Should my husband acknowledge his son's graduation?
May 4, 2014 10:15 AM   Subscribe

My husband and his ex wife put their only child up for adoption 24 years ago (when he was about a year old). My husband's ex wife reached out to me almost 6 years ago asking if my husband (her ex) wanted to have a relationship with the child they put up for adoption. My husband wanted that opportunity. He reached out to the son several times, received no or limited responses.

Ultimately, my husband and the son met face to face. My husband, our children and I have spent time with the son on several occasions.

I described in a previous post that, it seems, as far as the adopted son is concerned, my husband is "out of sight, out of mind". Unless my husband initiates contact with the son, we don't exist. He has grown to accept that that is the best he can get from the son.

I was/am facebook friends with the son. I deactivated my facebook page at the beginning of the year. I just signed in for the first time since January. I see that the son is graduating from college tomorrow. The adopted family will no doubt be there. I see that his biological mom and that side of his biological family will be there, as well.

My husband has heard nothing from the son since he wished him Happy Easter a couple of weeks ago. He asked how he was doing and how school was going. The son said everything was going great, told my husband he'd made an A on a big test. The son asked how everyone was here. That's the normal pattern of their communication.

My husband was not shocked, but still hurt to see the graduation is tomorrow and no mention was made to him about it. He understands not being invited to the graduation or family celebrations surrounding the son's graduation. However, he would have liked the chance acknowledge it in some way.

The son didn't mention it in the recent exchange with my husband. The only reason he knows is because I logged on to my facebook page, for a completely unrelated reason. Given all this information, my husband is wondering if he should acknowledge the son's graduation at all?
posted by getyourlife to Human Relations (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Even though the son is technically an adult, your husband is the true adult in this relationship. He should acknowledge the graduation with a nice card/letter and small gift. Even at 21/22 years of age, they don't get the importance of relationships and communication of such life events sometimes. The world is still seen only on their terms. I think your husband continuing to reach out and show interest could pay off in the years to come as his son matures.
posted by maxg94 at 10:22 AM on May 4, 2014 [63 favorites]

If your husband's son wanted your husband to know about/attend the event, he could have easily notified him. Given that he didn't, your husband should not show up.

Send a card instead.

You could also send a FB message saying something like, "We didn't realize your graduation was happening now but wanted to send our congratulations and a card is in the mail." That way he knows you are thinking of him.
posted by morganannie at 10:25 AM on May 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

What could possibly be the downside of acknowledging his graduation?
posted by jacquilynne at 10:25 AM on May 4, 2014 [13 favorites]

I remember your previous question about the same person. I think you guys are pushing too hard for a relationship that is obviously not there. I don't think it's fair to burden him with the responsibility of spelling it out to you guys. He's giving pretty big hints to your husband and to you. Respect his boundaries.
posted by Houstonian at 10:25 AM on May 4, 2014 [29 favorites]

I would send something just in the name of keeping the door open, because the kid is still pretty much a kid and may still not have full-formed feelings about the place of his biological father in his life (particularly w/r/t his adoptive parents) and probably doesn't really understand how to do relationships yet.

I wouldn't do anything more intrusive than that, though.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:28 AM on May 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

If the son is a senior in high school, the fact that he's graduating can hardly come as a surprise. If he wants to have some type of ongoing relationship with his son, it would be nice if he sent a card and a small gift.

It's clear that you and your husband are hurt that your son hasn't initiated more of a relationship. I'd really urge you both to let go of any hurt feelings and/or expectations about how the son "should" act towards you. Keep in mind all of the following:

1. Putting someone up for adoption traditionally has meant severing ties with them (though this is less the case now with open adoptions, it's still considered the default).
2. Many teenagers aren't particularly excited about spending time with their family members. Having 3 different families who expect you to spend time with them could be very overwhelming, even for the most friendly and well-adjusted of teenagers.
3. Given that the son has had more of a relationship with your husband's ex-wife, it would appear that she has approached having a relationship with him in a way that worked better. Maybe you should ask her advice or follow her lead on how to re-initiate a connection with him.

