I have found myself invested in the adoption community for around five years. I have heard wonderful, heartwarming adoption stories as well as devastating, sorrowful adoption stories. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that every adoption story is valid and every person impacted by adoption in some way or another deserves to have their experience validated. One member of the adoption triad that stereotypically gets a bad rap is birth fathers. Unfortunately, a lot of birth fathers aren’t in the picture for one reason or another or in some cases, there is no clue as to who the birth father even is. Today, we are going to have a conversation about birth fathers.
I like to think I have ample experience with birth fathers. I am adopted and have a close relationship with my own birth father. My mom was adopted by her dad and only met her birth father for the first time a couple of years ago.
My sister was adopted and met her birth father just this past year. She really took the time she needed to allow her adoption story to progress. She read letters from her birth mom and when she felt ready, she requested information from the state. After a lot of thought, she decided to go forward and meet her birth mother in 2015, when the time felt right. It would be another five years before she decided to reach out to her birth father. When she did, he was overjoyed.
He had always hoped that my sister, Katelyn, would reach out someday. But as years went by, he lost hope. He had no way to look for her and the way their adoption plan was set up, he didn’t even know her name. There was nothing he could do but be patient and hope that someday she would reach out.
She did some Facebook-stalking when she was ready to search him out. She sent a message that went unopened and unread for weeks before she decided to reach out to one of his sons (her biological half-brother) asking if the initial message had been received. That message was opened some time later and Katelyn was able to connect with her birth father.
Since reuniting, my sister was able to spend time getting to know her birth father. She was able to introduce him to her husband and two-year-old son. It was special to see how excited this birth father was to have this opportunity he always worried he would never have. He had known that Katelyn could reach out when she was 18 if she decided to do so, but as the years after that passed, his heart sank.
At the time, they lived less than an hour away from each other. Katelyn moved recently, putting several states between them. But they are still able to communicate regularly, thanks to the gift of modern technology. These stories need to be shared in our community-wide conversation about birth fathers.
My mom’s story was years in the making as well. She had been conceived out of wedlock and my grandma married and divorced my mother’s birth father in a span of nine months. When she remarried a few, short years later, the adults involved decided it would be better for her if her mom’s new husband adopted her and if her birth father was not in the picture. My mom didn’t know she was adopted until she was 13 (which is a story for another time).
My mom knew her history but never felt any desire or interest to learn more about her birth father, let alone to go as far as reaching out to him. It was her father who finally encouraged her to do so just a handful of years ago.
“No, Dad, I don’t need to find him,” she had said then. “I have a dad, I have you.”
He explained that watching my sister reunite with her birth mom had made him realize that my mom should reach out for the sake of him in case he had hoped she would someday.
When Katelyn met her birth mom, her birth mom received closure for the first time in 20 years that placing her first-born baby was the right choice. Seeing her and the family she had grown up with gave her the sense of peace she had longed for.
My grandpa decided that if nothing else, it may bring some closure to my mom’s birth father. So, my mom took to social media to find her birth father or at least a relative. She reached out to what she assumed was her birth father’s daughter-in-law, explaining who she was and who she was looking for.
She received an excited reply from this relative who had long heard the story of her father-in-law’s eldest child. My sister was passed along to her birth father’s wife since he didn’t have an account of his own.
His wife, Debbie, wrote to my mom with such joy and zeal. She explained that “we always hoped you would come knock on our door- and this is the knock.”
Over the next couple of weeks, phone calls and texts were exchanged and plans were made for my mom to finally reunite with her birth father, Bill. We went as a family for that reunion and it was incredible to watch a 45+ year dream come to fruition. Bill had patiently waited and hoped that someday my mom would reach out and she finally had.
When Bill heard that she had reached out, Debbie recounts that he went immediately to bring out the box of pictures he had kept of my mom when she was a toddler (the last time he had seen her). He knew exactly where it was and she was always in the back of his mind through all those years.
The weeks after they had contact, he would host his friends and family members for dinners to tell the story. He said he couldn’t stop crying tears of joy for weeks when he would think about how he finally had contact with his eldest daughter again when he thought he may never have that chance. There are wonderful stories we might be missing out on because we don’t have an ongoing conversation about birth fathers.
We have been fortunate to become a part of this family. We have been included in family reunions and even were invited to the family’s big trip to Disney World a few years ago. All of us have remarked how it feels like we have been in each other’s lives this whole time, even after all these years.
