Half sister wants to meet us - what do I do?
August 1, 2011 6:04 AM   Subscribe

My father recently revealed that he got someone pregnant before he met my mother, some 35 years ago. He knew his biological daughter existed for a long time, and didn't tell anyone. Now my half-sister is looking to meet our family...

My parents have been married almost 30 years and I am the eldest of their four adult (late teens, early to mid twenties) children. A few months ago, my dad called the family together and told us that he had another daughter, from a relationship that he had before he met my mother. Dad has known about the existence of this other daughter for 11 years, and hadn't told anyone, including my mother. The other daughter has been married (but I understand is now separated) and has two children of her own - she has known that Dad is her father since her late teens. The news that he had kept this from my mother absolutely threw a bomb into the middle of our (complex, but tight knit) family circle. Mom was absolutely shattered and furious, didn't know whether she could stay with my father after such a betrayal and so many secrets, and did not know how to rethink her own life in the wake of the news. Dad thought that until the other daughter contacted him, there was no reason to tell any of us about it, and thought it would only cause problems, so he stayed silent. (She contacted him for the first time just before Christmas; he told us in mid-March.) Before he told us, they did DNA tests - it is clear that she is his child.

Since March, my parents have been to counselling (because we all told them they had to, to save their marriage). They are still together, but it's an emotional minefield being around them. None of us have met the other sister yet. Dad really *really* wants us all to meet her; Mom is very conflicted about the whole thing and it still upsets her. To add insult to injury (or, really, the other way around) Mom has recently had major surgery and has had trouble recovering physically because of all the emotional stress. My three siblings have all said that they have no interest in meeting the other sister in the immediate future, especially while Mom is having such a hard time - she has to come first. I told my dad the same thing, but that I did want to meet the other sister some time. He now seems to be keen for me to act on this soon (he was pushing for August, I left myself uncommitted to any kind of schedule). I really don't think I'm ready for it at all, but I know I will be some time, and I am increasingly aware that I have very little awareness of how to go about it.

I'm trying to prepare myself for what this could be like, and how much of an impact it's likely to have on my personal relationships with other people, as well as my own emotional equilibrium. In the interests of being ready for it, I would really like to hear from people who can offer me some perspective on the situation, especially thoughts as to good ways to approach it, and things to say/not say/do/not do, etc, when I do meet her. Stories of this happening to you or someone you know, whether it was dealt with well or badly and how that worked out would be great, and any specific advice for handling the situation if you have been through it yourself.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I know we throw the T word around here a lot, but maybe you should go discuss this with an impartial third party? Just, another adult who doesn't have a dog in this fight except wanting to see you healthy and comfortable.

I say this as someone from an incredibly complicated family (One mom, four kids, 3 or 4 dads, but all "raised" by one dad who constantly reminded us which one of us he really thinks is his.)

I say this because the thing about communicating is we have habits and we've each learned a way of doing the task. But some situations call for new ways of communicating. This is one of those situations where a therapist can help you learn some new tools. So, if you keep talking to your dad in the same ways as you always have, it's liable to not be so effective. Especially if you talk more, because you're both going to get entrenched. If you decide that therapy really isn't for you, grab a copy of Deborah Tannen's I only say this because I love you which is about communicating with adult family members.
posted by bilabial at 6:14 AM on August 1, 2011

"I'm not ready to meet her yet, especially given mom's condition, but will not hesitate to let you know when I am ready" is a perfectly acceptable answer.
posted by Jon_Evil at 6:20 AM on August 1, 2011 [9 favorites]

I think you really need to separate your father's lies from your half-sister. Meeting her is not going to validate any of his incredibly shitty behavior. Meeting her is not going to mean you approve of his secrets, or are disloyal to your mom, or your siblings.

Her existence, her wanting to meet her biological family, should not be conflated with your father's actions. I would meet her. I would meet her on your schedule, with no involvement from your father. Next time he pushes, ask for her contact information, then tell him you are not comfortable talking to him about this at all, and could he please not mention it again.

I can't assure you she won't change your worldview, but I can assure you that the big bomb has already dropped. The secrets were the harmful part, the lying, the reveal. Meeting her is probably going to be underwhelming, comparatively.
posted by lydhre at 6:20 AM on August 1, 2011 [45 favorites]

Nthing telling him you'll make arrangements to meet her yourself, on your own time.

