"Fathers be good to your daughters / Daughters will love like you do"
November 27, 2009 3:59 PM   Subscribe

Found long lost dad - now what?

Hi Mefis,

I'm hoping to get some perspective here on what to do, especially from folks who have found long lost relatives and how they've dealt with reconnecting. I tend to turn here when I have a question, so I figured, 'why not again' since in some ways this is the ultimate Meta thing to find and deal with.

So after putting it off for years, I finally traced my father's wearabouts - the last time I saw him in person was 13 years ago, and he had basically dropped off the face of the earth (no forwarding address, very little contact with my family over the years). My parents split when I was very young, and he left town without providing child support. As a result my mother scrapped by providing for my half sister and I. I saw him a few times when I was still a child after that initial split, but I don't remember them very clearly - they were kind of a 'he breezes into town and gives us $100 and a stuffed toy' type moments. He wrote occasionally to me over the years to say how he loved me, but contact was minimal. Needless to say I have a therapist whom I'm working with to deal with my issues of feeling abandoned, fear of commitment, etc. stemming from not having a father, or an absent one at best.

My mother asked me never to contact him - I think she was still upset about the split, which was very hostile. They never divorced - she was so upset by the experience she didn't even bother to formally divorce him. Unfortunately she died earlier this year, and curiosity got the better of me - I hired a private investigator, who found that my father is in my old hometown. The question is what to do next. I'll be visiting my hometown for the holidays and can't decide what to do next - and what's the best thing for both parties. He'd be 76, and while I'm angry he left us, I'm exactly not wild about just barging into his life after all these years with a bunch of questions. He's 76 - how well is he going to be? I don't want to make an already stressful time of the year even more stressful by reentering his life, and I have no intention of making this a miserable experience for either party. Having said that, he's got to have expected that his daughter would want to meet him eventually, right? And I have a bunch of questions that feel reasonable to want to have answered. Some of the questions are practical - like finding out my family's medical history on his side, since I know nothing about it. Some of the questions though are very emotional in nature - finding out why he left, what's he like (personality wise), and I guess some sort of sense that he regrets not being in my life. I'm trying to be open minded in the experience, and realize that the results may not be ideal - that he may not feel like he did anything wrong, that he may not want to meet, that this is just an opportunity and nothing more, and to go into it as being a positive experience regardless of the outcome. I know as an adult that most things in life (and relationships especially) aren't black or white but grey - he could be feeling shame at leaving us, uncertain at contacting me, etc. etc.

So what are my options? Do I write him beforehand, telling him I'll be in town and that I'd like to meet for coffee? Do I try and call him instead - although that's not necessarily an option, since he apparently didn't pick up the phone when the private investigator called. Do I just show up on his doorstep and hope for the best? Or do I do nothing - just let sleeping dogs lie, and resign myself to never knowing about him? There are other options I can use - i.e. in-laws and family friends who are willing to run 'interference' and show up with me to at a coffee shop if he wants to meet. Would that be smart to do? I feel like I'm never going to have resolution on this issue until I meet him - and even if he turned out to be a total jerk, at least I can say, 'well, I met my dad, and he was a jerk', and at least I'd know it. Is it selfish of me to be doing this at this point in my life? If you've gone through this experience, what did you say or do at the time to make it easier on both of you?

I appreciate any advice especially from those who've been there. You can Mefi mail me if you'd prefer to take this offline. Thanks!
posted by rmm to Human Relations (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any experience with this, but I think I would write to him and tell him that you'll be in town over the holidays . . . that you'd like to see him. Include your phone number. Ball's in his court at that point - if he wants to reconnect.

Again . . . I have no experience with these things . . . but if he does agree to connect up with you, I'd keep it low key. I'm not sure if you're looking for a relationship with him at this point, but if you are - I'd be kind and nonjudgmental . . . talk about the weather, keep it light and friendly. Deeper conversations can wait until a relationship is a little more established.

If you think this is a one-time thing, I think bombarding him with a lot of questions wouldn't go over so well. But, at the same time, it may be your only chance. But be prepared that if he's uncomfortable, he may just get up and walk out.