Now, I want to talk about my birth father. Brent has become one of my best friends and greatest advocates. We call each other regularly, and my husband and I make trips often to see him and his family. My birth father’s family is my family. They have driven the hours to visit me, been more excited about my birthday than anyone else, and made me an integral family member.
Unfortunately, our story started to blossom years later than it could have. Due to some unknown reason, the adoption agency we went through severed communication between us when I was only five years old. I had a picture of him from his high school senior year and letters to read, but there were years without communication. We knew from letters that he had gotten married, so we assumed that he was just turning fully to his family and closing the book on my chapter. We had no idea that he was devastated that this communication was stopped.
Flash forward to 2015, when my birth father was able to regain communication with me. He hadn’t heard from my birth mom in a long time, until one day when she reached out to ask if he had heard from me yet that year. He responded that he had been cut off years before. Over time, my birth mom shared information about me and showed him pictures of me. He was also able to find my parents by doing a Google search. He knew their first names, but not their last. So, he searched their names together and was able to figure out where we were from. He wasn’t sure what to do, so he went to a church leader to ask for advice.
Because my birth father is from the same church, his church leader was able to find mine. He called my church leader, who then called my parents to ask what they would like to do.
For the next while, Brent would mail things to my church leader, who happily played Mr. Postman for me. Letters and birthday gifts brought to my door courtesy of my pastor until we decided to forego the go-between and have more direct contact.
It was only a little more than two years between initial contact and our face-to-face reunion. I remember that day so vividly. It was just two weeks after the reunion with my birth mom and it was in the same city. The day before, Taylor Swift (whom I love) had released the song “Look What You Made Me Do” and I was listening to it on repeat basically the entire 5-hour drive to the hotel and then during the car ride from the hotel to his house.
When I got out of the car to walk up his driveway, I could see him through the side window by his door. He didn’t hesitate to open the door to meet me. The next thing I knew, I was locked in what must have been the tightest hug in the history of hugs. I could feel such an immense amount of love coming from him; I doubt I will forget that moment as long as I live. By keeping the conversation about birth fathers going, we will be able to share the love in these stories and encourage others in their searching.
A couple of years have passed since then and we have learned a lot together. Healthy boundaries have been established, inside jokes have been made, and lots and lots of love have been shared.
Talking with Brent, a lot of things have been made clear to me. In the wider conversation about birth fathers, they have a stereotype of not being involved. He remembers my birth mom having support groups and other counseling services offered while he had none of that. He was cut off from me and my birth mother wasn’t. Brent has said that it’s like people expect birth fathers to not be involved. Because that’s presented as the standard, they end up following that created cycle.
I had mentioned to him that we had just assumed he moved on and he remarked how sad it was that society just expects birth fathers to move on or that maybe their wives or girlfriends are uncomfortable with that contact. We need to talk about this more often; we need to keep the conversation about birth fathers going.
One thing that particularly touched my heart was the concern my birth father had for my sisters’ birth father. My sister is three years and nine months older than me and has approached her relationships differently than I did. As I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t until last year that she reached out to her birth father. Brent had asked me a couple of times if I thought she would ever reach out. And honestly, I had no idea. I hoped for his sake he would but she didn’t feel a draw to do so.
I could feel from Brent that there was probably a sense of wanting my sister to reach out to her birth father because perhaps he was wondering what it would be like in those shoes. Longing for a relationship that rests in the hands of someone else. Someone that has your blood running through their veins but has never seen your face or heard your voice.
My birth father was excited to hear when my sister had finally reached out to hers. My heart filled when I was also able to meet him. Over the summer, I happened to be in town one weekend when he was available. Meeting the birth father of my sister was such a cool experience. It was a brief meeting, but he always hoped if he ever met my sister, he would get to meet her family.
I recognize that I am very fortunate with my experience. The birth fathers in my life exude so much love. I wish that my situation was more common and that “birth fathers are absentees” wasn’t the stereotype. I have had conversations with adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth mothers alike who have expressed disdain for birth fathers. My heart breaks for those in these scenarios.
Brent is one of my favorite people on the planet and I like to think I’m one of his. His family is my family and I love them more than I think there are words to express.
With the experiences I’ve had and the things that I’ve learned over the years, I think the best way to change the stereotype about fathers is to open up and have a conversation about birth fathers.