He kept this from you all; now that he's dropped the bomb, he doesn't get to tell you how soon you should be moving on.

Take your time, take steps if and when YOU feel ready, otherwise you might jeopardise any good that could come of it.
posted by greenish at 6:31 AM on August 1, 2011

Why is your dad putting this person before his wife and marriage? Or am I reading your question wrong?

Nth that you should take her contact info and then tell him to butt out.
posted by jbenben at 6:53 AM on August 1, 2011

Yeah, you're not responsible for making your dad feel better by doing anything on his schedule or in his way, because a) he's the parent and should be focused on how YOU are feeling, not how HE is feeling and b) this is his giant shit-pile and he has to live with it and let other people deal with it how they want to deal with it.

Jon_Evil's answer is probably the nicest, and lydhre's the most practical. I'd be tempted to say, "BACK THE HELL OFF, DAD, I AM NOT HERE TO MAKE YOUR EMOTIONAL TURMOIL BETTER." But probably you should only say that in your head ... if only to remind yourself that you're NOT responsible for his emotional well-being here and you get to order your own priorities, which it sounds like are currently personal well-being and trauma, mom's well-being, full siblings' well-being, and THEN meeting half-sibling and coping with dad. Those are perfectly fair and healthy priorities.

A friend recently went through the surprise half-sibling thing, and from what he said, the sibling was mostly interested in recriminating about the father having procreated-and-run and the birth family was mostly interested in bitching about the half-sibling (and her mother) being after the father's money. It wasn't very healthy all around, so he says go into it expecting to meet a person (that you happen to have this very odd thing in common with), and try NOT to drag in all the elephant-in-the-room baggage at the start ... and if half-sib wants to, don't participate in that game. (That is a discussion you can always have later, if you must.) What he suggests, from his own experience and talking with others with a similar experience, is to write a LETTER -- not an e-mail, a letter -- and send it snail mail to start contact. That way it's much less-fraught for everyone and you get to start contact very slowly -- not face-to-face, and not with the immediacy and expected speedy response of e-mail. You can write it, think about it, rewrite it, think about it, and send it when you're ready, and know not to expect a response for a week or two at least. Gives you a lot more time to process and prepare. You can graduate from letters to e-mail or phone or whatever, and then move on to eventually meeting, if you feel comfortable.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:54 AM on August 1, 2011

It is never, ever a kid's fault that their parent did something stupid or hurtful. Your parents have little to do with your relationships with siblings (or, for that matter, with the other parent.) Relatives don't get to veto or require certain kinds of contact between other adult relatives.

I say meet this woman if you want to, and try not to get too deep into the taking sides thing with regard to your parents and three other siblings. It's just not healthy or useful.
posted by SMPA at 6:56 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was 16, my parents informed me that we were going to another state to meet my half-sister, my father's daughter from his first marriage. This was all news to me. They insist to this day that it wasn't a secret but I'm pretty sure I would have remembered being told I had a sister, especially as I was desperate for one for most of my childhood. I have three half-brothers as well (from my dad's second marriage; I am from the third) who I grew up with and they knew about our sister all along. They even went to the same schools as she did. She didn't know about us at all until she was in her late 20s (that's another long, complicated story).

I resented her, I resented my parents, and I resented my brothers, for a very long time. I hated that I had this competition for my father now (our relationship is fraught with complications at the best of times) and especially since he didn't have to be around her when things were hard for her - as far as he was/is concerned, she's absolutely perfect. Never had to deal with teen angst, for example. I felt like my whole family had colluded on this lie in keeping her a secret from me. She tried really hard in the beginning to forge a relationship with me and all I did was push her away. She stopped trying after a while.

Now I'm in my 40s and my relationship with my sister is good but not close. I'm not sure it would have been great even if we had bonded in the beginning; she's a very different person than I am and we don't have a lot in common other than DNA. She's much closer with my brothers, but then again, they have more in common (they grew up in the same area whereas we moved from there when I was 6; they went to the same schools and knew people in common, etc.).

