Biological father wants to connect with daughter who doesn't know he exists

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 27, 2010 06:00 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Dear Barbara,

I had an affair with a married woman and this resulted in a child almost 18 years ago. I was unable to maintain contact with the child due to the circumstances, and after 1 year, the mother told me to stay away. Last year, I learned that the husband passed away when my daughter was 11. She is now 17. When I learned of the situation, I contacted the mother (who has since remarried) and told her I want to be a part of my daughter's life. She has refused to allow me to contact her. I have contact information for my daughter and want to contact her when she turns 18. I want so much to be a part of her life but do not want to cause permanent damage to her emotional health. If I contact her, what can I expect the outcome to be? She has a sister who believes they have the same father. What will this do to their relationship? Is it best for them to know the truth? I want to be there for my daughter; but is this being overly selfish? Thanks...

From: PLH, Little Rock

Dear PLH,

You're asking the right questions, and I give you lots of credit for that because you show a perception that's often lacking in these kinds of scenarios. But your situation is far from a typical one. Usually a child is searching for a parent, or a parent wants to connect after years of absence with a child from a former relationship. In both those cases, the child knows the parent exists.

Your daughter doesn't. Her life is a lie. The man she thinks is her father died without ever coming clean. The woman who is her mother has hid a secret all of the daughter's life. Her sister is a half-sister. Gimme a break: Selfish? More like life-damaging.

I decided to consult with a professional. George Northrup of New Hyde Park, NY, specializes in marriage and family therapy and he's come across situations that are similar, not identical, to yours. Here's an edited version of our conversation:

GN: This is risky at best, disappointing at least.

BFM: Disappointing?

GN: The father has likely had a fantasy about a successful father/daughter relationship that could have years to run. He's already lost a lot of years with her, he doesn't want to lose more. It could happen. But has he thought about how this could go wrong? That his daughter might have no use for him?

BFM: But maybe....

GN: Maybe it could work? Is he prepared to do what he would need to do to make that happen?

BFM: Like....?

GN: Like work with a professional about his motivation before initiating the process. Is he prepared to go through extended negotiation with the mother first? Does he have the money to pay for the therapy and negotiations this would entail? To fly to the city where the daughter lives? What about the people in his life? Would they object? Would they need therapy?

BFM: The mother sounds pretty key.

GN: She is. I would be very hesitant to encourage him to go forward unless the mother was willing. I would tell him to ask her to meet and discuss the possibility of this, not to decide anything, just to talk. It's no surprise the mother doesn't want you to open up this can of worms. She has the most to lose; this isn't just embarrassing for her, it could be devastating. One potential outcome is that the daughter will not only be angry at the father for not having insisted on being in her life sooner, but also angry with her mother for keeping this secret.

BFM: On the other hand, maybe the mother will welcome the opportunity to come clean now...

GN: If she's not willing, she could sabotage this, which could be much worse for the daughter.

BFM: You don't recommend it.

GN: Without the mother on the same page, it's not worth doing.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.


This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

9 comments so far...
  1. I'm sorry that you haven't been able to be part of your daughter's life. But there's no good way to tell her that her mother cheated on the man she knew as her father and that she is the product of that affair. Think of how devestating it would be for the family to drop the bomb that the mother cheated on her late husband. Unless there is a compelling medical reason, I would not reveal yourself to your daughter. It is selfish on your part and will only cause heartache for your daughter and her family.

    Posted by Sara August 27, 10 11:20 AM
  1. I'm not so sure it's that's selfish. If I were the daughter, yes I'd be angry that my whole life was a lie. But I'd be angry at my mother, not the father who was ordered to stay away. Did the bio father make a mistake? Yes, in having the affair, but it sounds as though not being part of the child's life wasn't his fault and I give him credit for following up.

    And if I were the daughter, I would definitely want to know my biological hereditary history. I'd want to know if I have cousins or other living grandparents. And I'd sure as hell want to get to know my father and decide for myself if I wanted an ongoing relationship.

    And let's give an 18 year old some credit. She should be mature enough to handle dealing with the truth, with or without therapy. I think people are way too quick to suggest therapy these days. First of all, many people cannot afford it and secondly, many people don't need it. It's okay to be sad or angry or bitter or questioning for some amount of time. We are a culture obsessed with happiness. We learn and grow the most from adverse situations, not the opposite.

