My son's biological father has friended me on Facebook. What next?
October 14, 2013 7:05 AM   Subscribe

My 8 year old son has never met his biological father and would like to do so. I don't want his heart to break if his bio-father doesn't want contact. I'm only assuming that he doesn't want contact because apart from the befriending we haven't actually said anything to each other via voice or email for about 6 years or so. What is the best way to approach this?

My now 8 year old youngest son has never met his biological father who has also never met him because conception occured right before he moved to England and we'd pretty much hit the end of our short but enjoyable fling.

My son is becoming more and more interested in his bio-father (his Dad is my oldest son's father, who I was rebounding from when I had the lovely and most welcomed at the time fling which eventually resulted in my son, and who promised and has kept his word about accepting my second son as his own with no deception involved; he knows he's not the biological father) and I've told him all the true, age-appropriate things: that his bio-father was a lovely, happy man who I enjoyed my time with but who moved to England before he even knew I was pregnant.

I wasn't able to get in contact with him during my pregnancy and the first 18 months or so of my son's life (I was going through a particularly difficult time, emotion-wise, so I didn't make much of an effort) but I did eventually make contact with him via email letting him know that he had a son but pretty much absolving him of any financial liability.

His immediate reaction was shock, which was not unexpected. I sent a few photos and one or two emails but contact pretty quickly petered out.

So now, six years later, he accepted my Facebook friend request on Friday night and I've stalked his account (he doesn't post much) and looked at the two photos of himself that he's posted (I'd pretty much forgotten what he looked like) and the resemblance between himself and his son is pretty striking. My son has never seen a photo of him. I'm presuming that he remembers me and has also looked at my profile and seen photos of my son but that's not necessarily so, I know.

I'm unsure as to what to do next. Tell my son that I've contacted his bio-dad? Tell bio-dad that his son would like to be in contact? What to say? I'm not looking for anything more than the best thing for my son who does want to know more but I don't want to put him in the position of feeling rejected if for whatever reason bio-dad doesn't react positively.

Your thoughts on how to approach this would be appreciated (kind ones please).
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So it looks like he hasn't friended you, you friended him and he accepted your friend request. Some people accept everything. It would be wise to make sure that he meant to view this as a reaching out period before getting your hopes up.
posted by corb at 7:17 AM on October 14, 2013 [21 favorites]

Just message him and say that your son would like to meet/contact him (is he still in england) but you'll understand if he isn't interested. Restate that you're not looking for financial compensation but you're open to him being involved in his son's life.

Then the ball is in his court. If he isn't interested then you can either tell your son the truth or make up a kind lie - like you don't know how to get in touch with bio-dad because bio-dad lives very, very far away.
posted by missmagenta at 7:19 AM on October 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would recommend starting with bio-dad. I'm coming at this from the position of having had a childhood with a never-in-the-picture bio-dad. Ultimately what I am most deeply wounded by even now is not the time where he was not in the picture at all, but a particular time where I really got my hopes up and tried to contact him, only to get rebuffed.

Remembering that hurt vividly, I would hate for your son to be getting excited or pinning hopes on getting to know his bio-dad, and then to not have that be the bio-dad's intention.

I think it is reasonable to contact bio-dad and tell him that his son would like to be in contact, and take steps from that direction. But to your son, nothing should be different, until/unless you have a pretty damn good idea that something is going to come of it.

When your son is older you may have a conversation with him about this phase so he'll know you at least tried to make that happen for him; but right now he's too little to understand the complexities here.
posted by Stacey at 7:21 AM on October 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

Answering as someone who grew up not knowing her biological father: definitely do not tell your son that you've contacted his dad until you know that his dad is interested in having some sort of contact. I don't know what kind of guy he was or is, but regardless, even the nicest-seeming people can sometimes not be interested in stepping up to the plate.

I grew up as the only child of a teenage mother who was divorced from my dad before I turned two. I had no relationship with him at all, ever, and we rarely spoke about him. Even though I was a well-loved kid with a good childhood and an amazing mom, I still -- understandably -- longed to know my dad. I imagined that maybe he would someday show up at a school function, or send me a birthday card, or call. It was awkward to talk about with my mom, so I mostly kept these ideas to myself. They never materialized. It was only as a fully grown adult that I finally encountered his side of my family, and then only because my half-sister (his next child after me) found me and got in touch. When she told my dad that she'd found me, his reaction was to tell her she could pass on his email address to me if he wanted. It was such an indifferent dick move that I wrote him off altogether after that. I was okay with it but only because I was a grown woman who'd had an entire lifetime to get used to the idea that my dad wasn't interested, and to realize that it was his loss and not mine.