I would suggest first of all that you try to get a handle on how you feel about all this. Maybe talking with someone outside the family (a good friend, a therapist, someone like that) would be helpful. Secondly, if I had to do it all over again, I wish I could have met her one-on-one instead of with the ENTIRE family around. Especially with my dad there. It felt very much like, "This is great! This is awesome! The whole family together!" when I didn't feel like that at all to me and it put me on the defensive. I'm sure some of that was 16-year-old stupidity; still, I think it would be better for you to meet her without your dad being there. Thirdly, there is absolutely no reason at all that you two have to be the best of friends once you meet her. Your dad, I'm sure, would love for the four of you to bring her into the fold, and yeah, it would be great if that happened. But you need to know that it's not required. I'm sure you have family members you like but don't particularly seek out; this may happen with your half-sister. And that's okay.

Lastly, feel free to MeFiMail me if you want to talk anything through.
posted by cooker girl at 6:56 AM on August 1, 2011

Reading this and the comments has me thinking along somewhat different lines. Your father fathered a child before he met your mother, but didn't know until much later, right? After he had met and married your mother and after you and your non-half siblings were born?

Let me be unconventional. Why not look at this as a non tragic event that just happened to happen. Yes it's stressful, and even world shaking, but hey, now you have a new sister. A sister who, by the way, from your information here, is completely innocent in this.

I'm not saying that you should call her and go out for coffee and be best friends, but I think that you could look at this situation from a different perspective.

Incidentally, I am not going to excuse your father's behavior, but in the absence of further details, I am not attributing it to malice. That is, your father made a judgement error in not telling you sooner, but the fact of his other child was not something he could change. I expect he had a pretty hard time finding out that his ex had hidden his daughter from him for so long, and he didn't know how to deal with that within his current family.

You are not responsible for helping him feel better, but you can sympathize, maybe, right?

As for the meeting question, meet her on your terms when you want. Your father should understand and give you space to deal with this in your own time.
posted by Ecgtheow at 7:09 AM on August 1, 2011 [32 favorites]

I'm an adoptee. Just chiming in to say that although you yourself are not an adoptee, there is likely much you can gain by at least reading search & reunion stories from those who have been there. Especially whatever you can find on "late discovery adoptees" or LDAs. That kind of search and reunion--with the similar kind of lies and covering up and knowledge later in life--might shed some light for you on what it's like to be on any side of the reunion issue.

It's been years since I was involved with any of this stuff online and I don't know what support there exists anymore. But here's a story written by an LDA named Ron Morgan, who incidentally later became an adoption open records activist. He discovered he was adopted when he was an adult. It might be helpful in some way, although it would be from the perspective that your newly discovered half-sister has, not yours.

I wish you luck.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:22 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

This happened before your parents married – I don't see why it makes your father a bad guy. He may have timed telling you badly, but on the other hand, if your mother has been unwell and had surgery there may have been no better time for it.

I don't see why you need acres of therapy here. There is this person. Of course you're curious to meet her. Meeting her is in no way an act of disloyalty to your mother. Go see her and, if you can, make friends. Think about being the one who can introduce her to your other siblings!
posted by zadcat at 7:25 AM on August 1, 2011 [22 favorites]

Anecdote for balance: a friend whose mother died when she was 7 and whose father was schizophrenic (she was raised by her completely amazing grandmother) found out somewhere in her twenties that she had a half-sister. They met and got along really well, discussed genetic history, hung out, and were in general very pleased to have met each other.

I would be spectacularly angry at my father for keeping this a secret, if I were you, but that is not to say you should be. I'm more intolerant of lies (even by omission) than I probably ought to be. But it's not your half-sister's fault. Considering how oddly anxious your father seems to be for you and your siblings to meet her, you might question just how avid she is in this desire. She's probably more than a little curious and confused, and I would be too. But the pressure well might not be coming from her. If this were me, I would stop speaking to my father for a while (because that is what I have done in the past in somewhat similar circumstances, and the time apart has served me well), be there to support my mother no matter what she decides to do, and get my half-sister's phone number. I'd call her and explain that my family was having difficulties right now, perhaps pinning it more on my mother's health than, you know, her existence, and that consequently I was a bit too busy and low-energy to get together. But I would talk to her. I'm sure there are things she needs to know. And a phone conversation, or even e-mail, would probably be lower-pressure than a face-to-face meeting at present. She might turn out to be a very nice girl. You might be very glad to have met her. And if not, well, nothing saying you have to become best friends.

