Absent dad wants to know his 21-yr-old daughter

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 14, 2012 06:00 AM

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After 21 years of looking, I finally found the mother of my child. I knew she had a baby 21 years ago, thought it could be mine and just found out that I am the father. Obviously there was no child support paid because I could not find her. She is reluctant to let me see my child. I do not want to cause any problems in their family but I really want to meet my child. How should I proceed in convincing the mother I am not a threat to her relationship with her daughter. I just want to meet her and hopefully develop a relationship with her. Please advise.

From: Jeff, Dallas, TX


Dear Jeff,

You say the mom is "reluctant," which is very different from being opposed. I suggest trying to go about this in as collaborative a way as possible. Let her know that you're happy to do this any way she prefers, and then offer some possibilities. Can you pay for appropriate individual and family therapy? Can you arrange to cover expenses for however a meeting(s) might occur? Can you write a letter for the mother to share with the daughter?

I don't mean to say that throwing money around is the answer. It's not. Rather, it's a way to show you understand the psychological complexities of what's involved, and the need for professional guidance. In fact, for sure, don't do this without professional help, including for yourself: Have you thought about what kind of relationship you'd like to have with your grown daughter? Or that she might not want you in her life? You know nothing about this person or the life she's led.

Which brings me to this: Your daughter, at 21, is an adult. You don't need her mother's permission to make contact. On the other hand, let me repeat my sentence above: You know nothing about this person or the life she's led. For that matter, you know nothing about the struggles (or lack thereof) the mom has had raising her. This mom has a right to know, Why are you doing this now? If you've really been looking for 21 years, how hard were you looking? I'm not saying you shouldn't be doing it; I'm a firm believer in honesty about where we come from. In fact, I'd bet that over the years, the mother of your daughter has thought about this possibility. But before you go any further, know why you are doing this. To foist yourself on your daughter to satisfy your needs -- without her having the benefit of support and love from her mother -- could be the epitome of selfishness.

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20 comments so far...
  1. The mother has hidden his child from him. She bears some responsibility here as well. The child has a right to see her father.

    Posted by ZimbaZumba May 14, 12 10:26 AM
  1. Imagine if the roles were reveresed?

    The guy should sue the mother for taking the child away from him for 21 years. It's never too late. And to do what this writer is suggesting is to hide your head in the sand.

    The daughter should know the truth no matter what the circumstances are.

    This writer suggests that it's selfish to want to know your own child. Are you serious? Go tell that to a mother and see the reaction you'd get. What a bunch of sexist drivel.

    Posted by Mikey Monkeypants May 14, 12 10:37 AM
  1. How about the fact that this mother did not seek out the father? How unfair to the daughter to not have her father in her life because the mom did not let him know. Now dad has to worry about how the mom feels about this- she never asked how he felt about denying him a relationship with his daughter. And what must the daughter think of her father? I think the mom has some explaining to do to both dad and daughter as to why she did not allow them to have a relationship. I feel that Barbara is putting a lot of responsibility onto to the dad but I think mom needs to own up to her part in this. Even the title says that dad was absent rather than, "Mom keeps daughter away from dad." A counselor should definitely be sought out to help all three.

    Posted by Amy May 14, 12 12:15 PM
  1. I think you are amazingly peaceful about the fact that this woman didn't tell you that you were the father of her child, that you had to find her.

    Just because you didn't pay any support doesn't mean you are precluded from a relationship with your daughter. The daughter is an adult. The mother had 21 years to reach out to you to tell you about her and let you have a relationship with her (the right thing to do) and the fact she didn't tells me she is going to keep fighting you two having a relationship.

    Reach out to your daughter directly. She may reject you (and I'm sorry if she does) but she just might want to meet her father. She's an adult now and can make her own decisions.

    Good luck. I hope it works out for you.

    Posted by Lily- May 14, 12 12:46 PM
  1. "To foist yourself on your daughter to satisfy your needs -- without her having the benefit of support and love from her mother -- could be the epitome of selfishness."

    What? Are you insane?

    What about what mom has been doing for the last 21 years?

    If "foisting" himself upon his daughter is the "epitome of selfishness" then what mom has been up to should be seen as criminal child abuse.

    And no, mom doesn't have a right to know. As you stated yourself, this "child" is 21 years old. She's an adult and can make her own adult decisions. Mom has ZERO rights here. This is 100% between him and his daughter.