Keep in mind that he already has a family, and any type of relationship he might have with you is just a bonus. I'd definitely go the route of acknowledging his graduation, but you may just need to pull back a bit on your expectations and let him determine if, when and how your relationship progresses.
posted by leitmotif at 10:28 AM on May 4, 2014 [13 favorites]

I think that this is the sort of thing where--the relationship is not actually a father/son relationship. But there is a familial sort of connection. It needs to be treated more like you'd treat things with, say, a nephew you don't see very often, or a cousin once removed? Which is to say, if you know the person is graduating, absolutely you send a card, maybe if you're in a position to do so you slip a little something into the card, you assume you probably aren't going to get a thank-you note because Kids These Days never do such things, but it'll probably be appreciated nonetheless.
posted by Sequence at 10:28 AM on May 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

What could possibly be the downside of acknowledging his graduation?

The possible downside is if the graduation acknowledgement is used as a passive aggressive guilting tool to make the kid feel bad for excluding the biodad. It doesn't seem like that will be an issue with the OP's husband, but it is a Thing That Happens in these situations sometimes and should obviously be avoided.
posted by elizardbits at 10:54 AM on May 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

The question states that the son is 25, not a teenager. This seems old enough to make good decisions about the role of his biological father in his life. Keep in touch and maybe one day he'll want a closer relationship but it's clear today is not that day.

I like the suggestion of a quick facebook message (to make it clear how you knew), followed by a card with a brief message.
posted by geegollygosh at 11:27 AM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Looking at your previous question about this, it looks like your husband gave up his son for adoption when you and he were already together, to a family you knew, which means your husband would have been able to contact him at any point in his childhood; you and he then went on to have more children. I would imagine that his son may feel rejected even more deeply than most adopted kids feel, even when they know it's not necessarily rational to feel that way.

You and your husband absolutely should respect this young man's boundaries about how much in-person contact he wants, but your husband should be expecting to do 100% of the initiating if he wants any contact at all with his son, because he's got a lot of years of abandonment to make up for. (I realize that adopting out a child is not the same as abandoning him, and that staying out of touch may have been well-intentioned on your husband's part, but I'm guessing his son didn't see things the same way for the twenty-so years your husband chose not to be part of his life.)

Send a frickin' card already.
posted by jaguar at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2014 [18 favorites]

And make sure the card comes from his father, talks extensively and enthusiastically about how proud his father is of him, and asks for absolutely nothing in return, not even a "We hope to see you soon."
posted by jaguar at 11:41 AM on May 4, 2014 [11 favorites]

First of all, your husband has no right to be hurt by this. None.

His son is friends with you on Facebook so presumably knows that you know he's graduating (unless he somehow knows that you haven't logged on in months). So yes, you and your husband should at least acknowledge it with a card.

Based on your past question, his biological mother seems to take a much more proactive role than your husband in the son's life. As such, chances are she knew graduation was coming up, asked for the details, and asked if she could come. Your husband can take a more proactive role too, if he wants.
posted by amro at 11:42 AM on May 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think your husband needs to step up more. How could he know his son was in college but not know the expected graduation date? Did he not ask when his son when he started college how long the course would take? He should have proactively acting him if there was anything he could do to help him in his final semester. From the previous question, I agree that to the son it looks like you two abandoned him (I know it is more complicated than that) and have not shown much investment in his life except for superficial phone calls and visits.
posted by saucysault at 11:50 AM on May 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yes, your husband/his father should send a card and perhaps a small gift/gift-card.

Based on your previous questions, where you say you've been married over 20 years and this is a child from a previous marriage, I'm assuming the boy is probably around 22. Yes, age 22 is somewhat more mature than age 18, but your husband is still the adult in this equation, and he really ought to act more mature too. A card and small gift really aren't big things, but they'll help build a bridge between the two of them.

But one thing (in this and your previous question) really stands out to me: how much your husband's ex-wife is involved. All the son really knows is what his birthmother, your husband's ex, has told him; he is acting and reacting based on that information --- not on information he has received from his birthfather/your husband. Perhaps your husband didn't want to drag his and his ex's dirty laundry out in front of their son, but what their son has been hearing for four years now is only his birthmother's version of why he was given up for adoption..... sure, she's told you that she told him she was at fault, but you do not actually know what she has told the boy.

