Is the Stereotype Wrong?
by Barbara Free, M.A.
days before Mothers Day and Birth Mothers Day, while traveling in
Switzerland, I visited an apartment in Bern, where Albert Einstein had lived
with his first wife, when he was working at the patent office and before he
became famous. Among the information there was the story of their relationship.
They had been in the same group, studying science and mathematics, and gradually
became involved with each other. There was an important and difficult examination
which she took and did not pass the first time. Apparently many did not pass it
the first time. Disappointed, she went back to her familys home for the
summer. While there, she realized she was pregnant, by Albert Einstein, and she
gave birth to a baby girl while at her parents home. Before she returned
to Bern, apparently several months after the child was born, she relinquished
the child, and there is no record of what happened to her. There is speculation
she was adopted by a family in Hungary, but no one has found any written records
My first reaction was one of sorrow for Mileva, the
mother, who must have been so devastated at having the relinquish her baby. This
was 1902, and one could hardly go back to university classes in Zurich with an
infant. She never was able to contact her child again. I couldnt help but
wonder what became of this daughter, what she was told or wasnt about her
birth parents, whether she was as brilliant as both of them, and if she ever heard
of them. The sign board said Einstein never saw his daughter. Probably he never
even saw a picture of her.
When Mileva returned to Zurich, she began to feel
somewhat pushed aside by the rest of the group. She and Albert married. She took
the exam again but did not pass, and gradually became a housewife and mother while
he went on to his great career. They had two sons, one of whom had some
disabilities, and eventually Albert and Mileva divorced, against her will, because
he wanted to marry his cousin, with whom he had been close since childhood.
As I read these facts, looked at the pictures, and
the furnishings in the apartment, I felt great compassion for Mileva, but I also
felt sorrow for Albert, who may have grieved over not being able to raise the
daughter, nor even to ever see her. I do not, of course, know the feelings and
conversations between the couple. I had never pictured Albert Einstein as a birth
father before! There was no such term in his day. Certainly he has not been known
as a close and nurturing father, and many people, not just men, who are extremely
dedicated to their careers are not devoted parents.
Yet, I have to wonder how his experience of being a
birth father may have influenced his decision to marry Mileva, or to gradually pull
away from her and their sons, and how her loss may have changed her. No one was
doing films and recordings of families in those days, or reality shows. I left
there with a whole new view of Albert Einstein, seeing him as a young man in a
complicated relationship with no real guidelines. Perhaps he grieved the loss of
the daughter, perhaps not. I noticed that my encyclopedia did not mention any of
this. I think I had previously read something about it in an article, but it did
not have the same impact as seeing pictures of both of them as young adults, and
seeing pictures of her with the next child, and of seeing their little apartment.
The proximity to Mothers Day made it more poignant, too. Then, as
Fathers Day approached, I thought again of Einstein as a birth father.
We have a cultural stereotype of birth fathers as
uncaring, whether they know about their children or not. To be sure, there are
some men who do know about their children, relinquished or not, and who do not
appear to care. I cannot speculate what actual feelings they may have. Many,
especially in the past, were not allowed to marry the mother, nor even to contact
her again. Some chose not to, and unlike young unmarried mothers, they were not
expelled from school, sent away to sane home for unwed fathers, or
expected to keep the secret forever. Some were never even told their girlfriend
was pregnant. In other cases, the mother herself wanted no more contact, and
either told him so, or just never told him she was pregnant. Its hard to
be a caring father if one doesnt even know one is a father.
In my own career as a therapist, I met numerous
men who were birth fathers. Some had spent many years feeling loss, shame and
guilt over their inability to support and raise a child who was relinquished.
Some did not, indeed, have any idea of the childs existence until
contacted by the birth mother or the adult child many years later. Some did not
know how to react, while others welcomed the offspring with open arms. Lots of
other men have spent their adult years wondering if theyd fathered a child
of whom they had no knowledge. That is very different from a birth mother, who
knows she had a child, no matter what happened afterward. In most cases,
she knows whether she had a boy or girl, and knows the birth date. In a few
cases, she was so drugged she has no memory of the birth and may have even been
so medicated she cant remember the exact birth date. Still, she
experienced the pregnancy, and however horrendous the loss over the years, she
really didnt forget. Many birth fathers did not even have that
In todays world of open adoptions, parents
keeping their children whether they are married or not, and expectations of
fathers involvement with their children, young parents experiences
may be far different. Still, there are children sired by someone other than a
womans husbanddonor fathers, one-night stands, a short romance while
a couple was separated, a relationship that doesnt last until the child is
born, and even rape. Some of these fathers do have continued access to the child,
some do not. In this article, I am not addressing the feelings of those men who
raped a woman, whether he knew her or not. I do know of numerous cases where a
young man was accused of rape when it was not, and he has had a very difficult
time dealing with that. I also know women who were raped by their husbands and
became pregnant, and have never revealed that to the offspring.
I have noticed that books, films and television
dramas dealing with birth fathers tend to perpetuate the stereotype of the
uncaring birth father. In cases where he does care, he is expected to care from
a distance. In a drama I watched recently (a rerun of an episode of Hetty
Wainthrope Investigates, actually), the father longed to meet his grown
daughter, but was advised to see her only from a distance and let her continue
to think her mothers husband was her father. In todays real world,
DNA testing might change that advice. The mother was advised to stay with the
husband, even though she loathed him, especially after learning he had falsely
accused the father of theft and ruined his military career, before she was aware
of her pregnancy, then quickly married her to make an honest woman of
her. All this was supposed to keep the daughter happy, or at least
deceived. So the birth father, being a gentleman, went away.
Many birth parents, both mothers and fathers,
have been told, even today, not to expect any public acknowledgment of their
being birth parents, such as attending weddings, graduations, birthdays,
etc., of their offspring, or having a known relationship with the adoptive
parents, or they may be told they can attend a graduation or wedding but must
sit in the back and leave immediately. This seems rather similar
to the days of slavery when a slave might be good enough to cook the food,
feed the children, and even raise them, but must sit in the kitchen to eat,
and never attend public events with the family. We outlawed slavery a long
time ago, but we have not outlawed classism, stereotypes, and deception.
Are there birth fathers who dont care?
Certainly there are, but most do care, if they know. Although we have come
far enough to have a Birth Mothers Day, even though Hallmark hasnt
discovered it yet, there is still no Birth Fathers Day at all. Will it
take another generation before their existence is acknowledged?
Excerpted from the July
2013 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2013 Operation Identity