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
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.
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?
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.
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