Your husband has stood back and waited for their son to decide to come to him; the problem is, your husband's ex is acting as a gatekeeper, and none of you can actually trust that she is telling everyone the same things...... let alone whether she is telling everyone the truth! Your husband needs to reach out himself, not through you and definitely not through his ex: direct contact, between him and his son.
posted by easily confused at 12:01 PM on May 4, 2014

Best answer: In both of your questions it sounds like you and your husband feel hurt that he isn't doing more to make you guys feel wanted in his life. While i can understand why that feeling would arise, I don't think your expectations of him are exactly fair or reasonable once you consider both his youth and his potential perspective about his past.

Your husband gave him away when he was a baby then did not reach out to him for the boy's entire life up until a couple years ago. (To be clear, I think giving the boy up for adoption was the wisest choice, and clearly a difficult one.) You don't say whether he is more likely to think your husband gave him away because he "didn't want him" or because he "loved him so much that be wanted him to have a better life than he could provide for him."

But even in the best case he simply got used to the idea that your husband wouldn't be around. The child was "out of sight out of mind" to you and your husband while he got potty trained, started school, had birthdays... The first 95% of his life, your husband appeared uninterested in being part of his life milestones. Think seriously about what it would mean not to hear from someone on any birthday ever for your entire life. I'm not saying that makes you or your husband bad, but I do think it makes it frankly pretty ridiculous to be offended, hurt, or put out that you might be a bit "out of sight out of mind" to him or that he might not mention a milestone.

I understand feeling hurt, of course, but I still think you have to try to move past that feeling to one that puts the son's perspective and his possible feelings and reasons more at the center of your thoughts.

Add to that the normal teenager / young adult de-prioritizing of ceremony and milestones. I'd guess he didn't notify his parents or other relatives either. They probably just knew, based on his being a senior, or based on asking.

Long story short, you guys are the adults. It's your job to create a relationship (if you want to have one) by being a consistent presence in his life. If you send him Christmas and birthday cards every year and otherwise are a consistent presence, and he doesn't start reciprocating by the time he's say, 35 or 40 (ie, after you've still been around for less than half his life), then you will have enough evidence that he's not going to make you part of his life. But for now, I'd send him a card and a check (and not expect anything in return).
posted by salvia at 12:06 PM on May 4, 2014 [26 favorites]

I don't know, he probably figured a FB announcement would be enough to let you know. I would do that with people I didn't feel close to, but thought they should know.

The fact that he didn't send you guys an extra notice means he feels you are emotionally at the same distance at his other FB friends. You somehow feel entitled to more, because of the biological connection and the effort your husband puts into contacting him. But it doesn't work that way.

He's not currently interested in more than a superficial relationship. Particularly, he doesn't see the value of putting in the effort.

I kind of sympathize. After my parents' divorce I had little energy to spend on being proactive with my dad; he had to do all the work. Non traditional family configurations are complicated and require effort to maintain. He didn't get a say in this adoption thing and he isn't interested in the subsequent relationship hassle.

Where does that leave you? Continue putting in effort if you want to, but he doesn't owe you any reciprocity. So don't do it if your resentment builds up.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:07 PM on May 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

This doesn't answer the immediate question, but if your husband would like to be more involved, he should consider setting up a Facebook account. It sounds like the son is doing a lot of communicating via Facebook -- make it easy for the kid by having your husband go there.

To answer the immediate question: send a card and a small gift with a sincere note of congratulations. Do not be hurt.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:45 PM on May 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would definitely encourage your husband to send him a heartfelt card/note acknowledging son's hard work, how proud your husband feels as well as some non-extravagant gift...could be a check or something tangible that feels right to your husband (a book, perhaps.)