But don't let your father pressure you. He's kinda done enough here already.
posted by Because at 7:36 AM on August 1, 2011

I would encourage you to try to mentally separate the problems here.

I presume you do not judge your father poorly because of this (presumably) accidental pregnancy that occurred before he met your mother. Perhaps being reckless with birth control is a moral failing, but I imagine that if you were told of any other person who was in this situation 30+ years ago you'd be disinclined to hold a grudge.

The first real failing I might find here if it was my dad would be how he chose to handle matters when he first found out about this child. If the child was born aprox 35 years ago and your father found out 11 years back that would put your half-sibling at around 24, yes? Past the point of paying any child support, so he didn't let her down in that way.

So given that I'd suggest you make a serious effort at not judging your father for not telling you or your siblings because it's very arguably none of your business. When you were children it was your parents' call what to share with you. You might disagree that there was no compelling cause to tell you about this but parents make such calls (for usually less soap-opera-ish issues) all the time. "The right choice" is debatable.

I suggest you frame this such that your father's misstep was not being frank and open with his spouse. Which is sucky, but you should try to keep that separate from your annoyance with not being told, as an adult, that you have a genetic relative you didn't know about. And that raises the question: how involved should you be in making judgments about the way your parents conduct their relationship?

Personally I think kids should stay out of their parents' marriage. You may feel differently. But I think you'll have an easier time about this if you try to draw some lines in processing your anger. Which isn't to say any of your feelings are wrong, but when things are this jumbled in hurting you and hurting someone you love and major family surprises... you might deal with this easier if you can really examine your feelings about each aspect individually.

As far as your obligations to this half-sister I'd put them at a big fat zero. If you want to meet her because she shares 50% of your genetic background, super, do it. But she's a grown woman and your father's place in her life appears to be nothing more than if he'd made a donation at a sperm bank. For me as someone who isn't that interested in genetic ties that's not a compelling reason to meet someone; if she had any shared familiar experience/upbringing that might be different for me.

Tell your father you'll meet this woman when you're ready and you'll let him know. Till then you'd appreciate if he'd drop it.
posted by phearlez at 7:54 AM on August 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

Meet her in your own time. It's not up to your father to create the timetable; his timetabling skills are clearly amiss in any case.
posted by londongeezer at 8:10 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

First things first, I think you should get your dad to quite bothering you about seeing her. You know she exists and can make your own adult decision to meet her when you're good and ready and not because of anything your dad wants you to do.

That said, I think your whole family needs to seperate their feelings about the existence of your half-sister from the feelings about your father's lack of disclusure. Until you seperate these feelings from each other I don't think you should see her. You might take out your negative feelings on her blameless shoulders.

Question: would you have wanted to wait to see her if your father had just found out recently instead of beating around the bush for so long? My guess would be: probably not. I mean, most of your post was about your parents relationship to each other and not about your own feelings about being kept in the dark for so long. Because of that I get the feeling that you want to wait for the sake of your mother. To wait until she somehow gives the go-ahead that she's cool with you meeting your half-sister.

If that's the case, how long are you willing to wait for her sake? What if she is never happy with the idea of you developing a relationship with your half-sibling? My point being, its well-and-good to want to keep your mother happy, but be aware that its ok to draw the line somewhere. Like I said above with your father, you can see her when YOU are good and ready. Not your father. Not even your mother.
posted by Green With You at 8:26 AM on August 1, 2011

Oh, I forgot to add that I have some idea of where you're coming from. And maybe I can also give you some idea of what might happen.

I too have a half-sister that I didn't know about until she was around 14(she is currently 18). There are some differences though. She wasn't conceived until after my parents divorced so my parents relationship wasn't affected by the news. And maybe because of that I didn't feel like my dad had lied to me for years by keeping it a secret. I was also (previously) the youngest sibling and it felt somewhat adventerous to now have a younger sister when before I had only older brothers.

