Advice on Adopting a Father
February 14, 2014 3:45 PM   Subscribe

I want to adopt a dad (see extended explanation on why). I'm thinking maybe even a nice gay male couple, a two for one deal! This does not need to be a formal adoption - I have plenty of "parents" (2 moms) - I'm just looking for someone who doesn't have any children (hence thinking about an older gay couple) who might want to "adopt" a kid because they've got some extra love lying around (and maybe some really adorable dogs) and I don't have a relationship with my dad. I would like some advice. 1) Where should I look? 2) What are things I need to consider? 3) How would you go about doing this? 4) Any other thoughts or observations? I'm just sort of tossing this idea around and thinking I'd get some data points from you all.

The Backstory:
I had a horrible relationship with my father. Around this time (February) in 2001 we mutually agreed to never speak again. He was abusive (emotionally and physically) and he has alienated himself from my sister and me. He was toxic (bipolar with narcissistic personality disorder); I'm not sad he's out of the picture. My mom briefly married again in the '80s but divorced my step-father when I was 12 (I'm 37 now) and he was not a terrific man either. My mom has chosen to stay single ever since. My former step-mother and I are still very close - she divorced my dad in 2000 and re-married in 2003. Her husband is cordial but has never had children and seems to find me and my sister "mildly annoying" and "inconvenient" when we want to see our Mom (my step-mom is sister's mother, my sister is a half-sister but we are extremely close). So he's not really a great father figure.

Info about me (in case you need to know it) - female, finishing up a Ph.D. Live in Europe but originally from the States. Married, no kids but might have one (considering it). Financially well-off so I don't need a dad to "support" me etc., this is very much just a personal relationship thing.

Things I want in a dad(s): Kind, funny, smart (not necessarily book smart, and doesn't have to have a college degree, just "life smart" is acceptable - but I have to be able to have a conversation), likes some of the things I like, like James Bond movies, hiking, reading, yoga, travel, etc. Very sane and rational and emotionally mature.
posted by Jericha to Human Relations (34 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
When my mom passed away a couple years ago, I realized my dad was kind of awful all the way to the end and I didn't really want to speak to him any more. I also realized my mom wasn't the nicest person to me when she was alive. I went through her death with my aunt (mom's sister) and a few other family members but my aunt probably sensed all this stuff in me because at some point after my mom's death we were having a catching-up-with-things phone call and she told me flat out how proud of me she was, how I worked hard and built things she appreciated, that I had a good family, and was a good parent. My parents never said those words to me and my dad likely never will.

Every since, my aunt has become pretty much my pseudo-mom. We talk every couple months, fly out to see each other a couple times a year, and she's the only member of my family I go to for advice and updates. She's supportive and treats her own kids (and me) like adults and peers, which my parents never figured out how to do. It's been really rewarding for me.

Maybe look farther off into your family instead of trying to meet strangers? Was there a cousin or uncle or someone in your family you always enjoyed being around when you were younger? They might make an awesome pseudo-dad for you now.
posted by mathowie at 4:00 PM on February 14, 2014 [9 favorites]

I think instead of labeling someone as dad (you already have a dad, even if he is out of your life), maybe form more male friendships or friendships in general that fill some of your requirements. There are a lot of expectations here and I think you'll find yourself disappointed if you go out looking for a "dad" instead of a friend.
posted by Fairchild at 4:02 PM on February 14, 2014 [9 favorites]

Is your father-in-law not a viable candidate? If not, maybe do some volunteer work that will put you in contact with older people?
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:05 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

To me, a parent is a combination of different things: financial support, emotional support, a source of information. You say you don't need financial support. Presumably, friends (and the internet) can also help give you information. So what you are asking from someone is emotional support, in the way a parent can give a child: loving, and without asking for much in return.

I say this as an adult woman who also grew up without a father figure (not a viable one, anyway). I absolutely miss the canonical "father-daughter" moments. In fact, I'm planning my wedding, and my father will not be walking me down the aisle.

But I've stumbled around--like most people do--and grown up. I've learned to budget and use power tools. I have a lot of friends. I'm emotionally stable. Do I wish I had a father figure (or just two sane parents) growing up? Absolutely. But I'm not sure what kind of relationship I would be able to have with a stranger, as a father-daughter relationship. I am an adult, with agency, and cannot be treated like a child. And I think most good parent-child relationships evolve into friendships as the child grows anyway.

