Hey, I think we know each other genetically
February 27, 2016 5:47 AM   Subscribe

If you fathered a child as a result of a one-night-stand nearly forty years ago, would you want to know?

Hi! I am the result of a one-night-stand between a high school student and an army guy she met at a party in the 1970's. They never saw each other again. I was given up for adoption and have since reconnected with my biological mother. My biological father does not know that I exist, but I know his name and his hometown. I've found a likely candidate on the interwebs but have just sat on the information for several years. I'm wondering if I should get in touch.

On the one hand, I am a curious person who is interested in learning more about my family history. On the other hand, this fellow literally has NO CLUE that I exist and I need to acknowledge that disclosing my existence might be a total bombshell for him and his family. Reconnecting with my bio-mom and her family has been mostly positive, but there were some hard questions and hurt feelings along the way. Still, I think it's been overall a good thing. Bio-mom gave me her blessing to go forth and find him if I want, but she asked me to let her know if I do so that she can figure out whether or not she wants to be involved in any way.

I'm waffling between my own desire to know more and what I imagine it would be like for him to have a 38-year-old just appear out of the blue and be all "guess what, it's a girl!". Obviously I wouldn't show up at his front door with a box of pink cigars. This question isn't about HOW to do it, this question is about whether or not TO do it in the first place.

Although I'm certain that everyone's got an opinion, I'm particularly interested in the opinions of the menfolk of Metafilter who are of retirement age. You lived through the 70's, you had some wild times, you moved on. Would you want to know, now, after living nearly 40 years without knowing?

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Manfolk of Metafilter that lived through the 80s here, so not quite near retirement age, but of an age that I could theoretically have an unknown 20-something year old kid out there from my college years.

This guy may be your biological father, but he is not your father, if you know what I mean. He was a sperm donor. I wouldn't want to know, and if I were you I don't think I would even be curious like you are. I'm not criticizing your curiosity. I've got several friends that were adopted and we've have this conversation. Some of them went looking, some took a "my parents are the people that raised me" attitude and simply don't care about who their biological parents are.

I'm trying to imagine how you calling would impact "dad's" life, and honestly, I'm not seeing much upside for him.
posted by COD at 6:16 AM on February 27, 2016

Mr. gudrun says yes. He suspects he is about the same age as your bio-Dad and says he would definitely want to know if he had a kid out there, though whether that would inspire any kind of relationship would really depend on the personalities of everyone involved.

But, individuals vary, and his thinking is majorly influenced by him also being the child of a one night stand (in his case in the 1950's), though his father (now dead), always knew he existed and that he had been given up for adoption. Mr. gudrun generally is of the opinion that truth is usually better. He is actually contemplating doing a version of the same thing himself - reaching out to members of his birth father's family.

He has found and met bio Mom though they are no longer in touch (though they both know how to do that if they would want to.) Her kids (all in their 30's and 40's) did not know about him and she did not want to tell them so he let it go. It was not the easiest reunion, but he is still happy he did it, if only for the medical history he received being helpful to have.
posted by gudrun at 6:20 AM on February 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'd want to know.
posted by chasles at 6:21 AM on February 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

(Coming back to add, Mr. gudrun is thinking of reaching out to a bio second cousin who is heavily into genealogy. He does not want to contact his bio Dad's daughter directly without sending out some feelers first to someone less emotionally involved, since bio Dad is dead.)
posted by gudrun at 6:27 AM on February 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

YES! Three things:

1) My father in law is 70 and is a serious genealogist. By registering with 23&Me he discovered he'd fathered a child before my husband and his brother were born. It was during one night he was on shore leave from the Navy. He contacted the son, also a member of 23&Me, but hasn't heard back. It makes him sad. He desperately wants to get to know this person.

2) I was adopted at birth in 1969. In 2013, after 25 years of searching, I found my birth family. I didn't necessarily expect relationships; I just wanted to know. Today I fight against secrecy in adoption laws. Birth mothers were not promised anonymity; that's a myth. Secrecy in adoption laws benefit adoptive parents, not relinquishing parents. Today I have wonderful relationships with all of my birth family; they were unflinchingly loving and welcoming from day one. I was, however, prepared (I think, as much as I could have been) for it to go the other way. And I have plenty of adopted friends who had bad reunions or were flat out denied.

3) I'm of the opinion no one has the duty or right to protect people, or to themselves be protected, from knowing about genetic relatives. In fact, this is written into the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (which the US refused to sign):

Article 8

1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.

2. Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.

posted by ImproviseOrDie at 6:43 AM on February 27, 2016 [23 favorites]

Yes. I might need bone marrow. The kid might need bone marrow. The kid's children might need bone marrow. My kid might need...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:49 AM on February 27, 2016 [10 favorites]

I am old enough to (theoretically, as far as I know) have a 20 year old show up unexpectedly, though not a 38 year old. Yes, I would want to know, though I would need time to process it, and it might create some complications. But everyone is different and just because some of us would want to know does not tell you anything about this person (assuming that you found the right person, of course).
posted by Dip Flash at 6:56 AM on February 27, 2016 [8 favorites]

A friend of mine was in a similar situation. She tracked down her bio parents when she was in her mid 30s. I don't know what transpired between her and her bio dad, but she found out she had two half siblings, his children, one of whom had died in an accident just a few months prior to her tracking that side of the family down. She and her "new" sister have been able to support each other through the loss of their brother, which I think has a worth that outweighs any discomfort her biological father may have felt at learning he had a daughter.
posted by phunniemee at 6:58 AM on February 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

My guy might want a dna test (cheek swab), but this would be complicated and cool.

On a personal note, my friend's adopted parents died of age-related matters. She is happy to have found more family, so yes, there are needs. Not always a match, but worth having the conversation, over time, about what this relationship might evolve to be.
posted by childofTethys at 7:17 AM on February 27, 2016

In my 50s here. I would not want to know at this point. I would have wanted to know when you were much younger and we could/might have had a relationship then, but not now after 35+ years. I don't think I would react poorly, but it would be more of a curiosity than me feeling any sort of kinship or wanting a relationship.
posted by AugustWest at 7:21 AM on February 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Speaking as the mother of a boy I gave up for adoption in 1969, I would be thrilled to meet him. It turned out he was the only child I ever had. I don't know if we'd have a relationship, but I'd love to just see him. Just a data point.
posted by dbmcd at 7:31 AM on February 27, 2016 [10 favorites]

As a person who was adopted at birth (in 1969, dbmcd...), I've never had the urge to find my birth family, but I'd certainly be fine with them contacting me. I'd say go for it.
posted by Huck500 at 7:56 AM on February 27, 2016

I'm in my 60's, I would not want to know.

But, everyone is different, you'll not get a definitive answer on this, only opinion from personal perspectives.

Do what you feel led to do...
posted by HuronBob at 8:09 AM on February 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Reasons to do it:

1. Information on full medical history.
2. Possibility to meet more family & understand your family tree.
3. A greater understanding to see if you're anything like him (nature vs. nurture).

I'm speaking from the position of your great granddaughter. The identity of my great-great grandfather is a complete mystery -- it's very likely he never even knew. The only clue we have about him is the genetic illness that passed down from him. I often wonder about him & wish I knew more about his side of the family.
posted by mochapickle at 8:21 AM on February 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you read this post? There's a lot of good input there as well. (Including mine.)

posted by Vaike at 8:25 AM on February 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

My 40 year-old friend did this recently. She wrote a snail-mail letter, asking basically for medical information, and placing zero expectations on the father, who had a family. He was shocked and initially very non-communicative. After about a year he initiated more contact, and they have now met in person. I say go for it, but keep your expectations low and let the father proceed on his own terms.
posted by megancita at 8:49 AM on February 27, 2016 [10 favorites]

I love having my half-sisters, so from the perspective of other family (i.e. his kids and their kids) I would definitely want to be connected.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:21 AM on February 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

This happened to a friend of ours. Retired professional guy, one daughter in her 40s, married to his second wife for 20 years or so. He got a registered letter one day saying basically "if you are the John Smith who went to X college in Y year, I think you are my father". Initial complete shock, but it has turned out to be a pretty fabulous thing for all of them. Both women-and his recently discovered daughter was 50-were thrilled after an adjustment period to learn they had a sister. His wife has been very supportive. I say go for it-he will decide what level of contact he wants, if any, but by not contacting him you aren't giving him the choice.
posted by purenitrous at 9:31 AM on February 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

Not old enough to have a 38-year-old, but like others, I'm old enough to have a twenty-something child. I would want to know. I would have wanted to know much earlier, but knowing now is better than never knowing.
posted by jzb at 9:52 AM on February 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Howdy. It is impossible for a bunch of Internet strangers to predict how this person will react. Since children don't ask to be born, I believe your desire to make contact outweighs any theoretical unhappiness or happiness of your biological father. My advice? Just don't have any expectations whatsoever.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:11 AM on February 27, 2016 [18 favorites]

Should note, I am an adoptive mother in a kind of, sort of open adoption with a daughter who's about to turn 21.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:11 AM on February 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm of the opinion that there exists the possibility that the consequences of one's actions be a thing that may be known in the world. Not that men who father children from one night stands should be judged harshly, if at all. It's really up to you. Both you and your mom had to go through life with this information. Why should men be kept ignorant that this is a thing that actually happens?
posted by alusru at 10:47 AM on February 27, 2016 [36 favorites]

One of my nieces never met her bio-dad: my sister purposely got pregnant and never told the guy, just raised my niece on her own. In her 20s, Niece found her father, but was reluctant to contact him; she was worried how he might react, or how his wife or younger kids would take it. The sad part here is that by the time my niece did reach out, when she was about 30, she was too late: turns out he died about six months earlier. Also turns out that he knew she existed: my sister wrote him when Niece was in her teens, but he never initiated contact himself because he wasn't sure how she'd feel about him.