It is obviously very natural to feel hurt about not having been included or notified about the graduation. But, how is it that your husband/your family is in contact with this young man but had no idea he was in his final year of college? Based on your previous question, it sounds like there is a complicated past with the bio-mom but, if you husband wants to be more aware/involved in son's life, it could be beneficial to also open lines of communication with the adopted family and the bio-mom to stay abreast of happenings in the sons life. It is possible all these parties (including the son) see your husband (justly or unjustly) as uninterested or uncaring based on his lack of contact throughout the kids childhood or they may simply not understand or relate to the way your husband is choosing to reach out to the son and therefore may (justly or unjustly) deem his efforts "not genuine", and they all may reinforce this impression amongst each other. Or maybe not, who knows? But, my basic advice is if your husband wants to "level up" his relationship with his son someday in the future when the son is ready, he might have to stick his neck out and endure interpersonal awkwardness, hurt feelings, or reminders of past mistakes in order to earn his spot as someone who is a meaningful part of the son's life. And be OK with doing this and not having the son appreciate it. I don't think anything your husband ever did was wrong regarding his relationship with his son, but has he ever apologized to the son or taken responsibility for the hurt he caused him by not being there (even if it was done out of a desire to NOT hurt him)?

Note, tho: the graduation card is not the place to tackle all this stuff if he wants to tackle it, but maybe it would help make progress toward being more in the loop for the next milestone. Your husband should send the note/gift to keep the door open and show he cares.
posted by dahliachewswell at 1:12 PM on May 4, 2014

Response by poster: Answers to some of the questions: the son is 25 years old. My husband and his then estranged wife put their child up for adoption. They were already in the process of the divorce. It was her and her family's idea to do so, my husband was almost living in his car and had no reasonable means to properly care for the son. He NEVER would have given his consent if he had not been in that situation.

My husband never knew his biological father and his mother left a lot to be desired in the mothering, loving, supportive, nurturer department. She said my husband could live with her, not the child. That being said, the adoption was supposed to have been closed. After the adoption was finalized the ex wife attempted to stay in the periphery and meddle in the son's raising, until the adopted mom told her to BACK OFF. Side note, the adopted family lived 3 doors down from the ex wife's parents.

The ex wife contacted the son when he turned 18 and has forged a relationship with the son since then. She reached out to us after she had firmly re-established her relationship with the son. The family that adopted the son changed his name. My husband's initial e-mail contact with the son was spent apologizing for having agreed to the adoption. Their initial face to face contact was spent with my husband telling his "side" of the story regarding the decision to agree to the adoption.

My husband has done all that he knows to do to establish any kind of relationship the son wants. He gets that they aren't likely to be going on any father-son fishing trips anytime in the near future. My husband's attitude about this situation is very realistic. He does not have the same personality as the ex wife. Who in the son's words is "someone who does not take NO for an answer. "

By the son's own admission he was indifferent to the bio mom when she first reached out to him. He also told us she was relentless in her volume of communication with him. I got the idea she "wore him down" and he realized she wasn't going to go away, so that allowed a relationship to form. That is not my husband's m.o.

My husband did have a facebook page at one time, the son was friends with him there. The son has deleted that page and started over, he did not send a new friend request to my husband. My husband never gets on facebook, either. Plus, he has the son's cell number. My husband texts him. The son responds via text. The point is the communication is one sided. My husband is crystal clear that he is to expect NOTHING when he texts the son. He does text him because he wants the door to remain ajar. I know my husband hurts because of this. I suggested my husband send a card, which he will, with no expectations.
posted by getyourlife at 1:53 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just want to point out that sometimes college graduations have very limited tickets available. I think I could only have 3-4 people come to mine. It may be that he couldn't invite your husband to his graduation without displacing a closer relative, and not that he didn't want to.
posted by apricot at 2:06 PM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

" the adoption was supposed to have been closed. After the adoption was finalized the ex wife attempted to stay in the periphery and meddle in the son's raising, until the adopted mom told her to BACK OFF. "

"By the son's own admission he was indifferent to the bio mom when she first reached out to him. He also told us she was relentless in her volume of communication with him. I got the idea she "wore him down" and he realized she wasn't going to go away, so that allowed a relationship to form. That is not my husband's m.o."

"My husband did have a facebook page at one time, the son was friends with him there. The son has deleted that page and started over, he did not send a new friend request to my husband."