    Posted by mp August 27, 10 12:47 PM
  1. I am astonished that in this day and age the professional recommendation is to continue to be complicit in this tremendous lie about who this girl really is and who here family is. She has a right to know that her biological father is not, in fact, dead(!) and that she has other family out there. Perhaps 18 is not the age to reveal this - I think kids at 18 are still quite young - but eventually, she should know the truth. This her HER LIFE. Her mother's embarrassment is hardly reason to continue to keep this a secret forever. You know, her mother should feel embarrassed and ashamed because she made one mistake after another in this mess but people understand and will forgive and move on.

    I know two people who found out in their 20s out they were the product of affairs. In those cases, the bio-fathers were not looking to maintain contact or foster relationships with their adult children. Yes they were mad at their mothers but they got over it. Their situations were different in that their assumed fathers were still alive. They were angry that these men were complicit in the lie (both husbands eventually found out about the affairs) but admired that they were lovingly and fairly raised by men who knew that the children weren't theirs. In the end, they were upset about the revelation but moved on and continue to have normal relationships with their families today. I also have two relatives who were out-of-wedlock births who didn't know that the fathers who raised them were not their bio fathers (in both cases ther single moms found wonderful men and got married when their children were babies). They too found out the truth in their 20's and got over it.

    If I were the LW, I would contact the mother and let her know that she will have to face the music eventually and that while he thinks it best to have mom be involved with this, he will eventually reach out to his daughter with or without her. I would push the timeline out several years though, maybe until his daugther is out of college. I think that 18 is too young and with a few more years to mull it over, mom might be a more willing party. But really, this isn't the kind of thing this guy should be forced to hide for the rest of his life. It isn't fair to the girl, and it isn't fair to him either.

    Posted by Jen August 27, 10 03:14 PM
  1. I think the real question is as George Northrup pointed out, does the father wants to reestablish a permanent Father - Daughter relation , or it is only a fantasy ? I mean will he wreck the poor girls life, and then off to go back to his normal life ? , or really he would take out real time, and real efforts ? I have a similar case with some diversion , and now the mother is dead, and i tell you it is a tremendous effort to try to make up a 20 years gap , and to tell a 20 years old daughter that her life was a lie for the last 20 years, and her deceased role model mother was lying to her , again i agree with George , it is a big risk , and it requires a lot of sacrifice from the father side, if he is willing to pay the price, and suffers a lot of set backs, anger, frustration , and being blamed for something he did not do , then go ahead, but if it is only a fantasy , then better to stay away , and let the poor girl live her life.

    Posted by Adam August 30, 10 06:20 AM
  1. If I understood what you meant by "I want to BE THERE for my daughter" I would have more sympathy for you. But really, what are you asking at this late juncture? How do you think your daughter will benefit from this news? Make up a list of the benefits and costs to HER, not to you, and see if it's worth it to HER. I think a better plan would be for the mother to tell her new husband the truth, and then to accept this guy into their social circle as an "old friend". Let him get to know the daughter socially without outing himself as her father. He could even become a trusted adult for her to turn to for advice etc without ever revealing his paternity. Since he wants to do what's right for this girl, he can establish a future relationship without destroying her past.

    Posted by JBar August 30, 10 07:49 AM
  1. The girl is almost 18 -- an adult. How about treating her like one? Just a suggestion.

    Posted by geocool August 31, 10 10:49 AM
  1. Ignorance really is bliss sometimes. And I really agree with Barb's expert on what the expected outcome probably is: bitterness and trauma. What will the daughter gain? She is most likely happy and secure in knowing who her parents are/were and shattering all that is only for the benefit of the estranged father. If there is some medical benefit to be gained down the road, I'm sure the mom could tell the daughter if she needs to know at some point.