The bright part is that bio-dad's wife and their two daughters have fully accepted Niece, and consider her part of their family, too.
posted by easily confused at 11:08 AM on February 27, 2016 [8 favorites]

I know several guys who would want to know, and a rare few others who wouldn't. (This has been a discussion topic - there are various varieties of adoptees among my friends and family, along with "complicated" bio-parent circumstances.)

I can totally understand why you'd at least want to make contact. It's not just the bio-father, it's the potential other relatives, and this can go one of three ways:

It can be negative, where no one wants anything to do with you. Be prepared to let it go and walk away if necessary.
It can be positive, where you're welcomed into an extended family.
It can be mixed reactions, varying among people, and even start at one of the above extremes and migrate toward the other over time.

As I said, so long as you're reasonable discreet and contact him first, there's little risk of harm except for your emotional reaction to his possible rejection.

Even if you *are* rejected by him, at some point when he passes, it's still okay to potentially contact siblings. Or even before, so long as they're adults. Parents don't get to decide or control contact between adult siblings, and THAT bond is potentially far stronger and longer lasting than the parent bond.

As always, how things go is hugely dependent on the personalities of those involved. Just be sure you're emotionally prepared, open the door but don't push, and make sure that they know you don't want anything other than the opportunity to get to know them.
posted by stormyteal at 11:34 AM on February 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

The entire premise of this ask sounds to me like "I am far more worried about potentially hurting my father's feelings than I am about my own needs or reasons for wanting to contact him." This isn't really surprising, since there is deep cultural bias regarding women being expected to perform emotional labor. But, the stakes for you here include getting access to potentially life-saving information about family medical history. In light of that, I think worrying about how your dad will feel is worrying about the wrong thing.

I think you should contact him because you want to contact him. Obviously, you shouldn't be an insensitive jerk in how you handle it, but I also think you shouldn't take total responsibility for his feelings either. He made the choice to get laid. He can man up and deal with the fact that a child resulted.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 1:56 PM on February 27, 2016 [14 favorites]

A little over a year ago I was able to find my adopted son's bio dad. It turned out that bio dad never had any other kids and is delighted to have a relationship with my son. My son is 45, had his first kid a few months ago, so bio dad gets to be a grandpa too. All in all, it's been like finding a new family member that we all like a lot. It may have made it easier that bio dad is not currently married.

Can you tell if he has a wife and kids? That can make it more complicated

Assure him you're not looking for money, you're not looking to disrupt his life, you're just interested in knowing medical history. If he refuses even that then back off, maybe he'll come around.

I hope it works out.
posted by mareli at 3:06 PM on February 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Not retirement age, but I'd be very happy to know I had a daughter, though some kind of tactful approach would be wise.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:26 PM on February 27, 2016

My cousin was the father in this scenario, but sadly he died right before his daughter connected with the family. They never knew each other. Sorry to be a downer; but I think you should connect and sooner rather then later.
posted by soakimbo at 5:00 PM on February 27, 2016

Mr. Raisingsand just said he would want to know. We are 60 now, and have always wondered about stuff like this, and joked about what would happen if someone showed up at the door. We would both want to know, and I believe our kids would be very happy to know, also. We are the kind of family that would just "draw our circle wider."

For another data point, we have a friend who did have this happen. Turns out, he never married and had no kids that he knew of, so his daughter's arrival in his life was a wonderful and happy bonus. They are very much alike and very close.

I think you should tell him, with the understanding that he might or might not welcome the knowledge.
posted by raisingsand at 5:21 PM on February 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hi, retired ex- grunt here. I'd want to know, you deserve to know your family history, medical and social. That said, I'd probably feel guilty and handle the first few days badly.

I think I'd like a letter first, one saying its possible or probable I'm a father,rather than just a " Hi Dad, you don't know me, but..." It would be good if you could say your childhood was okay.

If he's a jerk about it you still have a right to talk to any aunts or uncles etc. G'luck.
posted by ridgerunner at 5:24 PM on February 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

I won't know until my mother dies, and she may have destroyed the paperwork but the family stories are that there is a possible half brother out there. I know most of my siblings would very much want to know and be in contact, and would welcome a half-sibling.