I know that therapy helped me. (I had a female therapist in my teens.) She was able to listen to me, and tell me how people think, and how to grow emotionally. She supported me exploring the world in my own way, with advice, but without judgment. So I guess that's one father figure.

I have older male friends. They're also "father figures" in the sense that they are a lot more cynical than I am, and have seen more of the world. Yes, I get emotional support from them, but they are most certainly conditional. I would not expect them to stay around if I threw tantrums.

Once I get married, I'll have a wonderful father-in-law. He's very good at backpacking and hiking and growing things. He's definitely patient when dispensing advice and talking about how he sees the world.

I guess I don't have conclusive advice, but I think you'd be more successful patching together a social network to support you, than to identify one person (or couple) as your father figure.
posted by ethidda at 4:06 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't understand how this would work as a 37-year-old woman. What makes this relationship different than simply being friends with a man older than you are? How do you avoid potential sexual tension with a man who's never thought of you as a child and isn't relayed to you? Why do you think an older gay couple with no children is going to be interested in "fathering" a 37-year-old woman. Sorry, but I'm a father and I just don't see how it relates to what you want.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 4:06 PM on February 14, 2014 [12 favorites]

A friend of mine "adopted" (in most places you aren't going to be legally adopting them) a mom as an adult. She wasn't planning on this, but just happened to meet someone that filled that role in her life and vice versa.

I'm just looking for someone who doesn't have any children (hence thinking about an older gay couple)

Two things about that -- there's no special reason to limit your search to older gay couples. Also, an older gay couple is not "a" dad, and it's quite possible that you might find a adopted dad and an adopted stepdad there, but it's far less likely that you would develop the same relationship at the same time with two different people. Expect that two different people won't have the exact same relationship with you.

If you want to be legally adopted for purposes of inheritance and medical decision making, that's going to be much more difficult to find and is more likely to be a byproduct of a long close relationship rather than something people will just sign you up for. It sounds like that's not what you want at all, but keep in mind if you discuss wanting people to adopt you that's what some people will think you want.
posted by yohko at 4:12 PM on February 14, 2014

I don't understand how this would work as a 37-year-old woman. What makes this relationship different than simply being friends with a man older than you are? How do you avoid potential sexual tension with a man who's never thought of you as a child and isn't relayed to you? Why do you think an older gay couple with no children is going to be interested in "fathering" a 37-year-old woman. Sorry, but I'm a father and I just don't see how it relates to what you want.

Sadly, I agree with this, and have to pass along the warning that both of the older (non-related) men in my life who (unsolicited) made a point of repeatedly encouraging me to think of them--and trust them--as "the [insert blood relative here] I don't have around right now"....developed sexual feelings and started crossing serious ick (and hurtful) boundaries.

One was 17 years older....but one was 50 years older. Neither fit the profile of "creepy old guy."

Leave the dad stuff out of it (it telegraphs vulnerability to people who want that, even if you're not actually emotionally vulnerable) and just find good male friends.
posted by blue suede stockings at 4:19 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback so far. I appreciate your observations.

As far as a social network, I have a really amazing one - I have plenty of friends from all walks of life, diverse in age, race, ethnicity, personality etc. I'm very fortunate. I do have older male friends but most have kids and aren't looking to be in a position for one more. Same with my uncles - lots of kids (lots of girls), they love me dearly and I adore them, but they have their kids and I am very much their niece. My father-in-law lives on a different continent and he and my husband have a cordial but shallow relationship. He has the same with me. He is nice enough but we have no connection whatsoever.

I've had plenty of therapy, have grieved the loss of my father etc. I'm emotionally secure in the place that I am. I'm grateful for my amazing two moms who are totally different and wonderful. I'm grateful for all of the people in my life - I have a very good life.

But, if I am thinking "it would be nice to connect with someone new who has a gap in their life" why wouldn't someone else be thinking the same thing?

In any event, thank you for the observations, would love some advice on how you might go about such a thing. Craigslist? Or maybe just start volunteering with an aging population? Other thoughts?

(For those concerned about men crossing boundaries, I have excellent boundaries and very good radar so I'm less concerned about that and more just thinking of practical ways in which to accomplish this)
posted by Jericha at 4:22 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

What are things I need to consider?

Well, I don't know about need but it wouldn't be wrong to consider your mom's feelings. If you frame it as a parent rather than an older friend it might be a bit odd for her.

