Bio-dad or just bad dad?
May 2, 2011 1:58 AM   Subscribe

My dad told me recently, during a major blow up, that he doesn't think he's my biological father. I'm not sure whether I should find out if he's right?

I have had a violent upbringing at the hands of my, often drunk at the time, father - all four of us kids did, but I guess I got it the most, being the oldest. It has taken me years to realise the extent of the violence and its effect on me. Along with the violence was cruelty and derision throughout not just my childhood, but well into my adult years. I don't want to linger on the details of this. He was also verbally cruel.

My sister and I have been compliant and appeasing adults to my father in general - but since my mother's death some years ago, I've been practising avoidance and the barest social niceties. My brothers put an end to his cruelty to them by physically retaliating. He's been fine with them since. On the one hand I am sorry for him, because to do such things suggests that he had his own developmental issues and history. On the other, I experience a lot of difficulty in adult life as a result of his abuse.

Last year I found the courage to confront him about my feelings and told him that I had been seeing a therapist to deal with the fall out of such an abusive relationship with him. I was able to speak with a calm authority. At first, he denied ever having 'laid a hand' on us. Then, he changed to 'well, you must have deserved it' and 'you were a bad child' and 'it's what we did back then'. I said that if he had any love or affection for me, surely he'd work with me to try to mend things. He refused. Afterwards, in a spate of hotheaded resentment, he went around the family saying I was insane and blaming me for not being a good daughter. I dropped all contact.

Last year he turned up at my house, uninvited. I refused to engage and asked him to leave. He then said, well the reason I get worse treatment from him -'not that it's anything like you say'- is that he's never thought I was his biological daughter. I was angry to hear this, but in the heat of the moment, I didn't think to ask who he thought my 'real' dad was. I immediately said that this was just another enactment of abandonment brinkmanship, enjoy that little drama and fuck off.

I've rationalised all of this as, yes it's just his abandonment threats and drama that he had with my mother about controlling her, driving her nuts - seen it before, yawn etc, move on. But I am feeling abandoned, sad, anxious about it. I kinda want to know. But, I don't want to be in contact with him at all.

So, my approach thus far:
Therapy: tick
Avoid contact: tick
Surrounding myself with supportive people not necessarily family: tick
Getting on with my life as best as I can: tick

Frowny face: wanting to know, feeling curious, feeling angry, even feeling hopeful that there is, somewhere out there, being dangerously lured into a fantasy that my 'real' dad is better, kinder, greater than this one, and/or the mystery of this whole scenario.

Should I try to find out? What purpose might it serve if I do? Has anyone had this experience and can give me guidance?
posted by honey-barbara to Human Relations (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you find out that he is your dad, then you're no worse off. In fact, nothing has changed at all - your dad was/is still abusive and a liar to boot. This probably won't come as a big surprise.

If you find out that he wasn't, then how are you going to find your real dad? Unless your mom confided in someone who your father actually is, I think it's going to be quite difficult to locate that individual. Is the weight of knowing that maybe you'll never know going to weigh on you more than wondering if there is someone out there or not?

Even if you do manage to find your biological father, there's no guarantee that he's going to be any different or in fact what to be a part of your life at all.

I'm far from being an expert on the subject, but I *think* that blood types gave give one an idea of parenthood. Perhaps you could ask your siblings what their blood types are? If they're all the same/similar, chances are raised that he's actually your father.
posted by Solomon at 2:34 AM on May 2, 2011

He is your dad. He just may not be your only dad. You could also have a biological dad, as well as a dad who raised you, albeit very badly. There are lots of people out there in the same circumstances, with a dad who turned out not be their biological dad. Some people search, some people don't. It's really individual and you aren't crazy or weird to want to drop the whole thing, or to long desperately for a biological dad or whatever.

If you do get confirmation - call a DNA place and ask, because I know you can sometimes do a sibling comparison which might be easier than hassling with your dad, and it turns out you have a biological father out there, there are ways to find him. Friends and family of the time may have clues. He may or may not want contact. But you won't be alone for searching or choosing not to, and it sounds like you already know that it's about what you can control, and that crappy relatives don't control you.