    Posted by Sarah August 31, 10 03:35 PM
  1. Your daughter has the right to know the truth. I found out when I was 16 that I was adopted. I only found out after my adoptive father passed away that he had an affair and was in fact my biological father. I am angry for the lies and for being treated like somehow I was not good enough to be told the truth. EVERYONE has the right to know where they came from. It is not fair that her mother has controled this part of her daughter, and she has no clue. I feel sadness for you that you have not been apart of your daughters life. If you are willing to deal with the emotional rollercoaster within yourself and your daughter, go for it! It may take time for her to accept this, but in time she will accept you in her life and be greatful that you were willing to fight for her

    Posted by LH September 11, 10 01:26 PM
  1. This is the worse situation I have faced ever. My wife of one year began an affair and ended up pregnant. Everyone can make a mistake and I committed to raising the child as my own as long as she would commit to no more affairs. That lasted six months and she was back at it, so it was divorce time.
    I continued with raising the child as my own and do so to this day. She is now 25 with two years left to completing a veterinary degree and earning her Doctors certificate.
    My problem...I am constantly terrified that someone will let it slip that I am not her bio Father and the reaction she will have. I have no interest in telling her the story of her Mothers morality problems nor that her bio parent demanded an abortion and left the State because of it.
    So...should I have a talk with her and tell her or take it to my grave and hope no one says anything before hand.
    There is no reason to seek out the bio person for medical reasons and to the best of my knowledge has disappeared.

    Posted by DPT September 26, 13 03:40 PM
 
9 comments so far...
  1. I'm sorry that you haven't been able to be part of your daughter's life. But there's no good way to tell her that her mother cheated on the man she knew as her father and that she is the product of that affair. Think of how devestating it would be for the family to drop the bomb that the mother cheated on her late husband. Unless there is a compelling medical reason, I would not reveal yourself to your daughter. It is selfish on your part and will only cause heartache for your daughter and her family.

    Posted by Sara August 27, 10 11:20 AM
  1. I'm not so sure it's that's selfish. If I were the daughter, yes I'd be angry that my whole life was a lie. But I'd be angry at my mother, not the father who was ordered to stay away. Did the bio father make a mistake? Yes, in having the affair, but it sounds as though not being part of the child's life wasn't his fault and I give him credit for following up.

    And if I were the daughter, I would definitely want to know my biological hereditary history. I'd want to know if I have cousins or other living grandparents. And I'd sure as hell want to get to know my father and decide for myself if I wanted an ongoing relationship.

    And let's give an 18 year old some credit. She should be mature enough to handle dealing with the truth, with or without therapy. I think people are way too quick to suggest therapy these days. First of all, many people cannot afford it and secondly, many people don't need it. It's okay to be sad or angry or bitter or questioning for some amount of time. We are a culture obsessed with happiness. We learn and grow the most from adverse situations, not the opposite.

    Posted by mp August 27, 10 12:47 PM
  1. I am astonished that in this day and age the professional recommendation is to continue to be complicit in this tremendous lie about who this girl really is and who here family is. She has a right to know that her biological father is not, in fact, dead(!) and that she has other family out there. Perhaps 18 is not the age to reveal this - I think kids at 18 are still quite young - but eventually, she should know the truth. This her HER LIFE. Her mother's embarrassment is hardly reason to continue to keep this a secret forever. You know, her mother should feel embarrassed and ashamed because she made one mistake after another in this mess but people understand and will forgive and move on.

    I know two people who found out in their 20s out they were the product of affairs. In those cases, the bio-fathers were not looking to maintain contact or foster relationships with their adult children. Yes they were mad at their mothers but they got over it. Their situations were different in that their assumed fathers were still alive. They were angry that these men were complicit in the lie (both husbands eventually found out about the affairs) but admired that they were lovingly and fairly raised by men who knew that the children weren't theirs. In the end, they were upset about the revelation but moved on and continue to have normal relationships with their families today. I also have two relatives who were out-of-wedlock births who didn't know that the fathers who raised them were not their bio fathers (in both cases ther single moms found wonderful men and got married when their children were babies). They too found out the truth in their 20's and got over it.

    If I were the LW, I would contact the mother and let her know that she will have to face the music eventually and that while he thinks it best to have mom be involved with this, he will eventually reach out to his daughter with or without her. I would push the timeline out several years though, maybe until his daugther is out of college. I think that 18 is too young and with a few more years to mull it over, mom might be a more willing party. But really, this isn't the kind of thing this guy should be forced to hide for the rest of his life. It isn't fair to the girl, and it isn't fair to him either.