If your son's biological dad is not interested in maintaining a relationship with your son, it may be better for your son not to know that until he's older. I don't know how I would have felt if I'd known all along that my dad wasn't interested in me, but I think it would have made me feel terrible and rejected and hateful. I would have wondered what was wrong with me. I would have probably blamed my mom. I wouldn't have been old enough to understand that just because somebody is a parent doesn't mean that they aren't also a total jerk. (Or just irresponsible or selfish or whatever.)

Good luck. I hope his dad steps up.
posted by librarianjess at 7:27 AM on October 14, 2013 [10 favorites]

I am not sure there is a clear path here. It is something that has to be played by ear as it develops. I would start with trying to establish (re-establish) a relationship with bio-dad, how are you, everything here is going well, I have been working as a widget builder for the last 3 years, etc. Then, when he establishes that he is friendly or not hostile, tell him the reason you contacted him was because junior wants to know more about bio-dad. Discuss with him what he is willing or able to do. Go from there. I would also talk with his Dad/stepfather and discuss with him all the possible ramifications.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:27 AM on October 14, 2013

You are the adult so your job is to try to look out for your son's best interests whilst simultaneously protecting him. So, you know your child wants to meet his father; send the father a FB message saying

"Hello, hope you are well. Child is now eight years old and as you can imagine, becoming very curious about you. If you are open to anything from a visit to Skype to exchanging postal letters, that would be great. If not, it would be helpful to me to know that so I can manage his expectations. All the best, Anon."

And if his dad steps up at all, that's great; if he doesn't, at least you'll know and can proceed accordingly.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:47 AM on October 14, 2013 [35 favorites]

Whatever you choose, please preserve your son's ability to know his father in the future. I'm a 44 year-old adoptee who just a few months ago has found and met my birth family. My birth father died before I ever met him, unfortunately. But I'm getting to know him through knowing his mother and sisters, and through many, many photos of him. I would give anything to see him in person, to know the sound of his voice.

I first contacted my birth mother in June via Facebook message, so I'm familiar with this delicate and vulnerable position. My theory is you have to lead with your vulnerability.

Reach out to the birth father with a Facebook message saying your son would like to know him. Ask what level of relationship he would be comfortable with now, whether it's just exchange of photos and letters, or visits, or what. Offer up your non-FB contact info. Express positivity. Make it easy for him to want to know his son. Thus you put the ball in his court.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:12 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
The elegant way would be to send a message saying, hey that gorgeous kid that looks so much like me, that's my son you told me about, right? And then I would say yeah and he's the sweetest kid you can imagine although he is also a right pain in the arse, and we'd take it from there. I did tell him that he has a son who exists in the world and so I thought that maybe he'd be curious six years later, you know?

If that had happened I wouldn't have wanted to write this question but it has been a few days now and I've been waiting for some kind of response from the bio-dad in question.

It's true. I need to write to him and suss him out before mentioning the contact to my son.

Thanks for your replies; they're very much appreciated.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:45 AM on October 14, 2013

The elegant way would be to send a message saying, hey that gorgeous kid that looks so much like me, that's my son you told me about, right? And then I would say yeah and he's the sweetest kid you can imagine although he is also a right pain in the arse, and we'd take it from there. I did tell him that he has a son who exists in the world and so I thought that maybe he'd be curious six years later, you know?

No, this isn't elegant. It's kind of passive aggressive. It's entirely possible that the bio-dad views the fact that you waited two years after your son's conception as a signal that you didn't want him involved in the boy's life (and it sounds like other things you've said--about your son's Dad and not needing financial support might underscore this). You're essentially waiting for bio-dad to make some kind of grand gesture while simultaneously putting him in a pretty weird position. I know the above is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it also sounds like a fantasy. You want to reconnect with this man over your gorgeous son, but it's not really about you, right? It's about the kid, and the bio-dad, and facilitating a relationship between them.

You need to be the grown-up here and straight-forwardly ask for what you want rather than expecting him to read your mind: "My son has been asking about you. Would you be interested in exchanging a few emails?"
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:57 AM on October 14, 2013 [18 favorites]

Just message him and say that your son would like to meet/contact him (is he still in england) but you'll understand if he isn't interested.

Why go for the gold ring right out of the gate? This person is biologically connected to you, effectively forever. He will always be your son's bio-dad regardless of what happens right now. So why not approach this more like a marathon than a sprint?