I wish you the best!
posted by Sassyfras at 4:08 PM on November 27, 2009

I do have experience with this. I sent a letter. He responded. We corresponded while I tried to get my family onside with the whole thing (my mother is still alive and wasn't keen initially, and I have a sister, his daughter.) Once everything was under control we arranged to meet in a pub on neutral territory. My sister came too. It was the scariest meeting of my life. He'd left when I was 3 and we met again when I was 36.

Ultimately it was a very good thing to do if only because it took a bogeyman away. I don't have to worry about that anymore and it turns out that he's an OK old guy and that it's strange how much we have in common. I guess nature must trump nurture a chunk of the time.

Even if your dad doesn't respond it stops being something you never did and it's no longer your responsibility. It's one less regret to have.

Mefi mail me if you want more.
posted by merocet at 4:36 PM on November 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

A part of you must yearn to see him - otherwise why would you have taken the extraordinary step of hiring a PI?

Given this yearning on your part, I would think you'd want to write him first. Let him know that you're going to be in town, and that you'd like to take the opportunity to have lunch with him. Chances are that he's ambivalent about meeting you (sorry about that), and lunch will be just non-threatening, public, and time-limited enough that either of you could just leave if it feels like it's not going well.

Just know that it's very unlikely that you'll get much of anything, let alone closure, from him. If he hasn't contacted you in all these years, he probably has pretty limited emotional availability.

Try to arrange a meet up or phone debriefing with a trusted friend afterward. It'll probably really help you to have the opportunity to reconnect with someone who loves you and wants to help you process your feelings, if your father is as emotionally unavailable as I am betting he is.
posted by jasper411 at 5:32 PM on November 27, 2009

I just sent you a long and probably creepy memail. Feel free to respond, or not. Good luck.
posted by TomMelee at 6:50 PM on November 27, 2009

I met my Father for the first time when I was 14. Up until then I never even saw a single photo of him..and when I asked if I looked like him I was told absolutely not. I was also given a litany of all his many flaws on a daily basis. None of that mattered after I got to see him. To say I was interested in him was/is an understatement. I could not take my eyes off of him. I imagine you might feel the same way. Early parental loss is no small matter and it has undoubtedly affected you.

My Father, (who has since died..quite a long time ago) was not very good Father material at all (another understatement). But, I was pleased to meet him and he was happy to meet me. I saw that I looked very much like him. I did get to know him some when I was a young adult and he was a much nicer man than my Mother had painted him. I was never proud of him, however....because --well, there was just nothing to be proud of..unfortunately. My Mother spent a great deal of time letting me know how bad, evil, vile etc etc he was--but when I saw how much I looked like him, I couldn't help but have some regard for him..he was my father after all. My Mother never liked that I wanted to get to know him! It was difficult to try to learn more about him while my Mother acted like trying to form a friendship with him was a form of mutiny "against" her.

I think you should call or write ahead and take a let the chips fall where they may attitude. Whatever happens, happens! And who knows...it might turn out to be a very good meeting and you might establish a relationship. Why not? You'd be foolish not to proceed. Just surrender any control over things. Don't get bent out of shape if he is not what you expected..and don't expect him to handle this in any stellar way. He has to feel guilty --and that may prevent him from being a good parent now!
posted by naplesyellow at 1:08 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I found my long last father recently, though under slightly different circumstances (he'd been entertaining the less complicating fiction that there was a chance I wasn't his, so I'd never known him). All things considered it went as good as I could have hoped and better then I expected- I have a relationship with my father now.

If you feel compelled to contact him you probably should, but don't expect closure.
posted by Phalene at 10:47 AM on November 28, 2009

If you value calmness and a peaceful reunion, writing ahead is the only option. Dropping by on the doorstep unannounced or phoning has an air of confrontation to it, and it also puts the other person at a disadvantage, and may cause them to react in unpredictable ways.

You sound like a reasonable person, one who would have a thoughtful approach. Put that spirit into writing a brief letter, and give your father time and space to consider his response (if any ... be prepared in the event there is no answer from him). I think the reward for going about this with patience will be well worth it, and also allow him to compose himself and his thoughts.

Good luck!
posted by kuppajava at 11:34 AM on November 28, 2009

« Older Waking Up for the First Time   |   I'm tired of looking like a zombie in my house! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.