Honestly I don't see how it can be made any clearer that your husband's son is not interested. This may change in the future, but at least for now he finds the situation weird. This was legally supposed to be a CLOSED adoption and despite that the bio mom has a history of forcing herself into this child's life. I can't imagine that he or his adoptive family feels comfortable about this. Sorry, but your husband as well as his ex seem to be putting this kid (though he's 25) in a precarious position. It seems to me he doesn't like this situation at all, but is trying to be polite. Your husband has reached out to him. He knows how to contact your husband so if he wants to do that, he'll do that. Otherwise I think you guys should give him space and see if he initiates communication at some point. If he doesn't then you both just have to accept that he's not interested.
posted by manderin at 3:08 PM on May 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

As someone who's been estranged from her father for half her life, if he wants a relationship with his kid, then he should just keep trying in a low-key way. Yes, he should acknowledge his graduation. He should acknowledge anything and everything he can. He shouldn't expect anything. He just has to be there.

It doesn't seem fair, and it probably isn't. But when you are a kid who's been abandoned by your parent (which is an emotional status, not a rational/logical one), it doesn't matter what's fair. Rationally, I don't think that my dad tried to abandon me, but I absolutely felt that way, AND BLAMED MYSELF FOR IT, for at least a decade.

And I think he probably blamed himself, too. I think that might be part of why he faded away. But honestly, as the grown-up, it's on your husband. If he wants this relationship, he has to keep making the effort. And it may be years, decades, or maybe it will never actually work out. He needs to accept that. I was so hurt by circumstances that I don't think I would have been open to a real relationship for maybe ten years. Maybe not really until now. I know that's not fair. But my dad didn't keep trying that long. He faded away a long time ago, and I don't actually even know whether he's still alive. And these days, he gets more of the blame for that than I do; I was a kid, and he let my underdeveloped emotional state end our relationship.

Maybe being "worn down" by his biological mother is what he needed to feel wanted. Even if he acts like that's annoying (even if it actually IS annoying). It's totally fair for your husband to feel hurt right now, but you have to realize the hurt that the kid has had to live with, and as a kid, didn't necessarily have the actual resources to understand and deal with. If your husband wants the relationship, he may need to be the better man, for longer than he thinks he should, and maybe longer than he thinks he CAN, if that relationship is what he really wants.
posted by emumimic at 3:10 PM on May 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Do you know very much about adoption outside of your own family's narrative? Because while I am sympathetic to both you and your husband, I can't help feeling like you lack a fundamental understanding of this relationship in a wider context. Have you, for example, done any research or reading at all about adult adoptees? Because there are some key things I think you're failing to take note of.

First of all, successful reunions are exceedingly rare. Millions of parents who give their children up find their adult children have zero interest in them or are so angry they refuse contact absolutely. The fact that your husband's son is willing to acknowledge and speak to any of you at all is a huge win. Second of all, when adult children do seek contact with a birth parent, it is overwhelmingly with the birth mother. Interest in birth fathers is often cursory or non-existent. The fact your husband's son has any relationship with him at all is, again, a huge win.

Second of all, I'm sorry your husband's feelings are hurt but he needs to set his feelings aside. His son is fully entitled to ignore, berate, exclude, blame and hate your husband. Anything your husband gets above and beyond that is a gift, a gift of enormous generosity. Your husband can honour that gift by not being petty about the gifts he isn't getting, like graduation invitations. He can also honor his son by sending a card to mark a significant milestone in his life.

See also this previous answer. I would give the same advice with one simple revision: Sorry this sucks for you, but you're not the one who was placed for adoption at the age of 1, which sucks harder.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:55 PM on May 4, 2014 [27 favorites]

I understand where you are coming from with this: your husband is hurt by this situation, and you love him and want him to be happy and not hurting. It sounds like your husband understands and respects his son's boundaries, which is good. Here's the thing - some adopted kids want a close relationship with their biological parents, and some do not want one at all. Some are curious about genetic things but don't want much beyond that. It's all individual.

It seems that your husband's son is cool with occasional contact, but doesn't want much more than that; even though it might suck for your husband, he should respect those boundaries. Sending a card seems to me like it would be be within the boundaries.
posted by bedhead at 4:02 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

As the mother of kids whose father has blamed everyone but the pope for his choices as a father, your defense of your husband in your followup sounds very familiar. It was his wife's idea, it was his only option, it was his mother's rule, it's now the son's choice. All excuses. Your husband has had two decades to build/resume/negotiate a relationship with his son, and he hasn't done it. Of course he should send a card. At least.
posted by headnsouth at 5:07 PM on May 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

I'm in my 40s and only recently made face-to-face contact with my bio mom. Over the years, she has sent gifts for the holidays and the occasional letter, and I've sporadically responded.