We started our contact by chatting online before we met in person so it was much more low-key than meeting in person. Our personalities meshed pretty well and we've since met repeatedly. In fact, she is fully intergrated into my father's side of the family. I'd see her much more often but I live several states away and visiting anyone is a major undertaking.

As for your situation: basically, almost anything can happen if you meet her. You're all adults so it will be different from my relationship to my sister. The fact that she's older than you will make things different. The fact that she has children will be different. You don't mention genders of you or your siblings but that will surely affect things. Maybe your politics are different! In short, you might mesh, you might not. And so, if and when you do make contact try not to expect anything specific. She's a stranger to you, and you to her. But some strangers can become friends. And some friends can become like family. And if they already are family, so much the better.
posted by Green With You at 8:45 AM on August 1, 2011

Dad has known about the existence of this other daughter for 11 years, and hadn't told anyone, including my mother.

Oh dear God, I sincerely hope he didn't sit all of you down and tell all of you including your mother at the same time.

I'm trying to prepare myself for what this could be like, and how much of an impact it's likely to have on my personal relationships with other people, as well as my own emotional equilibrium.

I basically arrived to say what ImproviseorDie said - that the resources around LDA and adult reunification may be the closest applicable resources available. They're going to be flawed for your purposes but the various reunification paths and outcomes may provide you with some insight in your own situation.

I am somewhat familiar with aspects of this, as my husband was reunited with his birth mother and her family (husband [not my husband's father] and two adult children) at the age of 32. One sibling has been receptive and warm, the other less so. The broader family (cousins, aunts, grandparents) has been beyond welcoming.

A few things occur to me particularly. One, you dad has held all of the cards and all of the information for a long time. For him to continue to try to force you to meet your sister on his schedule is inappropriate. You are adults, able to broker your own relationship without going through him. I would encourage you to do so.

Two, it is possible that this will be a good experience for you. Meeting my husband's half brothers has been extraordinary. I mean I know there's a huge debate about nature vs nurture but holy crap - in their case, the genetics certainly won out. It's been fascinating. Like Green With You says, there are a lot of ways this can roll out, but a lot of them are potentially positive. (Or she could be horrible! Who knows!)

Three, don't let anyone set this up as an either/or choice. Being open to meeting this woman is not rejecting your mother. Shunning the other sibling will not make her go away. I would encourage you to make sure you don't "shield" your mother from the knowledge that you have met this other daughter if you do. The secrecy and lies and people making decisions about how your mother will feel about things to protect her has gone on more than long enough and not been a service to her. She absolutely, positively needs to be granted the autonomy to decide how she feels about things herself.

Last, I don't know how you feel but for me, and maybe for you or your mum, the decade of secrets and lies would be the hardest aspect to cope with. It is easier to blame or reject this unknown, distant woman than rage at your own father or husband. But unless there's a part of this story you've not shared, none of this is her fault. If you can reach a place of compassion for her, it may make your choices less burdened.

Perhaps having watched a somewhat similar situation play out as a not-directly-involved participant will be of some use to you. Feel free to memail me if you like.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:04 AM on August 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm a long lost daughter under similar circumstances (to the extent that my father initially introduced me to his other daughters as a "cousin", which as far as I'm concerned, was pretty disrespectful). It's not her fault your dad's a jerk. If you want to meet her on your own schedule, do so, but as you're an adult now too, I honestly suggest the best way to handle this is to tell your dad you'll meet her on your own schedule and ask for email addresses/whatever.

It is not fair for your dad to make a huge song and dance out of what has been a normal part of families since Og of the river clan went trading with the people-who-like-to-wander-around-the-hills in his youth, but married the nice girl from the nest next door and then many years later one of the visiting traders from the hills showed up looking eerily like Og and saying how their mother thought that the flint knives they bought sixteen years ago were absolute crap, so don't buy from that Og guy again. People fuck, babies happen. The only crime is that your father behaved in a fashion guaranteed to maximize drama and it's in everyone's best interests not to let the drama get more dramatic.
posted by Phalene at 9:04 AM on August 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

The only person I see in this whole story that has done anything to be upset about is your father's babymama for not telling your father. It seems he told the family not long after he KNEW he had another daughter, which was not until after the DNA test confirmed paternity. For 11 years he knew he may have had a daughter and she presumably did not want to meet him or confirm she was her father. Telling your mother at that point would serve no purpose other than to give her the anxiety he must have felt in not knowing for sure for all those years.

