genes have a real impact. They help shape the child’s body, influence his health, define his aptitudes and generate his talents.

Adoptive dads

Ideally, an adoptive dad shares a connected, loving attachment with his children, provides security and affirms the natural interest the adopted child will have to know about his birth father and the rest of his birth family.

An attuned adoptive father also offers a template of how to be a man and a father. The model he offers is important not only for his sons but also for his daughters. He is providing his children with a template of a loving, competent, connected father When a dad treats his children’s birth parents with respect and appreciation, he also honors the aspects of them that is in his children. It shows that the adoptive family holds space for the child’s birth family. Nonverbal “permission” is given for the child to do the same.

This benefits the children in many ways. Dad’s actions whether connected to adoption or not, provide a lived example of the family’s core values in action. This is always a good thing!

Birth dads in open adoption

Most adoptions nowadays are open to some degree, yet birth mothers are often more involved than birth fathers. If a birth father is absent or infrequently present, this can cause many feelings in the adoptee, for example, rejection, grief, worry, preoccupation, and anger. Intentional, Adoption Attuned adoptive parents will want to help children work through their thoughts and feelings about this.

This task requires some emotional agility. As tony highlighted in his personal story. Adoptive parents should avoid talking only about the shortcomings and failures. Age-appropriate truth should be balanced with some contextualizing information so the child can see his birth father as a human being with challenges. And, in the tragic cases where a birth father had been a source of abuse or neglect, affirm the child’s experiences and memories and help them come to terms with the painful reality.

Father’s Day

So, just like Mother’s Day, this holiday can be tricky in the world of adoption. Grief. Loss and rejection are all at play. For those adoptees who lack an adoptive father, cheerful “Happy Father’s Day!” greetings can be a painful reminder of that compelling loss. This can be true even when a child has healthy male role models in their lives. There is no substitute for a relationally and physically present dad.

Consider these questions regarding fathers:

  • What constitutes a “good” father?
  • How should we honor and celebrate fathers?
  • How can we nurture emotional health in fathers?
  • How can we strengthen connections between fathers and their children?
  • How can we provide father models for adoptees without actively present fathers?


A book recommendation 

Tony Hynes’ insightful book about his interracial adoption by two white, lesbian women is titled “The Son With Two Moms”. It offers a peek into his unique adoption experience. As he mentioned in this conversation, his adoption was eventually overturned and replaced by a permanent guardianship. So, Tony straddled between both his birth and adoptive families. Unsurprisingly, this sparked many challenges.



Listen to our podcast or watch the conversation. 








Our previous podcast is still available on our website and your favorite podcast platform.

parenting-course-podcast-essentials-adoption attuned parenting-adoption-success

Read these award-winning books written by our coaches.


Check out our excellent online courses!