Only as I've approached middle age have I realized how important to me it is that I understand her story. And have begun to see her as a person who may need to tell it, too--and however much I personally might have been hurt in that story, I want to know it and to value her regardless. Honestly, that takes time and perspective and for some people never happens at all.

In the meantime, over the years, she made it clear that she was always open to contact, but never ever pushed.

Your husband doesn't want his son to re-establish a relationship with him for the same reasons the son did so with the ex-wife. That sucks both for the son and also for the ex-wife, who doesn't even know he's only reciprocating because she wore him down.

Your husband should send cards/gifts/occasional notes and just wait for responses, which may come years down the road, or never. He should never take a lack of response personally. He could maybe tell his son explicitly, if you would prefer no-contact, please feel free to say so. It seems to me that they already have the basis for a more honest relationship, as the son has confided to him how he feels about his contact with the ex-wife.

Good luck to you both.
posted by torticat at 5:07 PM on May 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Adoption is complicated. I've been stand offish with my biological father even though he and my siblings (and his wife) all matter more than I can say, but I ahve obligations and feelings of my adoptive family to worry about, and it's really overwhelming when I see them. Like I get sad if they don't invite me to things, but I don't go when they do.

I like to be invited.

I would say keep the door open and try to make a brief contact every year or so in case he wants to know he is cared about.

My biological mom is stand off and tries to respect that "I'm not hers" when I sort of want her to take on a stronger role of being there for me-- however then I get defensive if she DOES assume she might be invited to things or be called "grandmother" to my children, suddenly I get defensive reaction "You weren't there!" even though I want her to be there.

A lot of adoptees would rather keep to the narrative they grew up with, it's sort of a mantra for a lot of adoptees I know "Adoptive parents are your real family, none of that other stuff matters, who cares, it's not a big deal" That's the accepted narrative and it's a safe narrative and it keeps you going. Exploring and actually real life realtionship with your biological family that is more than a visit once a year tends to bring on a LOT of emotions that sort of break that narrative up and sometimes it goes terribly for everyone.To get back to normal you almost need to demonize the biological family to prove why you can get them our of your thoughts and life and put them back in their place, deleted. It's messy.

And often adoptees that I know project disinterest when there are a lot more emotions involved. This doesn't mean to keep pestering them or disrespecting their wishes if they pull back, it just means making sure they know the door is open, and taking initiative to keep a reminder about that every now and again.

Twenty five is still pretty young to sort out feelings about adoption, a lot of 25 year olds are still excited to be rid of dealing with parents and haven't reached the later ages when things are hard and many people start missing and valuing their family-- it's hard enough to do that for the family who DID raise you, family that's even more distant it takes a lot of emotional growth to see them as relevant beings who might be worth knowing and honoring-- especially when our cultural narrative about biological parents is that they are meaningless and deserve being discarded.

My half sister called our biological mother her "egg donor" growing up and said she never cared about it, and didn't agree to meet any of us into her mid 20's, until she got a letter from me saying I wanted to meet her-- she said she emotionally felt hit with a brick thinking "OMG did our biological mother keep my sister?" I wasn't kept either, so it was easier for her, but she was totally surprised she had any emotions at all, let alone big emotions.

Adoptees often have a lot of pressure to feel a particular way about adoption, we have to worry about how our adoptive parents both verbally and subconsciously want us to feel (that the adoptive parents are the only real parents) how society wants us to feel (that the adoptive parents are the only real family but that you should have a nice "aaaw the bioparents matter for a few seconds before they get shoved back into the distance" and meeting the bioparents serves as a reminder that the bioparents don't matter and the adoptive family is all that matters so good to have that visit over and done with , case closed. The idea of really seeing the biological parents as real family members that matters makes the whole... fact they weren't there a little more awkward.

To top all of that off, most of us feel that if our adoptive parents lost us they would have been destroyed, and if we lost our kids, we would be severely damaged. So as an adoptee you can either have a biological parent who loves their kids like we do.... and knowing their pain is unbearable is hard to face--- OR of course, maybe the bioparents DONT love their kids the same... maybe they aren't in pain because they really didn't care if you were there or not.