As for personal experience, a similar situation happened to a relative a few years ago. In that case the son had been put up for adoption. The father later married and had a daughter. After 40+ years of hating to be an only child, the daughter learned she had a big brother. The "new" brother was by then a grandfather and had searched for his birth parents. The two families are now extremely close and the daughter is very proud of her new found family.

If I were you I would want to meet the sister. I personally feel that blood relatives do have a connection more so than the general population. For some it drives them closer, and for others it drives them away. When you are ready I would let both your parents know that YOU want to contact her, if that is what you decide, and that is why you are meeting.
posted by Yorrick at 9:49 AM on August 1, 2011

I am the "other daughter" in a situation like this. I am an adoptee and I would agree hearing adoptee reunification stories might be very helpful.

My fathers three children were not told I existed. They found out in their teens (youngest in middle school) and we met a few years later. His wife knew I existed but didn't know WHO my biological mother was. Weirdly she was already best friends with my moms sister and hung out with my mom without realizing she had had a child with her husband pervioiusly.

She was weirded out when she put that together! Also weirdly (and I think this is rather cool), my dad's wife remained dear friends with my aunt, and my cousins on my moms side and my siblings on my dad's side hung out all the time as kids together. I've seen videos of this and it's tripped out because everyone in BOTH SIDES my biological familiy is all there hanging out and having fun and the kids running out... but of course I'm not there so it's a weird feeling.

My dad's wife has been SUPER MOTHER F_InG COOL. I think it has been hard for her, but she roles with it and sh'es a bad ass. Again I really really agree that seperating out that your fathers secrecy should be a seperate issue from your relationship with your half sister who was NOT involved in any of the bad decisions made. She's just a person, and a person who happens to share half your genes. And in fact her existance really isn't connected to anything questionable your father did, and doesn't threaten your family at all. He didn't cheat, she is not evidence of a transgression your father committed against the family. She is just a human being that shares your father's DNA and happened to come about before your family was created.

"Why is your dad putting this person before his wife and marriage?"
She is not some random person. She is one of his children. I would question it sincerely if he DIDN'T value her well being even if it upset a current spouse. I think your mom needs to do some reflection on whether or not your fathers other child is actually a threat to her at all. She is LEGITIMATELY upset with the betrayal and the secrecy over something so important.

But the thing to be upsent about is the secrecy and the sense of betrayal. NOT the existence of the daughter herself. She's just a human being wanting to connect to a part of her existence-- family member who are made of the same stuff she is, who might share personality traits, physical traits, sense of humor, sense of purpose, philosiphical ideas and other aspects of herself that she has never gotten to see in that side of her family.

The experience for me was more meaningful than I can describe. My half sister and I are both outspoken, philosphical, non-traditional, ALWAYS up for a debate, stubborn as shit in a debate, interested in the meaning of it all, up for existential discussion, concerned about human rights, interested in increasing tolerance and understanding for the human condition, interested in discussing the idiosyncracies of religion (which is fascinating because she grew up in a tiny 99 percent religious town where she was a black sheep in this regard)-- We both would prefer everything to be said rather than unsaid.

We are different in that she is socially reserved and keeps a certain distance about her even when actively engaging with people and I am all emotionally involved in sharin the lovin all the time so of course, we aren't duplicates of each other.

But still, it's been fasicnating. It might mean more to your sister than it does to you because you have always known people in your family so people who share your traits is boring and maybe even something you don't even notice because you're so used to everyone in your family that what you DO notice is the ways you are different or "total opposites" without seeing how many traits are there that really do share.