Slightly different situation: My uncle found a second mother and was later formally adopted by her in his 40's, when his parents were still alive. I know that it upset my grandma a great deal, and I assume my grandfather as well although he never told me himself. It was a different generation then with different values, obviously, but she could not understand how someone can replace a parent. It saddened her.

It's not the same for you, since your bio-dad is out of the picture. Your mom might not have any issues with your adoption (formally or informally) plans, but it would be a shame if this would cause even more trouble in your family. Consider the feelings of your family members, how would your sister feel about it?
posted by travelwithcats at 4:24 PM on February 14, 2014

I think you might want to look into volunteering at a home for elderly people because you could bring a lot of joy to someone's life that way.

I think looking for a dad on Craigslist is going to go really poorly.

It is a little out of the ordinary to go into a friendship or relationship thinking "I want this person to fill this specific defined role" I think. It's rushing things too quickly. If you came in and asked about looking for a husband I think a lot of people would advise you to look for a boyfriend first. So I might keep that in mind.

When you create that kind of close relationship with someone it takes time to create that relationship and the boundaries of that relationship. I think it will be hard to find someone who wants to be a dad-like person for you right now who does not have boundary issues because the request/desire itself is a bit of a boundary-pusher.

Take it slow, volunteer at some facilities for elderly people, see if you don't find a favorite person to visit and create a special relationship with them that isn't necessarily parental but is very lovely and fulfilling.
posted by sockermom at 4:31 PM on February 14, 2014 [17 favorites]

Or maybe just start volunteering with an aging population?

Yes, but not as 'with an older population.' Find groups that attract retirees - hospital volunteers, historical societies, some types of museums - and just expand your network naturally.
posted by cobaltnine at 4:32 PM on February 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think people are thrown by you saying you're looking for a father to adopt. There are many organizations where you can volunteer and do friendly visiting with older adults who are isloated/frail/etc. One organization that I know does this Dorot, but I'm sure there are many others. It can make a huge difference in someone's life.
posted by the twistinside at 4:33 PM on February 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

To be perfectly candid, I can't see this coming across as anything other than an attempt to scam the "dad" or get yourself written into a will.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:50 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think people are balking at this idea a bit because in generally functional families, parents provide unconditional love and support to their children, and children love and respect their parents but don't put as much time and energy into emotionally supporting them. It's inherently an unequal, hierarchical relationship.

So, in my mind at least, it seems like you're asking, "How do I find someone who will provide me emotional support and all I have to do is accept it, without reciprocating?"

As an adult, the only real healthy place to find that is in a spiritual practice of some kind.
posted by jaguar at 4:51 PM on February 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

Oh how I wish you were in San Francisco! My boyfriend and I have a number of "adopted" "children" ranging in age from early 20s to early 40s and they turn to us for advice on things large and small even if they have (as many of them do) good relationships with their parents. You're basically describing my boyfriend in your request -- he has an adult biological son who is married, but he's got plenty of common sense and kindness to go around. If you would be open to an email relationship, hit my inbox and I'll ask him about it this weekend.
posted by janey47 at 4:55 PM on February 14, 2014 [12 favorites]

(For those concerned about men crossing boundaries, I have excellent boundaries and very good radar so I'm less concerned about that and more just thinking of practical ways in which to accomplish this)

Everyone's got great radar until they don't. Seriously, the 88 year old was straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and the strong bondaries get you out fast, but don't shelter you from the disappointment and betrayal of trust when someone tries to creep into a bait-and-switch.

But I'm jarred that you really do seem like you want to be treated as/regarded as a child:

I do have older male friends but most have kids and aren't looking to be in a position for one more.

I have a wonderful dad with whom I have a wonderful relationship, and honestly, other than the "love-you" talk and the shared nostalgia of a lifetime (literally) of shared history, my adult relationship with him isn't so much different than that with very treasured male friends who are in fact old enough to be my dad. Frankly, I would never go to him for the same needs I had up through my early 20s, because the balance has subtly shifted: I want to protect and support him too now. What are your expectations, exactly, for what it means to be a daughter in your late 30s? Could you look for psychotherapy with an older male to work this through?
posted by blue suede stockings at 4:56 PM on February 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is a lot of what I get out of church. There are places that are more and less religious, depending on your preferences--the Unitarian Universalists are pretty atheist-friendly depending on your ideals, I don't know how much presence they have in Europe--but if you're a Christian of some stripe, honestly, I think this is the thing that keeps a lot of people going. I don't have a good relationship with either of my parents. But while it might not be strictly parental, I'd say that going sort of feels like being in the midst of a very large extended family--aunts, uncles, maybe more like great-aunts and -uncles given the average age of my church, but still.

