The Ever-Present Void of The Unknown Father

I took part in a discussion last night among my fellow adoptees who are in the same boat as me: unknown father.  Friends of ours who know their fathers were chiming in about their outrage and anger that our birth mother's won't just tell us our fathers' names.  One of them suggested I write about this topic from the adoptee viewpoint.

Lots of stories have flown around about how to handle this delicate situation.  These are just a couple samples of stories I am personally aware:

1.  Adoptee A's birth mother refused to tell her her father's name.  Adoptee A sent her a letter advising that if she didn't reveal the name of the father within 30 days, she would go to the media and take her story public.  She received the father's name by mail within two weeks. Adoptee A met her birth father just in time as he was dying of cancer.

2.  Adoptee B had a pretty good relationship with her birth mother until her birth mother refused to tell her her father's name. Adoptee B threatened to end the relationship unless she revealed the name. Adoptee B's birth mother revealed the name reluctantly.

I have heard all the arguments as to why birth mother's do not reveal the father's names.  I could recite them in my sleep, but that is not the purpose of this blog.  The purpose of this blog is to reveal the other side of this reality.

The two stories  of Adoptee A and B make it seem like many adoptees with unknown fathers are just spoiled brats and we want what we want regardless of who we hurt in the process.  But let's take a closer look at the predicaments that many adoptees are in.

I am a member of a closed Facebook genealogy group and I was reading one of the documents about why people will not respond to questions and emails when you are either a paper-relative (but don't know each other in real life) or a DNA-match (and are making initial contact for information).  It was well-written from the perspective of the person being asked to provide information.  It was a good reminder that we should not be a cyber-bully or push people past their "No" and to respect each other since we do not know the other person's viewpoint or story.

One thing I did not hear addressed in this document, and it was no surprise, considering it was written by a non-adoptee, was the adoptee viewpoint (or it could be the donor-conceived viewpoint, or the now-adult child of a father who walked out of his/her life in childhood viewpoint, or the biological offspring of a family who lied to them viewpoint, or the stepchild of a believed-to-be-bio-dad-but- really-stepdad-viewpoint).

Sure, we are all adults and we should calmly, respectfully understand when somebody does not want to reveal information, whether that means our emails are ignored, we personally are ignored or our needs are ignored.  As grown-ups, we are responsible for our own feelings and actions, and we also have to accept that we have no control over anyone other than ourselves.  

On the other hand, if you are adopted or have any number of the family situations I mentioned above, you are put in a position of powerlessness.  Somebody else did the leaving, the lying, the avoiding, the ignoring and you were the recipient of it without choice.  There is an unequal amount of power in relationships where one party holds the "key" or "answers" and the other party is the one the information is about. 

You see this power differential when you compare the stereotypical adoptive parents with the stereotypical relinquishing birth mother.  A relinquishing mother may be poor, uneducated or at a minimum, not in a position to parent and the adoptive parents are usually in a better educational and financial position to adopt. 

The power differential is also true in laws governing adoption, whereas the powerful lobby groups are adoptive parents, attorneys, and agencies who have the deep pockets and tip the laws in their favor. As adoptees, we experience a crap-shoot of sorts of living in the "right state or country" in order to see our own birth certificates.  

This power differential puts adoptees with unknown fathers into a win/lose scenario.  If we push our mothers for the information, we could lose them.  If we leave it alone, we may lose the opportunity to know our fathers.  In other words, it is similar to being a child of divorce --- always in the middle, always having to tiptoe around somebody else's feelings.  

The viewpoint of the adult adoptee with an unknown father is rarely discussed or explored in other blogs that I have read.  The right to have copies of our original birth documents is a an issue talked about often; however if you are an adoptee, chances are high that your father's name was NOT listed on your birth certificate.  So having a copy of your original birth certificate rarely helps unless your biological father was married to your mother.

In other words, most of the power of "knowing and revealing" an adoptee's father's name is left with the mother.  An adult with an unknown father is in a win/lose scenario that most of us never imagined we would be in.