    How dare you question "how hard were you looking?". How hard was mom trying not to be found?

    Posted by JimR May 14, 12 07:27 PM
  1. Go for it, Dad. You have every right to know your child. If she rejects you, understand that if Mom was keeping her a secret from you, she was probably telling your daughter God knows what about you. Hang in there, let the daughter know you are available to talk whenever she wants, and please be patient. She has 21 years of head games to get past.

    Posted by patches02 May 15, 12 09:59 AM
  1. I agree with these other posters, that Mom was pretty selfish. By denying the LW the right to know his daughter, she cut the daughter off from her entire other family. No loving encounters with Gramma and Grampa, no sleepovers with the cousins on Dad's side, no family memories at all with half of her relatives. That's just mean.

    Posted by JBar May 15, 12 10:30 AM
  1. I'm with some of the other commenters here. She is 21. I was 21 not too long ago and I can promise you that if my mom kept my father out of my life for 21 years (with either no explanation or possibly an untruthful one), I'd want her to have no part in whether or not he gets to contact me (assuming he does so in a sensitive way). At 21, mom's feelings are moot. Why are we giving the mother any power here at all when she is the main reason this relationship doesn't exist in the first place? Plus, I cannot say it enough-she's 21! Since when do parents have any control over who their adult children interact with? I know we don't know the whole story but from what we do know, this is just a man who wants to have a phonecall or coffee with his daughter. I say if he has a way to contact her (phone number, email, letter), he should do it.

    Posted by Linney May 15, 12 11:06 AM
  1. I am the adult (38) daughter of a man who literally doesn't know I exist. My mother never told him she was pregnant. I've spent my entire life wondering about him and would love the opportunity to find out more, but my searches (based on little more than a common name) haven't found him.

    If the father is a decent person, who honestly wants to be some part of his daughter's life, he should reach out to the daughter. If the mother gives her blessing, that's great and will make it easier on everyone, but if not, she made her choices and must live with them.

    A letter to an advice column isn't going to answer whether one or both parents are decent, caring people. She must have had reasons for not telling him or including him. Again a letter to an advice column isn't going to explain if those reasons were valid or if she had issues that weren't really about him. For example, my mother chose not to tell my father because she didn't want someone else telling her how to raise her child. She's also bi-polar and has very poor judgement. Which means my father could be a great guy or another example of her poor judgement.

    Posted by K May 15, 12 02:21 PM
  1. Why are so comments so one-sided? We know only what the father is saying in his letter. The mother may have had very good reasons to keep the daughter away from her biological father. What if Mom suspected he would be violently or sexually abusive? What if father had psychological problems, or used to deal drugs and ran around with a shady crowd (which might put family in danger)? Just because father sounds sane now doesn't mean it was always the case.

    Obviously father can get in touch with daughter whether or not mother allows it. But it's not enough to just want to chat on phone or get a coffee to satisfy some curiosity. Father should want to be a meaningful part of child's life going forward, or else he risks hurting the one person who has no blame to shoulder in the situation.

    Posted by momof2 May 15, 12 04:17 PM
  1. The father should be able to see the daughter. It is very selfish of the mother to hide a child from its father.

    Its ironic, because I am in the same situation now as the father in this story was. I have a much younger girlfriend whom I suspect is pregnant with my child and she has cut off all communication and appears to have gone undercover on the West Coast. Is there anything I can do legally to find out if a child is on the way? I don't want to wait 21 years to find out the answer. I may not be around in 20 years.

    Posted by Jay Dee May 15, 12 04:50 PM
  1. What momof2 said. All of you who are jumping all over the mom and siding with the dad have no idea WHY she kept them apart all these years.

    Having said that, the daughter is an adult. He doesn't have to go through the mom to know her, nor does he need to jump through these hoops. He should reach out to the daughter and take it from there.

    Posted by rml May 15, 12 06:14 PM
  1. I wonder what she has been told about her father. Does she have another father figure now? For a long time? Will your appearance risk upsetting her life? I'm not saying you should not meet her or that she should not know you, but I do think you need a lot more information before deciding how to go about it. That is, if you are after her best interest and not just yours. I think you need to find a way of making her mother an ally in this.

