Long lost father is trying to contact me.
April 9, 2006 2:33 AM   Subscribe

My father who I never knew, is trying to contact me. Should I bother?

Long story short: I've grown up since 1963 not knowing where my father is. He abandoned our family. This last week, I had a relative contact me out of the blue saying she is my half-sister. She has been afraid to approach me, even via email, because she fears once I find out where my real father is, I'll try and hurt him. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyway, she sent me a long email describing my father and she went into great detail describing a life my brother and I should have had. Basically, my father was an awesome guy - just with a different family. This email left me speechless. It described a father who is much like me, I think. Just thinking about this email is freaking me out. It's like someone describing the life you could have had.

I've harbored a shitload of baggage over the years because of my self-perceived rootlessness. Anger, depression, you name it. Therapy helped and I've come to a certain peace with that. This just throws a huge wrench in those gears.

Should I even bother pursuing this? Let sleeping dogs lie? I'd be interested in hearing any similar stories and any advice you might have for handling a situation like this. This is all new territory for me.
posted by KevinSkomsvold to Human Relations (59 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Whatever peace you had was based on the concept that you'd never find him. That peace is irrevocably destroyed. You now need to make one of two new peaces -- the peace of choosing to walk away, or the peace of learning a part of your story.
posted by effugas at 2:55 AM on April 9, 2006

Thanks effugas. I decided to check this thread before I try to sleep. I like what you said; especially the the last part.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:59 AM on April 9, 2006

I am completely and utterly unimpressed by genes and blood. If there are any relatives that deserve the least bit of my lasting affection or spare minutes of my curiosity or concern (above the ordinary friend or random person), it is those who cared and invested in me, when there was nothing I could possibly offer them but the burden of care.

Walk away, this man is a stranger to you.
posted by dgaicun at 3:07 AM on April 9, 2006 [2 favorites]

Is he trying to contact you, or is she?
posted by salvia at 3:25 AM on April 9, 2006

effugas is wise.
posted by Wolof at 3:43 AM on April 9, 2006

I can't speak to the situation of being a son abandoned by a father, but I can speak to being a son who has recently lost a father, and to being a father split from his sons by an awkward divorce. As I see from your blog that you're a family man, with a child of his own, maybe something I can offer from these views may have meaning for you, too.

From the perspective of a son who recently lost his father: West Point graduates speak of "the long gray line" and their own place in the continuum of that linkage of people into the past and future. In some way, we are all part of a biological long gray line, and there is, I think, always some natural curiosity to see the face that is ours, but one generation older, in order to be able to tell of it to any faces that may come from us, and are also ours, but one generation younger. Fathers do not live forever, and if you are to have any answers about this man for the faces that came later, you have to get them while this man is alive. So, you have not only your own curiosity and natural needs for recognition, explanation, and closure, but some hope of your own, perhaps, to echo to those who come through you. For your children to have a grandfather they know, you have some responsibility to try. At some point, even if you want to pickup the phone, you can't any longer, and that's that, in the long gray line.

From the perspective of an awkwardly divorced father: It wasn't my idea to be divorced from my boy's mother, or that she have sole custody, but it was the general way things were done in America in the early 1970's. I didn't agree with most of their mother's choices for them, but I sent all the child support checks on time, and more. In return, I got a dozen or so summer vacations of 6 weeks or so, to be a father in a city a 1000 miles from where they lived. And I got to hear about their stepfather, and their lives back there, and bite back any comments or criticisms that would have been confusing to the strained loyalties of young boys far from home, and do what I could to be who I was, where I was. Awkwardness breeds awkwardness, and one thing doesn't lead to another, so to speak. Around 1987, I found I didn't want to force myself into the lives of young men who didn't want themselves to be criticized or advised by a summer man. Ten years can pass quickly, and once a decade of silence is in place, it doesn't matter who sent the last birthday card, or who called who last on Christmas, until it is time to bury someone in your long gray line. Silence borne long enough can become perversely and awkwardly cherished, on both sides. Until someone picks up a phone, out of family duty if nothing else, and someone else answers, and doesn't hang up until awkwardness is lived through. Takes, oh, about 30 minutes, in my humble experience...
posted by paulsc at 3:52 AM on April 9, 2006

I agree with effugas - your prior peace was predicated on a much different reality. I would add that if you had good luck with your former therapist, seek him/her out again to talk about this new development. They will be able to work with you to help you decide how to best handle this situation. You will also probably need them to sort things out if you should decide to reconnect with this man.