You're doing really great in hard circumstances. Try looking up search websites like this: to talk to people in the same boat.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:01 AM on May 2, 2011

Do you haves extended family you can ask? Friends of your mother?
posted by vitabellosi at 3:07 AM on May 2, 2011

Personally I think you'd be opening yourself up to even more potential drama. I would suggest you continue to do the things you're doing and go forth and live your life with as many positive people around you as possible.
posted by mleigh at 3:40 AM on May 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

This sounds like a very seductive fantasy. Even if you do have a different biological father, what does it get you? There's nothing to say that he'd be a nice guy. It wouldn't erase your long and tortured history with the jerk. Does it make sense to seek relief from feelings of abandonment in the character of someone who may not exist and who's never been there for you?

Your mother's infidelity, if it even happened, doesn't explain or justify your father's treatment of you. You've been treated badly because your father can't manage to think of anyone but himself, and that doesn't seem to be changing at all.

This sucks. I'm so sorry.
posted by jon1270 at 3:40 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think your first reaction was the right one (that he's just playing a mind game and this is yet another manifestation of his abusive behavior).

If you're well into adulthood and this is the first time you've ever heard him mention that he might not be your biological father, then I tend to think he's lying. You would have heard whispers of it from other family members or neighbors (especially after your mother died, because there's always some busybody who thinks it's their duty to reveal big soap-operatic family secrets after a death).

I think your father is either being cruel for cruelty's sake because that's his abusive modus operandi, or he's come up with this little story in order to mitigate his shitty parenting in his own mind.

You sound like a very functional and level-headed person, considering all you've been through (you have my admiration and my empathy -- I grew up with an abusive/psychotic mother). I'm confident that you'll make your way through the emotional minefields no matter what you decide regarding the paternity issue, but I think you'd be better off not letting his red herring consume your thoughts.
posted by amyms at 4:24 AM on May 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

There was a time in my life when I wished desperately to have been born by different parents. I wanted to slit my wrists and let their blood run from my veins. This is a very vivid memory, and it was after the birth of my children so I was in my 20s. Now, though, years on, it doesn't matter. My father is long dead, and my mother long estranged. Really, in the scheme of things I've had far more influence on myself than they or their genes have had.

So, to answer your question, in my twenties, I would have jumped at any chance to discover I was not related to either of these people. Now, it's a big meh. I look forward to it being a big meh for you, which I hope time will bring you.
posted by b33j at 5:30 AM on May 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, definitely don't contact him for more information. My own mother pulled a similar stunt. (Past tense since I no longer speak to her, because she kept pulling it, along with a sort of laundry list of other crap, that I should die, etc., despite repeated requests to knock it off if she wanted contact to continue.) She claimed I wasn't her "real" daughter because she had miscarried a boy at 6 months into her first pregnancy, and then 10 months after that, I was born. So, she'd gotten pregnant with me pretty much right after her miscarriage. Except that's not how she'd tell it – in her words, it was always, "you decided to come along right afer a boy had died inside me. It's like you killed him because you thought you were so much more important. I've never thought you were really my child." This from the woman who actually gave birth to me. Sigh.

If you were to contact him for more information about it, you'd be giving him what he wants... he threw you a hook and that would constitute biting (in his eyes). Whether it's true or not, it was a hook.

the young rope-rider has good ideas; I know in my case that when people see a photo of my father, they're like, "WHOA you got your Dad's face!" There's a resemblance with my mother too, but it's more subtle. I have a lot of my father's mannerisms as well. I don't have many of my mother's, thankfully... so on the other hand I can see how you might not be able to find certainty that route.

If your curiosity does continue, is there anyone you trust, who wouldn't casually mention it to your father, with whom you could talk about possible other father candidates? (Like others have mentioned, basically. It's just that I definitely understand the curiosity. I sometimes joke with those in the know about my family that La France, feminine and represented by Marianne, is my adoptive mother. She gives me health care, cooks some mean food, has a fine wine cellar, and 5 weeks of vacation a year! :o) )

Again, what a shitty thing of your father to pull. He chose to be responsible for you as a parental figure. DNA or not, there's no excuse for bad treatment and abuse. He was an adult, he knew better. Whether his story is true or not, he doesn't get absolved of one damn iota for his choices.
posted by fraula at 6:15 AM on May 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Should I try to find out? What purpose might it serve if I do?