Either one of those outcomes and even the shades of grey can be hard to stomach. My mother was really damaged by losing my sister and I and that is hard for me to deal with. My dad moved on with his life pretty well... and that is also hard to deal with.

As a parent, your husband should expect to do the bulk of the emotional work here, and to handle whatever absence or closeness his kid needs from you, thinking of their perspective. No matter what, our kids don't always like us or want a relationship with us in adulthood--- even if you raised them well. All you can do is make sure they know you are always there if you need them and you respect their wishes if they need space. And if he can kind of internally agree to take on whatever his son has dealt with in the space without him, it may help the interactions- because he's ready to own the difficult emotions as one would do for their child. If this is hard for his son, a parent should want to move mountains to heal that and be there for it, however messy it is, and however shitty the kid might behave about it.
posted by xarnop at 6:40 PM on May 4, 2014 [16 favorites]

Both DarlingBri and Xarnop write excellently about some issues with adoption that are not widely understood. I can see you marked them "best answers" which is great. One thing that jumped out at me from your update is this:

The family that adopted the son changed his name. My husband's initial e-mail contact with the son was spent apologizing for having agreed to the adoption.

I understand that your husband is going through a lot of pain and emotions and regret here but, man, I'd be seriously thrown by getting an apology from my biological mom for giving me up for adoption. I don't know what the son's adopted family was like but since they all showed up at his graduation (like you would for your kid), clearly they have some kind of relationship. And nothing you've said has indicated the adopted family was anything but a loving environment to be raised in. Every family has its ups and downs, some more extreme than others. But the adoption narrative is that one set of parents could not care for a child and so, as an act of love, they gave that child to another family to raise with all the care they would give to one of their natural own. By raking himself over the coals for his son, he's asking for his son to forgive him which seems inappropriate, at best. If the son had a good life, what is he to say to this grown man who wishes now that he had never given his son that good life? If he had a bad life, how is he to forgive the father who gave him up into this bad life?

To be short, that's a really complicated head space to put someone in. Your husband overstepped his bounds there. Greatly. And if son was already feeling manipulated by the emotions of his bio-mom, I'm not surprised he's keeping your husband at arm's length. When I talk, carefully, with my biological mother about our shared history, I can see the pain in her eyes. I have a young child. I can't imagine how painfully difficult it would be to give her away. But, my bio-mom has stopped short of apologizing or asking forgiveness or putting any of that situation on me. I really appreciate that.

Is your husband in therapy? I feel like this regret and remorse should be dealt with in a professional setting. If he wants to be a good father and a good man, he'll work through his pain in an adult way. I also agree with everyone who says that he should keep the door open. Honestly, he opened this door and he doesn't have a right to close it.
posted by amanda at 8:31 PM on May 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

A theme that's come up in a few of these awesome answers is that your husband needs to remember that he is the parent in this situation; even if he didn't raise his son, he needs to function as a parent in that he needs to be putting his son's needs above his own and making the effort to keep the lines of communication open even if his son is not. Somehow what you've written makes it seem like you, or maybe you and your husband, somehow see his relationship with his son as one of equals, where they both need to put in equal effort. Regardless (or, in some ways, because) of your husband's absence from your son's life, he needs to step up now as a parent in the sense of providing unconditional love and support and not expecting his son to manage his emotions for him.
posted by jaguar at 9:11 PM on May 4, 2014

Sending a card is almost literally the least your husband could do. It would be a lovely gesture to send something suitable for a landmark life event, something to somehow 'make amends' for missing all the other landmarks in your husbands sons life.
posted by stevedawg at 3:20 AM on May 5, 2014

This isn't a relationship of equals or on of parents. This is a relationship of acquaintances. A card is nice, but stop expecting the son (an adult, not "technically adult") to do specific things. Your husband doesn't get to make expectations of him.

Treating this person as "just a kid" who doesn't understand the consequences of their actions is not only disrespectful, but pretty sure to alienate him. If he didn't talk about graduation with you, it's because it wasn't a big deal to him to let you guys know.
posted by spaltavian at 7:31 AM on May 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Comments removed - direct answers towards the OP and answer the question being asked please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:36 AM on May 6, 2014

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