You have all heard the stories from the people "who don't want to know" -- you know the ones who say this:

"The dad who raised me is my REAL DAD and I don't care about that man who donated sperm.  He is a bum, walked out of my life and I hope I never see him again."

or this:

"I love my adoptive parents and my adopted dad is the only father I need."

But have you ever heard statements like these?

"I walk around every day with a VOID in my heart and soul."  

"Lacking a good relationship with the primary male in my life, I was desperate for male attention and validation."

"To be missing the love only a Dad can give, has left a hole in me."

"I can't wait to look into the face of the man who I share DNA with, to finally be able to say I Love You."

"I am looking forward to the day when I can fill all the empty branches of my family tree. . . 
for myself and future generations . . .before I die."

"The desperation and lack of positive self-image led me to settle for much less than I deserved."

"When I find you, it will bring a completion to my journey. I want you to meet your grandkids."

"It hurts to be lied to by the woman who brought me into the world -- to know that she does not consider my need to know my father as important as my need to know her."

"To think that my dad would have protected me from the things that my adoptive parents did not."

"To have a man say . . .'this is my daughter' and see him smile."

Mara Parker found her father through genetic genealogy and said all the things that tug at a Daddy's heart (get the tissues ready).  Mara's mother did disclose her father's name; however, due to closed records, Mara did not know either of her biological parents growing up and her search for her father was difficult due to him having a common name.  

My daughter, who many of you know is adopted, spent a lot of time this Christmas holiday with her biological father's side.  When I look at her, I see him.  When I look at him, I see her.  How can I not embrace and love this person in her life?  I had the opportunity to ask him about family genetic traits, such as who is musical and artistic in his family, what their religious background was, etc.  I learned some fascinating things about him and many of them explain the way my daughter thinks and behaves.

Many believe that those of us with unknown fathers should just accept our plight, the hand we were dealt and "move on".  Many feel that it's not a big deal -- we should just be thankful to be alive (I am, by the way) and "forget about the whole thing".

We all know that genetics are hugely important to people's lives -- their personalities, looks, tastes, diseases, etc.  The average person can look in the mirror and see their Father staring back at them. Not true for those of us with this ever-present void.  We too would like to see our Father, his people, and the people before them.  Even if they are deceased.  Even if they want nothing to do with us. Even though it might "hurt" a few people who may have been actively keeping the secret.  We have been hurt too and we are expected to accept that as our fate.

Everyone has a right to know who their father is.  

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. 
In that space is our power to choose our response. 
In our response lies our growth and our freedom." -- Viktor E. Frankl


  1. Lynn…this is a wonderful post. I am one of the lucky ones. Even in the pain of my adoption my first mother was good enough to let me know my father's name. But I still feel the anger and resentment she feels toward him, especially when she picks up on a FB page that I have seen him. I am learning (slowly) to accept that this is her pain and not mine and that I have the right to own my own life. I think adopted people many times respond to the jealousy of others in a more profound way. I hope that is not a generalization. What happened between my mother and father had nothing to do with me. Without making a judgment, they chose to have sex with one another and I was born. I am not shaming, just pointing out that every action has a potential consequence. This is a lesson I am learning every single day at the age of 49…a lesson that I can apply to myself.

    It is my fervent wish and PRAYER that all adoptees will get access to our information. The people keeping it from us have no idea how this damages the sense of our identities and core selves. People can decide to let the truth paralyze them or set them free. In many ways the truth has been agonizing for me, but I am free!

  2. I agree with both the post and Julie's comment. If someone is begging to be told the truth, it is cruel to withhold it. Being lied to, even for "your own good," is to be treated as an incompetent child. If your father was an ax murderer with a meth habit, you have a right to know that. If you father was a rapist, you have a right to know. What you do with that knowledge is up to you: you can hate him, never see him, relegate him to the dust bin. But you have the right to know who you came from.

  3. My bio fathers name is on my birth certificate, the same name my bio mom gave me when I met her 25 years ago. But DNA says I’m half Sicilian and that man she named is not. Not at all. She’s passed, her sisters insist it’s the man she named, and there’s no one else close on the DNA website. So I’m stuck.
    Would love to find him or his relatives one day.


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