"Hey F, your bio-son is aware of your existence and has natural curiosity about you. I want to do what's best for him and do my best to honor your desires at the same time. Have you given much thought to the matter over the years? You can see pictures of him on my facebook page; it's striking how much he resembles you.

It's a lot to process, I know, but he's always going to have some curiosity and we've always been open about his biological background. We'll continue to be so but I want to do my best to protect him and his feelings while he's still young, so depending on how much or little contact you want I'll spin and guide appropriately."

We think about this sort of thing a lot as parents of an adopted child, and while our boy isn't walking yet, much less asking questions, we are embracing a similarly open approach. So we know we'll have to deal with questions and desires during a period where his birth mother may not be open in the way that would be best for him and/or when he may not be able to fully understand adult behavior.

I don't know your kid, but I doubt eight is old enough to fully understand if his biodad isn't on the same page as him. He likely doesn't have any other models/examples in his life for people with similar relationships, so he'll be dependent a lot on the example you set for what you expect this relationship to mean. Eventually you and we will be unable to shield our children from the unvarnished facts, but at the same time it'll eventually be inappropriate for us to shield them thusly.

When that time is largely depends on your decisions, though his biodad likely could compel input if he really wanted to. So you want to handle him accordingly, I expect.

The elegant way would be to send a message saying, hey that gorgeous kid that looks so much like me, that's my son you told me about, right? And then I would say yeah and he's the sweetest kid you can imagine although he is also a right pain in the arse, and we'd take it from there. I did tell him that he has a son who exists in the world and so I thought that maybe he'd be curious six years later, you know?

Quite frankly this freaks me the fuck out. It's okay to have these passing visions in our head for how we wish everything played out in life. I'm imagining a sandwich being delivered to me just as my lunch hunger peaks here. But this is no way to live a life and it's absolutely positively no way to handle interpersonal communications. Sure, you wish he'd made this super easy for you and wanted exactly as much contact in the way you want it. And your son wants a pony and we all get on with our day.

Remind yourself that this guy could just as easily seen these pictures and become overwhelmed with a desire to be a daily part of your son's life, kicking off a decade-long string of custody lawsuits and compulsion for you to put the boy in an airplane next month to go spend half the year with his biological father. Count your blessings: you're currently in the driver's seat here. Quit screwing around with fantasies and start handling this like the grown up your kid needs you to be. I'm sorry to be a bit harsh but you seem to be waffling about this with some vague hopes and no plan beyond hoping for the fairy tale (based on what little we can tell from your question).

You need a long-term plan both for contact and for how to best ease your son's desires and expectations, whether this goes as wonderfully as it possibly could or if it's completely pear-shaped. If you're not prepared to do that then you might do well to block this FB contact and decide that you got away with poking the bear.
posted by phearlez at 9:08 AM on October 14, 2013 [18 favorites]

The question is to do with handling this like a grown up. Chiding is unnecessary; wording is. Be kind, it's not that hard.
posted by h00py at 9:29 AM on October 14, 2013

Right now, bio-dad has no definite idea why you reached out to him. It may seem obvious to you that you're doing so because your son wants to be in contact, but you could just as easily have decided that you're now going to sue for child support, or you could be having some sort of break-down or terminal illness and you're hoping he'll step up and take full custody of your son, or maybe you want to blackmail him by telling his current romantic partner, or or or....

You made the first (ambiguous) move; he responded positively. The next move is very definitely yours.
posted by jaguar at 10:19 AM on October 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

If that had happened I wouldn't have wanted to write this question but it has been a few days now and I've been waiting for some kind of response from the bio-dad in question.

I agree with jaguar: You friended,then he accepted. The next move is yours to make. He has no idea what the content of your move is likely to be. Which is why I suggested leading with vulnerability and positivity and going from there.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:26 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do, keep your son out of it until you know exactly what all the grown-ups involved are likely to say and do in regards to each other and him. That includes your husband and this man's girlfriend/spouse/whatever.

I suggest you also talk to your husband about what kind of wording he thinks might go over well, mostly because none of us know you well enough to say for certain what your tone and word choices mean to someone who knows you. I also think you should move this off of Facebook as soon as possible - phone calls are absolutely the way to go if you can keep your cool, but email is better than Facebook for both the drama reduction and the safety/privacy issues (as a general rule, I keep conversations with potential legal implications off of social networking sites.)

Also, I kind of get the feeling that neither of you is going to be putting a full measure of effort into this if you keep on communicating electronically - emails petering out, etc.