    Posted by Susan May 15, 12 08:36 PM
  1. As the spouse of a man whose father dropped into his life after a long absence, I can say that the questions Barbara is asking are completely appropriate, her advice is spot on. I think her response shows a tremendous amount of compassion towards everyone involved, the Mom, the child and the LW. If you really care about your child - and by care I don't mean "fantasizing about being welcomed into an instantly loving familial relationship with someone to whom you are a total stranger," you'll ask yourself these questions, really dig deep for the answers, and take her advice on your approach.

    Posted by HP May 15, 12 11:03 PM
  1. "Why are so comments so one-sided? We know only what the father is saying in his letter. The mother may have had very good reasons to keep the daughter away from her biological father. What if Mom suspected he would be violently or sexually abusive? What if father had psychological problems, or used to deal drugs and ran around with a shady crowd (which might put family in danger)? Just because father sounds sane now doesn't mean it was always the case."

    What if the mother was a whack-job? By what legal standard does ANY parent have a right to decide for themselves whether or not the other parent gets to know they have a child? A father has rights that are equeal to the mother's when it comes to custody of their child unless a court says otherwise. If a woman thinks the father of her child isn't fit to be a parent they have legal recourse to remedy that situation. They don't get to decide that on their own.

    Posted by JimR May 16, 12 12:05 AM
  1. What two of the other posters said. It's a very telling thing that someone would choose to cut off contact rather than accept child support. We don't know anything about this "father" apart from what little information he's giving us. I'd love to hear the mom's side of the story before jumping to conclusions.

    And men, since you can't control whether or not the woman is using birth control, take extra precautions to use it yourselves.

    Posted by Nancy May 16, 12 06:31 AM
  1. Most of these comments are one sided. When in fact we dont' know the entire story here. I agree that many times it is selfish for a mother to keep her kids away from the father. But yes,some reasons are valid and others are not. We can't decide that because we don't know them. We don't have all the information here to really give good solid advice.

    Posted by jd May 16, 12 07:55 AM
  1. momof2, whether or not it goes beyond coffee or a chat on the phone is up to the daughter. Meeting him at all, whatever skeletons he may be hiding, is up to her, not her mother, not even him.

    Perhaps at 21, it's time for the daughter to know the story behind his absence (if she doesn't already) and time to decide whether or not she wants to keep things the way they are. Either way, it's her choice now. Whatever the "entire story" is, a 21 year old gets to decide who she does or does not interact with.

    Posted by Linney May 16, 12 09:50 AM
  1. Letting an adult child into an established family will very likely cause all kinds of trouble, especially if the man has another family. The man should always put the feelings of his family first and talk to them before going after a relationship with a perfect stranger who could just be looking to use the man for money or to start trouble out of jealousy.

    Posted by Erica August 16, 12 11:27 PM
  1. I wish there was some form of recourse for the father, when a selfish woman takes the baby, runs and disappears.. then tries to come back 15 years later out of the blue wanting child support AND back support, after depriving the father of ever knowing his child.. Men need to have some kinda law to work in our favor when a woman does something like this to us..

    Posted by Greg October 17, 12 07:30 AM
 
20 comments so far...
  1. The mother has hidden his child from him. She bears some responsibility here as well. The child has a right to see her father.

    Posted by ZimbaZumba May 14, 12 10:26 AM
  1. Imagine if the roles were reveresed?

    The guy should sue the mother for taking the child away from him for 21 years. It's never too late. And to do what this writer is suggesting is to hide your head in the sand.

    The daughter should know the truth no matter what the circumstances are.

    This writer suggests that it's selfish to want to know your own child. Are you serious? Go tell that to a mother and see the reaction you'd get. What a bunch of sexist drivel.

    Posted by Mikey Monkeypants May 14, 12 10:37 AM
  1. How about the fact that this mother did not seek out the father? How unfair to the daughter to not have her father in her life because the mom did not let him know. Now dad has to worry about how the mom feels about this- she never asked how he felt about denying him a relationship with his daughter. And what must the daughter think of her father? I think the mom has some explaining to do to both dad and daughter as to why she did not allow them to have a relationship. I feel that Barbara is putting a lot of responsibility onto to the dad but I think mom needs to own up to her part in this. Even the title says that dad was absent rather than, "Mom keeps daughter away from dad." A counselor should definitely be sought out to help all three.