It is inevitable that you will feel pain and resentment, no matter what the circumstances of his abandonment turn out to be. It's really tough to shed early trauma. The best that you can do is to keep talking about it and recognize that it will always be a sore spot. The key is to make it part of you, not push it away. I know this from personal experience.

Good luck.
posted by Flakypastry at 4:01 AM on April 9, 2006

Follow your heart. It know better than what I could tell you.
posted by Postroad at 4:18 AM on April 9, 2006

Best of luck to you, Kevin, in finding some peace in the midst of all this. I think salvia had an important point -- is your father interested in contacting you or just his daughter? I'd hate to see you get rejected twice, yet people do change and experience regret and may want to make things "right."

While I am not adopted, I do think that the experiences of folks trying to locate their birth family or vice versa may be of interest to you. Sometimes it works out well and sometimes it doesn't. You might want to check out this forum. There are many stories for you to ponder, not entirely unlike your own. :)
posted by bim at 5:26 AM on April 9, 2006

I had an ex whose father contacted him in a very similar way after my ex hadn't seen him for 27 years. I think it may make a difference if the person doing the contacting is the actual person who left, or just an interested family member. My ex went to see his Dad and while it didn't really give him the huge closure he felt like he was looking for, it was a good thing for him to meet the person who was responsible for half his genetic makeup, as well as a whole bunch of other family members he had never known before. Him and his Dad didn't become best buddies, but they do keep in touch and I think it's had a positive effect on him, sort of not having to have "what if" thoughts about the guy all the time.
posted by jessamyn at 5:55 AM on April 9, 2006

A couple of years back I was contacted out of the blue by one of my five half-siblings I had only heard of, not known. Eventually, I got to meet the father I'd never known, too. I think it was a positive thing. Like you, I carried around a lot of baggage and I found that meeting him helped alleviate some of it. Unlike you, I found that I had been much MUCH better off than my siblings for having not known him. Eventually, I did build a relationship with him. It's not a father-son relationship, more like a distant acquaintance.

But, I would still recommend that you respond to your sister. She's not responsible for your baggage. If that leads to meeting and speaking with your father, let it happen. If you don't want to, you don't have to maintain that relationship. But, even if you've pretended you didn't have questions all this time, you did and need them answered. And, if you need to, you can yell and scream at him. That always makes people feel better. :)

Look at it this way: you've been carrying this baggage all this time. At the very least, you'll find out why you've been carrying it. At the very best, you'll finally be able to put it down and move on.
posted by Spoonman at 6:14 AM on April 9, 2006

It sounds like your half-sister is contacting you on his behalf. Since I've seen other people's experiences with this, you may consider that he may be in some sort of 12 step program and is at the Step 9 making amends part. Not knowing much about abandonment reasons or whether your half-sister is sugarcoating his life to make the blow softer if he does directly speak to you, but it may be the reason for this in the first place.
posted by pieoverdone at 6:22 AM on April 9, 2006

Your long lost father is NOT trying to contact you. Your half-sister is. One presumes that if she can find you, so can he, and he's not sending you email, she is.

Whatever the reasons your father left originally - most probably "hated your mother", but you didn't really talk about that - they still hold true. He still associates you with your mother, or is ashamed of leaving, or whatever his reasons for not contacting you.

Sure, it's opening up a can of worms for you, but not for him. His worms are still canned. So be careful about what worms you're seeing and what's going on. This is an opportunity for you to contact your half-sister, who you don't know, who you may like and who you may not like, who may or may not be similar to you in certain ways. If you associate with the half-sister enough, you'll eventually get an opportunity to uncan your father's worms, and at that time, likely you'll be more prepared for it than he will.

Or maybe you'd rather keep your worms canned.
posted by jellicle at 6:34 AM on April 9, 2006

Like paulsc, I have recently lost a father, and I'm grateful for the last few years during which we were able to communicate in ways that were impossible while I was growing up and he was the Authority Figure. Since you skipped that, you may find you can go straight to the "talking like human beings" part and get a lot out of it. Even if you find it unsatisfying, you may at least get some answers. I don't think you have much to lose.

I also know a mother-daughter pair who reconnected after many years; there was some awkwardness, but it was basically a good experience for both. I wish you well, whichever way you decide.
posted by languagehat at 6:50 AM on April 9, 2006


Hear his side of the story. The choices he made (or was forced to make by financial, societal, or other pressures) are mysteries to you. Even if your mother told the story. You've only heard one side. You have no idea of what put him in the 'abandonment role'.

Be aware that he may have emotionally cut off the fact that he created a son.