Generally, whether you're inclined towards religion or not, I'd say: find activities that attract an older crowd. Be respectful and attentive and help out with things. See where it goes. Getting close to people takes a long time, when it's not a blood relation, but I think it can help fill a lot of the gaps. It's also easier to be moderately close to a bunch of older people than to be super-duper close with one, and less risky. But it seems to help close up the gaps in my life, anyway.

I would urge you NOT to find an older male therapist when you're feeling the strong absence of a father figure in your life, it's just potentially messy.
posted by Sequence at 5:00 PM on February 14, 2014

I would urge you NOT to find an older male therapist when you're feeling the strong absence of a father figure in your life, it's just potentially messy.

[Last comment: actually, with someone highly trained (and under supervision) to explore exactly these roles and transference, this is exactly what psychoanalysis is for, and it can be done without mess--you're compensating someone to be detached and reflective about dynamics/insight/resolution, instead of predatory, and it works OK in the vast majority of cases that DON'T end up in front of the board.]
posted by blue suede stockings at 5:02 PM on February 14, 2014

Seconding the suggestion to seek out volunteering or joining activities at places that attract retirees (and not necessarily old folks home, though that could be interesting too.) Church committees, gardening clubs, nature centers (or birding groups), museums, local historical sites, charity thrift shops, lawn bowling, golf courses, square dancing...

When I was an early 20something volunteering at a wildlife refuge where almost every other volunteer was 50+, I definitely enjoyed the doting, parent/grandparent sort of relationships I had with many people there.
posted by dahliachewswell at 5:47 PM on February 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I actually think this will be pretty easy to achieve, particularly if you make a point of NOT announcing or overtly advertising what you're looking for but just do activities that involve lots of older people and be your nice, friendly, authentic, likable self. At least in the US (not sure about Europe), because of the culture and gender roles and all, most men who interact in platonic situations with women 25+ years younger seem to automatically default to some flavor of "paternal" or "avuncular" in their interactions.

The exception would be guys who regard all women as sexual objects or guys who have a sexual interest in a particular younger woman. But I mean, my doctor, my older coworkers, the owner of the neighborhood mom-n-pop grocery, most significantly older men I get to know talk to me in ways that seem fairly similar to how they must treat their adult daughters . . . or nieces or kid sisters, at least. Not like a same-aged peer, but with a sort of vague doting fondness, or something.

Which is not exactly the more pronounced surrogate father-daughter thing you'd ideally like, but that could certainly evolve over time if you find yourself bonding with someone who likes you, and your spouse, and your possible eventual kid.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:01 PM on February 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Most father daughter relationships are grown into over a period of time. This means you'll probably need to get a dad in training (since you want someone childless) and you'll both work toward your common goal. For the relationship to be sufficiently close it will have to survive arguments and hurt feelings (if you manage to avoid this, you'll be doing something wrong that will probably be even worse!) and what allows this to work is the impossibility of dissolving the relationship (actual family relationships aren't, in the end, voluntary).

Maybe you'll be able to actually obtain this kind of relationship but there's a reason one doesn't see requests like yours (or the equivalent from someone seeking a daughter) stated so explicitly like this. I may not have successfully given the reason for that above, but I think I started out in the right direction. Still, I wish you luck.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:23 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think there's something odd about the insistence that you want an older male friend who can't already have children, and is looking for you to fill a sort of hole in his life analogous to the hole you seem to want to fill in your life. I have a good relationship with my dad, but I also have a couple of older male friends who have been father figures to me -- and they all had kids, too. In other words, the fact that they were already fathers did not preclude them from being willing and able to play an important role in my life; indeed, the fact that they were already fathers almost certainly allowed them to provide the kind of wisdom/support/guidance I was seeking at the time, in a way that was age-appropriate without crossing any boundaries.