I wanted to share this because there are a lot of negative stories about this and I have no idea what the percentage of negative vs positive is, but wanted to throw it out there. Reading the negatives is important too because you might want to know if there are signs to NOT get too involved with your half sister if you do decide to meet her. Siblings don't really have the moral obligations to each other parents have to each other, but if you can find it in your heart to to share thing about yourself, life growing up with your dad that she doesn't know about and be open to a relationship with her if it seems she is able to be mutually beneficial about-- it would be a great kindess to her on your part. Also as she is older, she should look out for you. I have two half sisters and my big half sister is all protective and big sistery and there for me when I need support even though we didn't grow up together--- so you never know if she might actually turn up to be a valuable person in your life too!
posted by xarnop at 11:22 AM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think everyone in your family needs to take a deep breath and kind of reset. Just to be honest with you, when I read your post I said to myself, "Oh. That's not really a big deal." (Just to give you a different perspective on it). I don't mean to discount your family's experience/feelings, but I do agree with the poster above who said that this doesn't need to be approached as a complete catastrophe.

Everyone here is kind of beating up on your dad (and I don't like how he handled the 'everyone has to meet each other' thing), but I kind of feel for him. He didn't do anything wrong when he knocked that woman up, and he didn't do anything wrong by simply not knowing about the girl until she was in her 20's. I do think that not telling your mom was not the healthiest thing for their relationship or for him, because it meant he had to deal with all of that on his own. But your father, being a bit of an older gentleman and perhaps a little old-fashioned, may have different values when it comes to this sort of thing. My father is around that age (and Catholic) and I could totally see him behaving this way. He would (1) be ashamed of the pre-marital sex and impregnating someone, (2) feel like he is keeping his family and wife together and "normal" by not telling, and (3) feel like this is something he should just deal with on his own (older men can be like that A LOT).

I'm not saying your father is exactly like my dad -- maybe he's just a total cad! -- but I just want you to see that there are other sides to this. None of that would excuse him not telling your mom for 11 years, but perhaps he was doing what he thought was best.

This whole 'you have to meet her' thing is probably his bumbling way of trying to make everything right (and maybe to make himself feel better), but you don't have to play along with that. He really just needs to come to terms with this himself and work on his marriage without forcing anyone to become a happy family. Definitely be firm and say you'll meet her on your own time and terms, if at all. And also, try to have some compassion for the other daughter, even if you choose not to meet her. Think of what this has been like for her.
posted by imalaowai at 11:35 AM on August 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

As someone who has a half-brother somewhere out in the world (that may or may not know about me) -- I would hope that one day, if I tracked him down and wanted to meet him, he would at least give me a chance without holding my biological father's bad decisions over my head.

Your dad shouldn't be pressuring you to do this. But if she wants to meet you, you might want to give her a shot, for her sake, not your dad's.
posted by LZel at 11:46 AM on August 1, 2011

>She contacted him for the first time just before Christmas; he told us in mid-March.) Before he told us, they did DNA tests....

So before that time, your dad MIGHT have had a daughter from a relationship BEFORE he met your mom ... AND the first time he was ever informed of the possible daughter was after she was grown and past the age of support. And daughter did not contact him until recently.

What, exactly, should your father have done? Dropped it on the family at Christmas, before DNA tests confirmed? Assuming that he didn't swear to your mom that he was a virgin before meeting her, why all the drama on Mom's part?

As said upthread, people screw, babies happen. The babymama carries some blame, but she's also a person with her own damned reasons for acting the way she did.

That said, meet or don't meet on your timetable, not dad's. But don't feed the dramamonster. Most of this is not really your business.
posted by cyndigo at 12:07 PM on August 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

This year, a woman contacted my dad. My (deceased) mother gave her up for adoption decades ago.

I'd like to validate everything you and your family are feeling (regardless of what that is), and encourage you to go into this with no expectations at all (I know that's impossible). Unlike others who have encouraged you to read the stories of adopted people, I'd like to encourage you to stay away from those stories for now.

I did none of those things. Below is an abbreviated account of my actions, my feelings, and the mistakes I made in hopes that you can take something from it or at least not feel like you are completely alone. I don't feel all the things I felt when it first happened, but I'm writing honestly, without going back and shading the past into what I wish it was or how I wish it had been.