Go, even if it means, that one day, you'll talk to your grandson to pass on the story of consequences. And if you don't go, it'll always be a mystery. One day this man will be dead.

Therapy has helped? - go talk to your therapist. If youv'e been 'discharged' from therapy, go back for a couple of weeks, just to have the extra support system.

I've harbored a shitload of baggage over the years because of my self-perceived rootlessness. Anger, depression, you name it. Therapy helped and I've come to a certain peace with that. This just throws a huge wrench in those gears.

It doesn't throw a wrench at all in those gears. If you're at that certain peace, the baggage is historical, not currrent.

Who you are now is a functioning adult, post therapy, with his own life, ideals and ability to set happiness. This man is merely your biological father who failed to do his parental duties. He may have secrets about family illnesses or insights (especially if you two are similar.)
posted by filmgeek at 7:15 AM on April 9, 2006

I'd hit him up for the 18 years of child-support payment he morally owes you.
posted by whoda at 7:15 AM on April 9, 2006

You only get one: might as well go and figure out everything you can about him while you've got the chance.
posted by thejoshu at 7:28 AM on April 9, 2006

I have always regretted more the things I didn't do rather than the things I did.Your father will not live forever.It may be that now is the time to bury whatever hatchets need to be buried.Best of luck.
posted by Dr.Pill at 7:34 AM on April 9, 2006

Keep expectations very, very low--both with any potential relationship with the half-sister, and with any potential meeting with the father. These are strangers, after all.

I've seen a number of scenerios (including one that was related to an AA 9th step "amend", as mentioned by pieoverdone) where, instead of any kind of catharsis or closure, the child was left with a bitter confirmation that the abandoning parent was too selfish, troubled, etc. to be very concerned with the child (or the results of their actions) at all. As "awesome" as he sounds via email (as related to you by his daughter--and even within intact families, siblings can have radically different views of parents based on differential treatment) be prepared for the ugly worse-case scenerio that he may have indeed been a "good-enough" parent with his second family, but NOT have thought of you often, loved you, regretted his actions, etc.

That doesn't mean, "don't meet him," especially since you seem detached and don't seem to have built up fantasy expectations of what this kind of meeting will mean for you/him (though I too am troubled by your statement, "he wants to meet me" versus the fact that he hasn't contacted you himself, as far I can tell). But don't set yourself up to feel hurt/abandoned/disregarded all over again.
posted by availablelight at 7:38 AM on April 9, 2006

Be careful of what you expect to happen. You might not get any answers or any sense of satisfaction from a meeting. There most likely won't be an "aha!" moment where you get a sense of clarity.

But in the long run, if you meet him, you won't wonder what MIGHT have happened if you went to meet him. Sometimes it's the big things you didn't do that weigh on you the most. I feel for you and I wish you the best with whatever you decide.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:05 AM on April 9, 2006

I've been in a different but related position.

My father was killed in an aircraft crash while I was in the womb. My mother's third husband legally adopted me when I was 7, then ran off when I was 15 or 16. I would see or speak to him occasionally from then until my college graduation, after which I didn't contact him.

My sister (his daughter) got married a couple of years ago, and I saw him again at the wedding for the first time since 1992. He made a couple of attempts to reestablish contact after that. I chose to ignore them, to not open contact with him, and I am absolutely convinced that this was the best thing to do primarily because I think he's a terrible person and I honestly don't want anything to do with him.

But this is different from your situation. I knew him, from before he married my mother until he was trying to take my college fund in their divorce; he is not a mystery to me. The life I could have had isn't the one where he didn't leave, it's the one where my father wasn't killed.

I suspect our situations differ too strongly for this to have much relevance to you, but I had been in a similar situation and chose to walk away, and thought someone should offer that perspective.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:11 AM on April 9, 2006

I think you should bother, but not until you're ready.

You might never get another opportunity to know his side of the story. I don't want to sound like I'm defending what he did, but people make bad choices that they can't seem to get past all the time. What is done is done. Growing up, my parents were less than ideal, but now they are great, they are almost like two different sets of people. They had to do some growing and self-discovery of their own, but we have a relationship now that I cherish. They know they didn't do all the right things back then, but by acknowledging the past and most importantly, me forgiving them (which honestly was the holdup for our reconciliation), we are able to have a much better family.

I know this is hard and I wish you the best.
posted by SoulOnIce at 8:34 AM on April 9, 2006

This happened to me except he tried to contact me directly. I didn't respond.

He's dead now so that window of opportunity is painted shut.

