Birth Fathers: Looking at the
by Barbara Free, M.A.,
little has been written about or by birth fathers. They are even more in
the shadows than birth mothers, and are less apt to search or be searched
for. We tend to have about three stereotypes of birth fathers, all very negative.
We tend to perceive of them as either very young, too young to take any
responsibility for being a parent, and probably not wanting to do so; or
as being involved with several young women at once, eagerly impregnating
as many as possible and bragging about it, while taking no responsibility
(drive-by mentality); or, finally, we picture a married man involved
with someone else but not leaving his wife to marry this person or supporting
her or their child, not acknowledging that he is the biological father. In
short, society tends to see birth fathers as irresponsible, thinking only
of themselves, and bearing no consequences.
Of course, some men fit, these stereotypes
to some degree, but we have not acknowledged that many birth fathers feel
a great deal of responsibility, grief, and loss about their children, may
have wanted to marry and/or support the birth mother (and may have been forced
on threat of their lives not to have any contact), may have felt so bad they
never told anyone, or may not have even been informed of the pregnancy.
Some birth fathers have been able to make decisions
along with the birth mothers concerning relinquishment and adoption; some
have later married the birth mother and theyve had other children together,
which may have caused sadness and stress, knowing that first child is not
with them. Some birth fathers have tried to get custody and raise the child
themselves. A few such cases have been highly publicized, in which the child
had not been legally relinquished in the first place, because the birth father
had not been notified or had not signed for termination of his parental rights.
While these cases have been tragic for the child caught in the middle, the
media has rarely emphasized that the child may not have been legally available
for adoption in the first place.
Another factor is that, in the past, birth
mothers were advised not to list the birth fathers name on the birth
certificate or adoption papers, in order to simplify the adoption;
in other words, so the birth father did not have to be notified and therefore
could not protest the adoption, which might have resulted in giving
away her secret. We might question if it were the birth mother being
protected, or the birth mothers parents. In many cases, the birth
mothers family condemned the young man for getting her pregnant (regardless
of her age or their commitment to each other), then condemned him more for
not taking responsibility, but at the same time prevented him from doing
so in any way. What a bind! At the same time, the young woman was told to
state Father Unknown, implying that she was either raped by a
stranger who fled, or that she was so promiscuous she had no idea which of
several sexual partners was the father. For most birth mothers, nothing was
further from the truth, and to say Father Unknown was terribly
humiliating. This was presumably the awful truth which must never be
revealed, hence the sealing of the original birth certificate. These
procedures also made it nearly impossible for a birth father to search for
his child later on, particularly if he bad no contact after learning of the
pregnancy; he would not even have a birth date or the sex of the child.
Although few books deal solely with birth fathers,
some do discuss their feelings, experiences, and in some cases, reunions.
Out of the Shadows: Birthfathers Stories (reviewed in this issue),
is particularly well done, giving a wide variety of stories and situations.
For many birth fathers today, the issue may not the adoption because the
mother has kept the child, but maybe his level of involvement and support,
the need for parenting skills, and establishment of custody. Many birth fathers
receive no counseling or help in making a decision, including one about
subsequent adoption of the child by a new stepfather, or having a legal agreement
about future contact with the child.
There is a need for therapists interested in
helping men address their birth-father issues, whether the immediate issues
of a current pregnancy, or long-term issues for men who fathered children
years ago. The negative stereotype of He got off scot-free and never
cared is simply not true in many cases. Operation Identity welcomes
and encourages the involvement of more birth fathers in our meetings, and
offers non-judgmental support.
(This paper was included in the materials
at the workshop on long-term adoption issues for therapists, Its
Not Over When Its Final, held on April 25, 1998, in
Excerpted from the July 1998
edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 1998 Operation Identity