Feelings. When we were contacted, it made me angry. I'm not proud of that, but I'm not apologetic for it, either. She broke several laws in place in my state that allow for an intermediary person to help guide this process. Instead she contacted an "angel" which is a person who has downloaded a database of birth certificates. The angel contacted me too, to outline for me how proud she was of her sleuthing skills and to let me know that I was about to meet my sister and I should be so excited! And so what if this blew a hole in our family! The most important thing was to be completely and immediately accepting of all of it! The unprofessional, breathless, unsympathetic delivery made me furious.

(Note -- If possible, try to contact someone like the intermediary person offered via your state's registry, if one has been developed in your state now that adoption laws are changing. When people go through the registry, a trained, impartial professional guides the whole process. I would have given anything to have someone like that. If that's not available, maybe a family counselor can help. Really, the process and the emotions are pretty complicated.)

Stories. Some time passed, and I felt sorry for her. Not apologetic for that either. Maybe she wanted photos, or a feeling of connection, or her backstory, or genealogy information, or the name of her genetic father. All my googling led me to the stories from adopted people (rarely families who were confused and angry and in denial about being contacted) and they all agreed that's what they wanted. I could provide that! I could welcome her into our family, out of respect for the memory of my mother.

And so I tried. I sent a first email and attached some photos. For many months, I got nothing but silence. I believe she later explained that she was busy.

Expectations. We all met. She didn't look like me. We don't have anything in common, really. Nothing like, "Oh man, you do this thing and I do the exact same thing we must be related!" But she was nice, pleasant. I decided, these things take time. A relationship is not something that is formed overnight.

(Still processing) Feelings. Hugs all around and then she was gone. We've never heard from her again. She knew before she contacted us that our mother was dead, so she didn't contact us to meet her biological mother. She didn't want photos, she didn't want family medical information, she didn't want genealogy information. I have no idea what she wanted to come from all this. I think she was just curious and never thought about anything except her curiousity. She didn't think about how it hurt her adoptive parents (and it did), nor how it hurt for us to hear about the pain our mother went through with this decision. Everybody paid a heavy price for her to receive very little in return. I'm left disappointed? Confused? Hurt? I'm not sure, but I'm sure that whatever you are feeling right now or even years from now is completely OK.
posted by Houstonian at 12:24 PM on August 1, 2011

Man, is this ever timely. Just this last week I found out the name and hometown of my biological father - who has no clue that I exist.

Reading this question and the responses will really help me to make a decision about what to do next.

PS - as the "other sister", I am SO TOTALLY not at fault for things that happened regarding my conception and birth. I'm not saying that you and your half-sister should run towards each other with open arms and immediately become besties. Just keep in mind that it's not easy for her either and she's entirely faultless in all of this.
posted by Elly Vortex at 3:33 PM on August 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

So your father has suspected for 11 years that he fathered a child 35 years ago (long before he met your mom), but only found out FOR SURE in March, or only about 4 months ago.... so that's how long he's held onto this deep, dark secret: 4 months, minus however long ago he told your family. Not really very long at all, is it?

Which is not an excuse for his dropping it like a bomb into the middle of a family meeting: in the best of all possible worlds, he'd have said something IN PRIVATE to your mom years ago, when he first found out about the possibility of his having had a prior daughter; second choice would have been to talk to her, again in private, after the DNA test confirmed things, to hash it out between the two of them before bringing your and your siblings in. Too late for that now though.

Okay, he wants you all to meet her; fine, tell him to give you her contact info and then BACK OFF, you'll contact her when & where YOU choose. I'd suggest that if/when you decide do meet her, plan a one-on-one meeting for coffee or something else relatively light. I would NOT try for some sort of giant group first meeting: that would be too much stress and strain for everyone.

Your half-sister's situation sounds pretty much like my niece's: my sister would never talk about her daughter's father --- none of us ever met him, and she used to refer to him as 'the sperm donor'. My niece located him when she was in her 20s, but never met him as she was scared to upset him and his family; he has since died, she later met her half-sibs, and they seem to be doing okay. So anecdotally, it can work out if you want it to: just take your time. Good luck, whatever you do.
posted by easily confused at 4:07 PM on August 1, 2011

Mrs. Underflow found out she had a long lost half brother a few years back. Facebook friending was a nice, low friction, low commitment introduction into each others' lives.
posted by underflow at 10:26 PM on August 1, 2011

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