I was going to type that I don't regret not meeting him but I can't say that 100% (though I have no problem taking it to 95%). However, at the time I did truly appreciate the chance to tell him in no uncertain terms to go fuck himself (by not speaking to him or meeting with him). I was 22 at the time.

The way I saw it, he wanted to meet me not for my benefit but for his. He knew he didn't have much longer in him and thought he could somehow clear the air. It's not something I agree is possible and I didn't want to provide him with the opportunity to prove me wrong.

In my book there are some things that can't be apologized for and can't be forgiven. Thankfully, my book is a short one.

Whoever said being a good man is an art and being a bad man is a sin was right on the money.
posted by dobbs at 8:42 AM on April 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

His story may be different from what you have been told. It may be enlightening, rewarding, or painful, but there are two stories here, and you have only heard one, however much it sounded like both.
Sometimes we have to choose between comfort and truth.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:58 AM on April 9, 2006

One detail you should be paying attention to is your half-sister's fear that you would try to hurt your biological father. That's an odd fear to have for a woman who was raised in a loving environment by an awesome dad. She might think you'd be resentful, or indifferent, but to be thinking that you would hunt him down reflects a rather dire view of a man who is, after all, her father's flesh and blood.

I don't know what to conclude from it, but it strikes me as important.
posted by tkolar at 9:12 AM on April 9, 2006

I'm in a similar position. My mother thinks she may have tracked my father down. We haven't seen the man in 19 years, and I have only one fuzzy memory of him from when I was three or four.

If it is him she's found (we're still not sure yet) I'm thinking I'll talk to him. Fortunately he's states away and I don't have to deal with meeting this stranger in person.

effugas nailed it, at least in my case. I'd come to terms with the idea of never meeting the man. It's like he didn't really exist as a person. A concept or a punch line, sure, but not a real human being.

Put it this way: I've already decided he's a selfish, careless shithead with no sense of compassion or responsibility. He might have had a good reason for vanishing. I'll give him the chance to prove me wrong. Either I'll be right or I'll be pleasantly surprised... it's not like my opinion of him can get much worse.

Good luck with this, Kevin. It's a weird place to be.
posted by cmyk at 9:25 AM on April 9, 2006

You folks are unbelievable! Thanks so much for this. Sorry I haven't responded in this thread earlier. I didn't get to sleep right away last night (this morning actually) and just woke up to your wonderful responses. Answering the questions in the thread:

Salvia: Is he trying to contact you, or is she?

The sense I get is she is testing the waters for him. They are fearful that I may try to "kick his ass" once I find out where he lives. From speaking with other relatives this week (relatives that I don't know and who have been coming out of the woodwork) he wants to contact me. He testing the waters through his daughter.

Paulsc: If divorce is unavoidable, you sound the model ex-father. I wish mine would have done the same as you.

Jessamyn: Good point. It's not like I have any emotional attachment to him except a void of some sort. I am very curious what he looks like and getting some closure in the that respect would be nice.

pieoverdone: You nailed it with the A.A. thing. Apparently he's been sober since 1983. I've been in the program since 1979. I mentioned in my draft email to her that he may want to look into the 8th and 9th steps. I'm sure somewhere on that list is his two sons he abandoned.

Dobbs: Your experience is where I'm at right now. In my response to her, I went to far as to tell her that he could slide under a bus and taste his own blood as far as I'm concerned. I tempered that response in my later draft however. For 42 years he's had his chances to make things somewhat right and NOW it seems it's for his benefit rather than mine. Theres a part of me that really, really wants to meet him for some closure whatever that may be. I'm really conflicted over this right now.

weapons-grade pandemonium: Based on how we grew up and what I read in that email was like hearing about two different fathers. My mother told some pretty harrowing tales about him and now based on the email, I'm questioning if that was even real. Good point, all around.

Again, I want to thank you for your stories. I'm still reading them and processing this as we go along. I know askme is not a substitute for therapy but right now its helping me in other ways. I can't thank you enough right now.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:18 AM on April 9, 2006

cmyk: Wow, I just read your response. Please do let me know how things turn out on your end. I'll do the same. This is pretty weird, isn't it?
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:23 AM on April 9, 2006

I have a friend whose father left when she was a baby. This was after he held a gun to her mother's head while her mom was holding her. I'm not privy to all that was going on, but I'd call that grounds for never contacting someone again. However, at some later point, he came back into my friend's life again, after he had remarried. Years later, he had another child. That child seems to have grown up in a stable, loving environment.