I'm also possibly not my dad's biological daughter, but that didn't matter to him when I asked towards the end. I've decided not to pursue that for now because it's just too much for me right now due to other stuff. When/if I do pursue that, I'm not worried about that part at all because I feel strongly that it's not my responsibility to manage his feelings.

I was thinking about your question because I just came back from a meeting to sort out some stuff for kids who are half-siblings to my children, by adoption. I have no legal or blood obligation to these kids, but I feel an immense emotional and ethical responsibility to them because they matter to my children and now to me. I am the adult in a parental-like role and they are children with far less control and power than me in this relationship, so I it's important for me to make space for their voices and their lives actively and to prioritise them ahead of me in shared decisions.

You should put yourself first here. It's not your job to protect his feelings. It's kind of you to do this carefully and slowly, but don't sacrifice the chance to connect with family and history over the risk of offending his feelings. Even if you do, that's his responsibility as a parent, not yours.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:18 PM on February 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I meet your criteria. I don't know if I WANT to know, but I would want to know, if you know what I mean(!). It would rock my boat, my children's boats. I would probably be uneasy about why you were contacting me now. But I would want to know because of our biological connection, and I would feel regret at not knowing you sooner, and a desire to get to know you now.

How that would play out is anyone's guess. How I would ACTUALLY respond should this become real and I find my adult child on my metaphorical doorstep tomorrow, that might different too - it's easy to pontificate, but when it becomes real...

I think that the important things are - what do you want to do, and giving your biological father the choice as to whether he wants to meet/contact. Sleeping with your mother did not come with a privacy guarantee, and even back then we knew how babies were made, so actions have consequences, and if one of those consequences comes knocking it's time to man up.
posted by GeeEmm at 8:05 PM on February 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's so hard to say. If my husband had fathered a child before we met, even I would want to know, because my biggest regret about not having had children is not having had his children. If this man were also childless for whatever reason, he might take some comfort in knowing that he was leaving something of himself behind in the world.
posted by tully_monster at 11:00 PM on February 27, 2016

My uncle-in-law fathered a daughter when he was in the armed forces and never knew. She contacted him and they met a couple years ago and he was really happy to have done so. The whole family has welcomed her.
posted by bookdragoness at 7:18 AM on February 28, 2016

You probably want to do a lot of soul-searching on this one, and discuss it with your support systems of people, and think carefully about it. I'll tell you why. There are five basic scenarios here, and each plays out very different.

You don't make contact scenario 0 / the null hypothesis. You have a father out there, you don't contact him. His life goes on the way it is, your life goes on the way it is. You wonder what could have been.

You make contact:

It's a positive experience for him, it's a positive experience for you scenario 1.
it's a positive experience for him, it's a negative experience for you scenario 2.
It's a negative experience for him, it's a positive experience for you scenario 3.
It's a negative experience for him, it's a negative experience for you scenario 4.

Now, you have no idea what is going to happen. Most likely, you are thinking about #1, you may be thinking about #4, you may be thinking about #3, you are probably not thinking about #2. That is based on the (few) people I've known who've gone down this road.

In scenario 1, the contact is an overall positive experience for both of you, well done.

In scenario 2, he's quite happy you made contact, but you're not. And this could be for a number of reasons. Imagine he's quite lonely, destitute, or has a mental health disorder. You open the door, he learns he has a son, and he wants to keep in contact and build a relationship. You don't. What happens then? Are you willing / able to walk away from him? How would you feel if things go poorly for you but positive for him?

In scenario 3, he's not happy you made contact, but you are. You may open a door that changes his life in some unknown way, and it's all well and good to say that he walks away, but who knows that indelible impression may be left there? You are talking about modifying another person's life because of your own curiosity. Once that curiosity is satisfied, then what?

In scenario 4, neither of you are happy that the contacts been made. Maybe you are disappointed, and he is angry. Maybe there's no chemistry. This could be something innocuous, or it could be something quite disruptive.

As said, I've known a few situations where it worked out, and a few where it hasn't. The most telling example of the later was one where a friend really wanted to contact his father after many many years. He came very close, even going so far as to contact an intermediary to take the contact details and an introduction.

The intermediary cautioned him off, because he said "look, you're curious and I get that. But your father is not well. You are not going to like what you find, for he's not what you think. I can tell you that. If you get in touch with him, he is going to want a real, firm connection with you. He values family over everything. Right now, he doesn't have any connection with you. If you make one, he is going to want that to be a serious connection. And he's a very difficult man in very difficult circumstances. Think about him and where he is before you do this. Think about if it's really fair to him."

Every situation is going to be different, and I'll just flag the caution that you are considering opening what could be a very powerful connection here – and powerful is not always positive. I would consider all the possible implications, where you are in your life, and what kind of connection you are looking for, and your deepest motivations for doing this before getting in touch.
posted by nickrussell at 6:56 PM on February 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

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