I think it's fine to seek out older friends, but I would gently suggest that you rethink the idea that it must strictly replicate a father-daughter dynamic -- especially right off the bat. I mean, it's one thing for an adult to volunteer to mentor kids or teens, where that potential father figure relationship is specifically built into the dynamic and expectations. But at 37, I think it's as unrealistic to "find a father" right out of the gate as it is to "find a husband" on the first date. A fatherly relationship, if it is to occur, will take time to build, and can't be forced.
posted by scody at 7:17 PM on February 14, 2014 [7 favorites]

A while back I did a little light research into adult adoption because one of my sisters was never legally adopted by my dad and stepmom (she was an emanicipated minor when they took her in) so they have to have some special language in their wills about her being counted as one of their kids and I thought that adult adoption might simplify things. During this research, I vaguely recall reading that there was actually a matchmaking website for prospective adult adoptees / adoptive parents out there somewhere, but my Google-fu is failing me in trying to find it for you. :(

So yeah, this is definitely a thing that people do. Don't be discouraged by the negative comments here and keep looking until you find it.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:15 PM on February 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sure, adult adoption absolutely exists, but it largely exists as a legal means of transferring inheritance rights, etc. between adults (as in your sister's case) or to legally formalize a parental-like relationship that already exists (for example). The OP explicitly says she doesn't require the former, and in the case of the latter, the adult adoption grows organically out of an established relationship.

That's why I think framing the goal as "I want to adopt a dad, and I must be his only child" is a case of putting the cart before the horse, as well as being unnecessarily restrictive. It's certainly possible that the OP can develop a relationship with an older adult male who's happy to function as a father figure, but that may mean accepting that A) he might already be someone's father, and B) he might not be interested in a literal adoption.
posted by scody at 9:48 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

scody: But I'm pretty sure I've actually read before about a website that matches adults who want parents with couples who want adult children. I just can't find the article that referenced it again -- I've been looking for the past 45 minutes and it's driving me crazy now. :(
posted by Jacqueline at 10:05 PM on February 14, 2014

I suspected the OP was thinking that they wouldn't already have children so that a) they'd have a need she could meet, and b) she wouldn't be taking attention from another 'child'.
posted by MeiraV at 10:07 PM on February 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sorry, OP, I've been trying different Google searches and reading various articles for an hour now and I'm beginning to suspect that I must have just hallucinated the bit about there being a matchmaking website for adults wanting parents and couples wanting to adopt adult children. :(

But adult adoption is definitely a thing that people do so don't be discouraged to pursue what you want. Everyone deserves to have a good dad.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:16 PM on February 14, 2014

Are you thinking of doing this in Europe, or in the US? Just from a recruitment perspective, I think this might be a tough sell in Europe, where family and so much else are strongly rooted in ideas around genetic lineage. (Although, maybe, in one of the scandy countries..)

Also: someone old enough to be your biological father may well soon come to be in a position of need, rather than support.

Lastly, I'll just highlight that this is an anniversary of the end of your relationship with your birth father. I think that idea is worth revisiting.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:05 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

YES THAT IS IT!!! I even recognize the picture in the upper right corner so I must have followed a link to it at some point.

Thank you so much, hazyjane, I thought I was losing my mind and had imagined the website.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:27 AM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to chip in as I have over the years created a number of "substitute families" for myself, though I never really deliberately set out to do this. All these people were actually the parents of friends that I somehow came to interact with (by staying over, or by visiting the friend when the mum was also visiting the friend...). So obviously none of these people were childless, yet they all "welcomed me" as an additional child (often explicitly saying so).

I think this is actually preferable because they have experience of being a parent - and with children my age / from my social circle they have some knowledge of where I come from as well. I grant that this may be harder if you're looking for a dad - my closest relationships were always with the women / mums.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:30 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of the ways to get this type of relationship is to get to know your neighbors. If there is an older couple or gentleman who lives nearby, you do things like help rake their leaves or borrow a cup of sugar and then bring over some cookies, or ask them for advice about a gate hinge that seems stuck or a spark plug or whatever. You don't do all this on the first day, of course, but over the course of living in the neighborhood for a few years, you can develop this type of relationship.
posted by CathyG at 1:58 PM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I live across the continent from my mom. Some of my friends who still live in the city I grew up in (where she still loves) have sort of adopted her as a spare mom. She's a third grandmother to one pair of friends' kids. My friends do the kind of tech support one does for ones parents, drop by and watch out for her, stuff like that.

It helps of course that she's a pretty nice lady, overall.

Anyway. Look to your disconnected friends. If you've got a friend like me with a dad in a similar place to my mom, say hi to their dad. See what happens.
posted by egypturnash at 8:28 PM on February 15, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks Jaqueline and hazyjane...exactly what I was looking for!
posted by Jericha at 9:23 PM on February 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

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