Keep anything actually acrimonious or condescending or whatever to yourself, forever. I never ever ever needed to hear what my various parents think about or thought about each other. Ever. I'm just shy of 33 and I wish that I didn't know right this second, not just that they would have held off on saying crappy things until I was older than I was at the moment. If you need a safe space to say that kind of stuff and be heard and figure out how to deal with it, that space is a therapist's office, not wherever any of your children are. And yes, my half-siblings have heard stories from our shared parents (some but not all of which I have heard from the siblings.) That is an exceptionally crappy thing to do to a child.

Your son should know his biological father's full name and various biographical details like where he grew up and such, and see his picture, in addition to that he was a good person and lives in England. You should read this post about the psychology of adopted children searching for their biological parents to get a taste of why I say this. Personally, I'd wait till 11 or 12 to start talking about things like "I wish I had handled things differently with your biological father when you were first born" and "right now he's not in a place where he can really be a good biological dad to you, but he's a good person and we can hope things change in the future and try to be kind when we think and talk about him." 15 or 16 is more of a time to talk about the details of what happened, why you think you did what you did and why he responded, etc. It's probably OK at this age to get into a habit of sending emails, letters, etc., if the biological father explicitly states that he is OK with that. Do not bring up that possibility until what I said in the first sentence of this answer has happened.

Also, if the father is actually from England, or is a naturalized citizen, consider looking into getting your son British citizenship. It is much easier to do this kind of thing while he is still a minor.
posted by SMPA at 11:01 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Two things jump out at me.

- Thus far, you haven't really been able to put yourself in this man's shoes and see this situation from his perspective.

- You're, uh, a little loose and hippy dippy about parenting and custody issues.

It's like you did not at all think through (a) the long term emotional consequences of your initial decisions on your son (there's that lack of ability to put yourself in the other guy's shoes again) and (b) that there are serious serious legal aspects at play here, including custody, child support, and jurisdictional issues since you and bio-dad are in two different countries.

You should have spoken to a lawyer long before this, if just to clarify the law and to get briefed on all possibilities and worst case scenarios.


Dial down the snark and the romanticizing.

Be respectful. Handle this professionally. Be straight.

A friend request on FB was not a respectful or mature way to open this important discussion. Drop the FB drama!

Send your ex a proper email. Be brief.

"Dear X,

I hope you are doing well. Son is 8 years old and is interested in making contact with you.

I realize this request comes out of the blue, and I apologize. I have not told Son I would be contacting you. Instead, I wanted to reach out discreetly to see what your feelings about being in contact with Son, on any level, might be.

I don't know if you've given this any thought over the years, or what you might be thinking today.

My goal is to protect Son's feelings and manage his expectations appropriately.

Please do let me know your thoughts. If you have any questions or concerns about contact with Son, I'll be happy to discuss them with you.


posted by jbenben at 11:05 AM on October 14, 2013 [12 favorites]

Another voice chiming in to say that you need to message the bio-Dad and explain that you friended him because your son is becomingly increasingly curious about him and you want to know how to proceed. It's probably smart to reiterate that you aren't looking for financial support and you will respect his wishes, but your primary concern is helping your son sort this out.

Also, something that you should both consider is that social media makes it very likely that at some point your son might do some sleuthing and find his bio-Dad on his own. You both want to be prepared for that if bio-Dad is unwilling to be in touch. I don't know that you need to tell an 8 year old that bio-Dad has declined contact, but if that is what he does, in a couple of years you may need to explain that you tried and were unsuccessful, so if he wants to try again, you'll of course help but to be prepared that it might not work out the way he hopes and that has nothing to do with your son and everything to do with bio-Dad. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 11:08 AM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

When wondering how to approach this, keep in mind that BioDad may never have mentioned your son to his friends and family, or only within a very limited circle. The magnitude of such a revelation within his social world could be enormous - or he might be afraid it could be so ("I was your friend/mother/lover .. you never told me you had a son").

This is potentially a world-shaking event for him. He might, quite legitimately, not know what he wants. He has a right to want something different than you.

But, just because your previous email exchanges petered out this does not mean he might not be acutely, painfully aware of having a son. He may think of your son every day, but very much keep it within him. What you seek is something only he can give, and you should consider give him as much space and time and understanding as he needs. This is not a question of "stepping up" as some have put it, this is a question of reconfiguring his private and public orientation to the world. That takes time, it takes courage.

If it was me, then I would need weeks or months to process this and I might not even be very successful at that. Having said that, yes, as it stands, the ball is in your court.
posted by Rumple at 11:16 AM on October 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Wait, are you still partnered with Dad? I mean the dad who (in part, I think...) raised these boys? If so, then a mature adult conversation with this man who has shared your life and who is the only father that matters to these boys seems to me the logical start to this process. Discuss with him the possible scenarios before you move forward.