    Posted by Amy May 14, 12 12:15 PM
  1. I think you are amazingly peaceful about the fact that this woman didn't tell you that you were the father of her child, that you had to find her.

    Just because you didn't pay any support doesn't mean you are precluded from a relationship with your daughter. The daughter is an adult. The mother had 21 years to reach out to you to tell you about her and let you have a relationship with her (the right thing to do) and the fact she didn't tells me she is going to keep fighting you two having a relationship.

    Reach out to your daughter directly. She may reject you (and I'm sorry if she does) but she just might want to meet her father. She's an adult now and can make her own decisions.

    Good luck. I hope it works out for you.

    Posted by Lily- May 14, 12 12:46 PM
  1. "To foist yourself on your daughter to satisfy your needs -- without her having the benefit of support and love from her mother -- could be the epitome of selfishness."

    What? Are you insane?

    What about what mom has been doing for the last 21 years?

    If "foisting" himself upon his daughter is the "epitome of selfishness" then what mom has been up to should be seen as criminal child abuse.

    And no, mom doesn't have a right to know. As you stated yourself, this "child" is 21 years old. She's an adult and can make her own adult decisions. Mom has ZERO rights here. This is 100% between him and his daughter.

    How dare you question "how hard were you looking?". How hard was mom trying not to be found?

    Posted by JimR May 14, 12 07:27 PM
  1. Go for it, Dad. You have every right to know your child. If she rejects you, understand that if Mom was keeping her a secret from you, she was probably telling your daughter God knows what about you. Hang in there, let the daughter know you are available to talk whenever she wants, and please be patient. She has 21 years of head games to get past.

    Posted by patches02 May 15, 12 09:59 AM
  1. I agree with these other posters, that Mom was pretty selfish. By denying the LW the right to know his daughter, she cut the daughter off from her entire other family. No loving encounters with Gramma and Grampa, no sleepovers with the cousins on Dad's side, no family memories at all with half of her relatives. That's just mean.

    Posted by JBar May 15, 12 10:30 AM
  1. I'm with some of the other commenters here. She is 21. I was 21 not too long ago and I can promise you that if my mom kept my father out of my life for 21 years (with either no explanation or possibly an untruthful one), I'd want her to have no part in whether or not he gets to contact me (assuming he does so in a sensitive way). At 21, mom's feelings are moot. Why are we giving the mother any power here at all when she is the main reason this relationship doesn't exist in the first place? Plus, I cannot say it enough-she's 21! Since when do parents have any control over who their adult children interact with? I know we don't know the whole story but from what we do know, this is just a man who wants to have a phonecall or coffee with his daughter. I say if he has a way to contact her (phone number, email, letter), he should do it.

    Posted by Linney May 15, 12 11:06 AM
  1. I am the adult (38) daughter of a man who literally doesn't know I exist. My mother never told him she was pregnant. I've spent my entire life wondering about him and would love the opportunity to find out more, but my searches (based on little more than a common name) haven't found him.

    If the father is a decent person, who honestly wants to be some part of his daughter's life, he should reach out to the daughter. If the mother gives her blessing, that's great and will make it easier on everyone, but if not, she made her choices and must live with them.

    A letter to an advice column isn't going to answer whether one or both parents are decent, caring people. She must have had reasons for not telling him or including him. Again a letter to an advice column isn't going to explain if those reasons were valid or if she had issues that weren't really about him. For example, my mother chose not to tell my father because she didn't want someone else telling her how to raise her child. She's also bi-polar and has very poor judgement. Which means my father could be a great guy or another example of her poor judgement.

    Posted by K May 15, 12 02:21 PM
  1. Why are so comments so one-sided? We know only what the father is saying in his letter. The mother may have had very good reasons to keep the daughter away from her biological father. What if Mom suspected he would be violently or sexually abusive? What if father had psychological problems, or used to deal drugs and ran around with a shady crowd (which might put family in danger)? Just because father sounds sane now doesn't mean it was always the case.

    Obviously father can get in touch with daughter whether or not mother allows it. But it's not enough to just want to chat on phone or get a coffee to satisfy some curiosity. Father should want to be a meaningful part of child's life going forward, or else he risks hurting the one person who has no blame to shoulder in the situation.

