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Father’s Day dominates our thoughts this month. Big Holidays like this are freighted with extra emotional baggage in the world of adoption. The importance of fathers tends to be underappreciated and be overshadowed by the intense emotional focus on mothers.
Whether it is accurate or fair, mothers are the ones by whom adoptees feel most “rejected.” Mothers are seen as the ones most responsible for choosing adoption.
Yet the true importance of fathers is no small thing. It is from their fathers that our sons learn how to be good, loving men of character and courage. Our daughters’ relationships with their dads teach them how to recognize good men as possible partners, colleagues, and friends. When children lack the presence of a loving involved father, it leaves a deficit in their emotional experiences. That absence matters.
In the adoption community, we tend to focus predominantly on the powerful emotional and psychic reverberations of the separation of mother and child. Search and reunion efforts emphasize the mother/child link.
But adoption also separates adoptees from their birth fathers as well. This fracture has significant consequences too. Beyond the contribution of his DNA, a birth father’s influence matters to adoptees. Dad’s genes constitute half of his biological makeup and thus helps shape who the adoptee will become even if they never meet. The quest to find, reunite, and build a connection with first dads gets less press than the quest for birth mothers. Still, for many adoptees, their yearning for birth father information and their hope for a relationship is not a secondary desire. Whether the desire to learn about and or contact a birth father is an unquenchable need or simply a need for the basic desire for knowledge, or some position in between these polarities, the importance of birth fathers is gaining importance and appreciation by adoptees and professionals as well.
Recently, I spoke with a young man I’ll call “Michael.” He was “found” by his birth father last year. The emotional upheaval he experienced from this unexpected event covers every imaginable feeling: joy, relief, acceptance, validation, sadness, shock, and even a tinge of anger. Michael now in his 30’s, has been in reunion with his birth mother for over 10 years.
He’d been dismissive of any need to find his birth father–at least in conversations with friends and family. Perhaps this was because he and his adoptive family had tried to find Mike’s birth father years earlier with no luck. When Mike was “found” his joy was transformative. Startling. Definitive. Connecting with his birth father provided an additional kind of completion. His father filled in many blanks. They have shared many Difficult conversations. Obviously, this was a deeply emotional time and dredged up many additional “what ifs”. Their conversations triggered many more questions—the least of which is how will they proceed? What kind of ongoing relationship will they build? How can they pick up the pieces after 35 years?
Ironically though Michael was adopted thousands of miles from his current home, it was a shocking and pleasant discovery to learn that he and his birth father now live less than 20 minutes apart. The surprises did not end there. Mike also learned that he has seven siblings– most of whom also live locally and they were delighted to meet him. Their welcome has been healing and exciting for him. These new relationships enrich his life and the life of his young son who is delighted to discover all these new relatives.
Figuring out how to incorporate all these new relationships takes energy, attention, and an emotional— toll too. For now, he is enjoying the “honeymoon” stage and looks ahead with optimism to becoming better acquainted and more intimately connected with his large paternal biological family.
*Michael/Mike is a pseudonym
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