You would serve his purpose of hurting you to help him avoid dealing with his pain. I would not do this under any circumstances.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:16 AM on May 2, 2011

I would take a test with one of my siblings just to see if we share both parents.

I would be THRILLED to find out my abusive parent wasn't related to me! I imagine it might explain a lot. I probably would not become obsessed trying to find bio-dad since it would be impossible. Still, I imagine the truth would give me a lot of peace.

Although. Honey Barbara, you can find peace in this without a test. This man never considered you "his" and he abused you? It's crazy and unfortunate, but at least you now know why he singled you out for extra abuse. Let this knowledge help you find closure and peace in the events of your childhood. The answer about paternity is irrelevant. He suspected you weren't his and used that as a reason. What a shitty shitty thing to do to a child. In this sense, you already know all you need to know.

posted by jbenben at 7:44 AM on May 2, 2011

And compare with this recent AskMefi: What if my kids are not mine? Namely, Regardless of any paternity test results, I would still love my kids until the end of the earth. It wouldn't affect my relationship to them at all. It would however affect their relationship to me. Would they want to know their real biological father, would they sek him out?

One reason I gave the example of my own mother is that it's ridiculous when, as a third party, you hear/read it. That's the sense of ridiculousness I get, as a third party, reading your father's "excuse". People with whatever it is that drives them to project their rage, pain, whatever, onto helpless, innocent others will look for any reason, no matter how delusional, and all the better if they can tack on some semblance of possibility/reality to it that's nigh impossible to corroborate.
posted by fraula at 11:30 AM on May 2, 2011

Science can answer this if you want it to, all you would need would be samples from you and one or more siblings and not that much cash.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:08 PM on May 2, 2011

Response by poster: Jeez, you folk are good. All of these comments are helpful. Thank you. And I am sad for those here who've had the same battles. I'm going to leave things as they are for the moment, maybe consider a DNA test with him in the future when I am colder and more reserved about the whole thing. Or as b33j suggests, when I'm 'meh' about the whole thing, it will cease to be relevant.

amyms - your words are standing out because the exact thing happened after my mother died - there were whispers about my mother's past. As it happens I discovered she had given up a daughter [to a different partner, not my dad] for adoption 18 months before I was born. If there had been another lover creating me, I reckon those whispers might have tended towards disclosing that too. [It couldn't have been the same guy as my mother was shipped out of his town, and ironically, to my dad's tiny country town, just after the adoption.] I hadn't thought about that. In my most adult moments, I think my dad as a bullying Catholic held this sexual guilt over her prior sexual life, as unhappy as that sexual life had been. And this is the form of expression it took - calling my mother a slut. I don't use that word lightly btw, but he did.

"Reality check--do you resemble him? Do you resemble your other siblings? Have mannerisms like him? His side of the family? If so, I really doubt that you even need to check. If you're unsure, bring it up with a trusted sibling--"Dad said this, what do you think?" Or show people pictures of the two of you together and ask if they see a resemblance."

the young rope-rider, this is an uncanny resemblance to the facts of my situation. I raised this with my father at the time of the 'great revelation'/shenanigans. He said 'people see what they want to see' - which has the usual amount of my father's logic. In looking through all of my family photographs with my best friend, we can find some small resemblances to my paternal side, more so when I was a child. I am very much gaining my mother's features as I age.

My siblings are not the most helpful in this area. They don't want to know about this and haven't offered to help find out. I guess I could be more courageous and ask them.

jbenben, I guess I would like to know that I am not related to my dad, that's the fantasy in my desire to be free of him and his influence. That's what the difficulty has been. How much of this is just a kid's fantasy of finding out that their 'real' dad is out there, wanting her. It's just become an ear worm, playing around in my mind more than it should. You're right though, I now know his reasons for his treatment of me. Thank you all.
posted by honey-barbara at 11:15 PM on May 2, 2011

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