And Nthing a zillion times over not telling your child anything until you determine what's what with the biological sponsor.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 11:56 AM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, don't tell the kid and get his hopes up until you have this all nailed down.

You friended the dad-- he didn't friend you-- and that matters. Send him a message saying, hey, I know this is out of the blue, but our son would like to talk with you and get to know you a little bit. Is that something you'd be interested in? Take your time to think it over, but please let me know.

Before you do that, you really ought to talk this over with adoptive dad. Tell him what you're thinking and make sure he is on board. He might also have good ideas for how to approach this, both with biological dad and with kid.
posted by J. Wilson at 12:14 PM on October 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Even if you keep this contact with the bio-father only through Facebook, he just accepted your friend request 3 DAYS ago, and you yourself say that he doesn't post much --- there are plenty of people who don't feel the need to obsessively check Facebook hourly or even daily, and it sounds like he's one. So perhaps, just perhaps, you need to back off a bit and let things percolate for a while. (Also, just because he HAS accepted your friend request doesn't require him to respond with a message: he accepted the request, nothing more, end of sentence.)

Give it a couple of weeks, then send him a message about your son. There's no rush --- after all, it's already been 8 years --- and make sure to be very clear with bio-dad before you pass ANYTHING, even just a 'hello' message, on to your son.

(Although I do agree with the folks who say this isn't fb material.)
posted by easily confused at 12:54 PM on October 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hi Ex, I don't know what your life is like these days. I'd love a chance to get together over coffee and talk about Son. He's curious about his biological father. I'm not sure, myself, what this would entail, so talking about it would be step 1. I hope things are going well for you. Best, Anon. and, obv., this is by message, not public.

Son has a right to want to know about his Dad, both the genetic history, and what kind of person he is. Son may really want a lot from Dad, and no amount of preparation can cushion heartbreak, though dealing with reality is a useful skill. Keep in mind that you have the option of asking for financial support at any time, and Dad could theoretically ask for some custody rights at any time. Seems unlikely that he will pursue rights, and I don't think you need a lawyer right now. In my state, kids can seek to live with a non-custodial at age 13.
posted by theora55 at 1:25 PM on October 14, 2013

Others did a very nice job of outlining what you should say and how to manage your son's expectations.

First, I'd like to point out something that you gloss over very quickly. You didn't tell him that you were going to/had his child for two years (!!!). That is a profound, meaningful transgression against him, no matter how you try to explain it away. You need to keep this in mind when you initiate contact with him - you cannot expect him to blithely message you with cute little notes about your son's pictures. This is someone you purposefully cut out of his son's life - he's going to feel something about that. Anger, sadness, distrust, confusion, disgust - all would be perfectly rational responses to this situation. Something to keep in mind.

Second, on a more practical level, you'll want to think a few steps ahead. So if he says "yes, I'd like to have a relationship with my son," what comes next? I would suggest that you and he actually have a couple of conversations first before you even tell your son about it. It may be awkward for one or both of you to suddenly be in touch (particularly over Skype, which is a little awkward in the best of scenarios). Your son will be looking to you for cues. So if you go into the first Skype call with his dad and you are really uncomfortable, or irritated with his dad, or anything else awkward - he will pick up on and possibly be distressed by that. So it would be best if you and the bio-dad could have a least a little bit of contact to get comfortable with each other. You may also want to prep him on the type of questions his son might ask and suggest some things they could talk about. Basically, you want to prepare both sides for this first conversation (keep in mind this is something your son will probably remember for the rest of his life) so that it goes as smoothly as possible. Finally, you'll want to use those initial conversations with his bio-dad to determine how much ongoing contact he would be open to having with his son. You don't want him to promise to Skype his son ever week in their first discussion, only to have that fall through. Think ahead, and hopefully it'll go well. Best of luck.
posted by leitmotif at 3:41 PM on October 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

A couple of things that you don't seem to think about:

1. Have you discussed this with your partner/dad who raised the child? If not, you definitely should since this will impact the entire family

2. Are you prepared in case bio dad wants custody? Has dad who raised the child adopted the child? If not, would you be okay with shared custody with bio dad? What if biodad behaves like a jerk and starts suing you for custody?

You should think carefully about this before you blithely start sending emails over facebook. You may think you know what will happen after you involve bio dad but many unexpected impacts could result. You should consult dad who raised the child and a lawyer as well!
posted by zia at 6:25 AM on October 16, 2013

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