    Posted by momof2 May 15, 12 04:17 PM
  1. The father should be able to see the daughter. It is very selfish of the mother to hide a child from its father.

    Its ironic, because I am in the same situation now as the father in this story was. I have a much younger girlfriend whom I suspect is pregnant with my child and she has cut off all communication and appears to have gone undercover on the West Coast. Is there anything I can do legally to find out if a child is on the way? I don't want to wait 21 years to find out the answer. I may not be around in 20 years.

    Posted by Jay Dee May 15, 12 04:50 PM
  1. What momof2 said. All of you who are jumping all over the mom and siding with the dad have no idea WHY she kept them apart all these years.

    Having said that, the daughter is an adult. He doesn't have to go through the mom to know her, nor does he need to jump through these hoops. He should reach out to the daughter and take it from there.

    Posted by rml May 15, 12 06:14 PM
  1. I wonder what she has been told about her father. Does she have another father figure now? For a long time? Will your appearance risk upsetting her life? I'm not saying you should not meet her or that she should not know you, but I do think you need a lot more information before deciding how to go about it. That is, if you are after her best interest and not just yours. I think you need to find a way of making her mother an ally in this.

    Posted by Susan May 15, 12 08:36 PM
  1. As the spouse of a man whose father dropped into his life after a long absence, I can say that the questions Barbara is asking are completely appropriate, her advice is spot on. I think her response shows a tremendous amount of compassion towards everyone involved, the Mom, the child and the LW. If you really care about your child - and by care I don't mean "fantasizing about being welcomed into an instantly loving familial relationship with someone to whom you are a total stranger," you'll ask yourself these questions, really dig deep for the answers, and take her advice on your approach.

    Posted by HP May 15, 12 11:03 PM
  1. "Why are so comments so one-sided? We know only what the father is saying in his letter. The mother may have had very good reasons to keep the daughter away from her biological father. What if Mom suspected he would be violently or sexually abusive? What if father had psychological problems, or used to deal drugs and ran around with a shady crowd (which might put family in danger)? Just because father sounds sane now doesn't mean it was always the case."

    What if the mother was a whack-job? By what legal standard does ANY parent have a right to decide for themselves whether or not the other parent gets to know they have a child? A father has rights that are equeal to the mother's when it comes to custody of their child unless a court says otherwise. If a woman thinks the father of her child isn't fit to be a parent they have legal recourse to remedy that situation. They don't get to decide that on their own.

    Posted by JimR May 16, 12 12:05 AM
  1. What two of the other posters said. It's a very telling thing that someone would choose to cut off contact rather than accept child support. We don't know anything about this "father" apart from what little information he's giving us. I'd love to hear the mom's side of the story before jumping to conclusions.

    And men, since you can't control whether or not the woman is using birth control, take extra precautions to use it yourselves.

    Posted by Nancy May 16, 12 06:31 AM
  1. Most of these comments are one sided. When in fact we dont' know the entire story here. I agree that many times it is selfish for a mother to keep her kids away from the father. But yes,some reasons are valid and others are not. We can't decide that because we don't know them. We don't have all the information here to really give good solid advice.

    Posted by jd May 16, 12 07:55 AM
  1. momof2, whether or not it goes beyond coffee or a chat on the phone is up to the daughter. Meeting him at all, whatever skeletons he may be hiding, is up to her, not her mother, not even him.

    Perhaps at 21, it's time for the daughter to know the story behind his absence (if she doesn't already) and time to decide whether or not she wants to keep things the way they are. Either way, it's her choice now. Whatever the "entire story" is, a 21 year old gets to decide who she does or does not interact with.

    Posted by Linney May 16, 12 09:50 AM
  1. Letting an adult child into an established family will very likely cause all kinds of trouble, especially if the man has another family. The man should always put the feelings of his family first and talk to them before going after a relationship with a perfect stranger who could just be looking to use the man for money or to start trouble out of jealousy.

    Posted by Erica August 16, 12 11:27 PM
  1. I wish there was some form of recourse for the father, when a selfish woman takes the baby, runs and disappears.. then tries to come back 15 years later out of the blue wanting child support AND back support, after depriving the father of ever knowing his child.. Men need to have some kinda law to work in our favor when a woman does something like this to us..

    Posted by Greg October 17, 12 07:30 AM
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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.

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