    Posted by Jen August 27, 10 03:14 PM
  1. I think the real question is as George Northrup pointed out, does the father wants to reestablish a permanent Father - Daughter relation , or it is only a fantasy ? I mean will he wreck the poor girls life, and then off to go back to his normal life ? , or really he would take out real time, and real efforts ? I have a similar case with some diversion , and now the mother is dead, and i tell you it is a tremendous effort to try to make up a 20 years gap , and to tell a 20 years old daughter that her life was a lie for the last 20 years, and her deceased role model mother was lying to her , again i agree with George , it is a big risk , and it requires a lot of sacrifice from the father side, if he is willing to pay the price, and suffers a lot of set backs, anger, frustration , and being blamed for something he did not do , then go ahead, but if it is only a fantasy , then better to stay away , and let the poor girl live her life.

    Posted by Adam August 30, 10 06:20 AM
  1. If I understood what you meant by "I want to BE THERE for my daughter" I would have more sympathy for you. But really, what are you asking at this late juncture? How do you think your daughter will benefit from this news? Make up a list of the benefits and costs to HER, not to you, and see if it's worth it to HER. I think a better plan would be for the mother to tell her new husband the truth, and then to accept this guy into their social circle as an "old friend". Let him get to know the daughter socially without outing himself as her father. He could even become a trusted adult for her to turn to for advice etc without ever revealing his paternity. Since he wants to do what's right for this girl, he can establish a future relationship without destroying her past.

    Posted by JBar August 30, 10 07:49 AM
  1. The girl is almost 18 -- an adult. How about treating her like one? Just a suggestion.

    Posted by geocool August 31, 10 10:49 AM
  1. Ignorance really is bliss sometimes. And I really agree with Barb's expert on what the expected outcome probably is: bitterness and trauma. What will the daughter gain? She is most likely happy and secure in knowing who her parents are/were and shattering all that is only for the benefit of the estranged father. If there is some medical benefit to be gained down the road, I'm sure the mom could tell the daughter if she needs to know at some point.

    Posted by Sarah August 31, 10 03:35 PM
  1. Your daughter has the right to know the truth. I found out when I was 16 that I was adopted. I only found out after my adoptive father passed away that he had an affair and was in fact my biological father. I am angry for the lies and for being treated like somehow I was not good enough to be told the truth. EVERYONE has the right to know where they came from. It is not fair that her mother has controled this part of her daughter, and she has no clue. I feel sadness for you that you have not been apart of your daughters life. If you are willing to deal with the emotional rollercoaster within yourself and your daughter, go for it! It may take time for her to accept this, but in time she will accept you in her life and be greatful that you were willing to fight for her

    Posted by LH September 11, 10 01:26 PM
  1. This is the worse situation I have faced ever. My wife of one year began an affair and ended up pregnant. Everyone can make a mistake and I committed to raising the child as my own as long as she would commit to no more affairs. That lasted six months and she was back at it, so it was divorce time.
    I continued with raising the child as my own and do so to this day. She is now 25 with two years left to completing a veterinary degree and earning her Doctors certificate.
    My problem...I am constantly terrified that someone will let it slip that I am not her bio Father and the reaction she will have. I have no interest in telling her the story of her Mothers morality problems nor that her bio parent demanded an abortion and left the State because of it.
    So...should I have a talk with her and tell her or take it to my grave and hope no one says anything before hand.
    There is no reason to seek out the bio person for medical reasons and to the best of my knowledge has disappeared.

    Posted by DPT September 26, 13 03:40 PM
add your comment
Required
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

Submit a question for Barbara's Mailbag


Ask Barbara a question

Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

Send your questions to her at:
meltzbarbara (at) gmail.com.
Please include your name and hometown.

Child in Mind

Moms
All parenting discussions
Discussions

High needs/fussy baby

memes98 writes "My 10.5 month old DS has been fussy ever since he was born, but I am getting very frustrated because I thought he would be much better by now...has anyone else been through this?"

More community voices

Child in Mind

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street

RSS feed


click here to subscribe to
Child Caring

archives