I'm not sure I would have ever struck up contact with guy, but, in my friend's case, her father changed.
posted by acoutu at 11:08 AM on April 9, 2006

Reverse situation for me: I hadn't had any contact with my father from approx: 2yrs old to 36, my parents split up to return to their respective home countries.

About 3 yrs ago I tracked him down in another country through some internet searching, then a flight over there for some real leg-work, asking people in the neighbourhood shops, local churches etc.

On my last day I knocked on my uncles door, within 15minutes I was shaking my fathers hand.

We still keep in touch, friendly calls. I've been back a couple of times for short holidays, I'll carry on doing that I'd imagine.

Now the part that may somewhat answer your question: I went with very low expectations, I'd have been happy finding him and spending an afternoon chatting over a coffee.

And more importantly I didn't have any resentment towards him, not when I was growing up or when I actually went searching.
posted by selton at 11:50 AM on April 9, 2006

Salvia: Is he trying to contact you, or is she?

The sense I get is she is testing the waters for him. They are fearful that I may try to "kick his ass" once I find out where he lives.

Wow--I'm saddened by this. It's enormously uncharitable towards you, especially as a judgement from people who have never met you (you're a middleaged man and a father--a father who is actually parenting his children--now, not some angry teenager). I'm with tkolar--something sounds off. Why would they think this? What has he been telling them about you and your mother? There's something you don't know here. Protect yourself.

My mother told some pretty harrowing tales about him and now based on the email, I'm questioning if that was even real.

Being sober yourself, you should know that it's not suprising that your mom was married to a much different man (drunk) than he supposedly turned out to be sober. "Should look into the 8th and 9th step," indeed--he got sober when you were 20, so he's at least 15 years overdue with acknowledging your existence. Unless he was telling himself (and his family, his sponsor, etc.) that it was better to just let it go because he was afraid you "might kick his ass." Instead of giving you the benefit of the doubt and supposing that maybe, with your mother's help and your own character, you turned out to be a stand-up man.
posted by availablelight at 11:51 AM on April 9, 2006

Wait, wait, wait until you're sure; there's no rush. Let things settle in your mind and let the new emotions play themselves out. Know your new emotional state before diving into anything more involved. Feel free to cut off contact, without the slightest bit of guilt or misgiving, until YOU are ready to take an active role in exploring this, should that readiness ever come. This isn't about fear, this is about personal peace. Wait until you have emotional ownership or personal peace about this new knowledge, and then proceed in whatever direction makes sense to you in that new state of personal peace.

My sister, who is biologically my half-sister, just recently initiated the first contact with her biological father in 35+ years (she's around 40). Even though she initiated, this caused enormous turmoil in her emotional life and in that of both our parents that we grew up with. Giddy highs and scary lows, hideous accusations from the parents we grew up with, searingly raw emotions, confusion, and conflict. She pulled back to regroup emotionally, and has now begun poking around at the edges again, working her way in from the edges of this other family.

I think hers has been a sound approach, and as much as possible I think you should also try to emotionally own this situation before proceeding. There's no rush, not even someone's health or anything like that should keep you from making this situation your own before exploring any further, on your terms and within your own boundaries.

Good luck.
posted by NortonDC at 11:53 AM on April 9, 2006

My parents were never really together - they dated for a while after my dad was divorced and my mom widowed, and he ultimately ended up with another woman. I was raised by my mom.

I sought my dad out *only* at the encouragement of my uncle on my mother's side. I never really thought it was a big deal. Here's what I got out of it:

- some medical information, which is important
- knowledge of who my dad is, and some ways that I might be similar or different from him.
- a new branch of the family - my dad, his girlfriend, my dad's brothers and mother.

We're none of us very close, but my dad is probably coming to my graduation in a month, which is great because my mom and uncle can't. I've got a complicated family, with no one I'm truly close to in a full parental way, so I take what I can from where I can get it, and simply don't expect more from people than for them to be who they are.

I'm not sure you have a ton to lose by meeting your dad, so long as you look at it as an addition to your current life, that you can take or leave.

Also, I love what effugas wrote. It's so, so true. Feel free to email or IM via my profile.
posted by lorrer at 12:57 PM on April 9, 2006

If you get nothing else from this man, you deserve to learn all you can about his medical history, and the medical history of his siblings and your grandparents. For your sake and the sake of your kids, you should find out if anyone's had any kind of cancer, heart problems, odd genetic disorders, mental illness, arthritis, whatever. That's the bare minimum he owes you and your descendants, as a genetic relative. Anything beyond that is up to you.

Good luck; I hope things work out for you.
posted by Asparagirl at 1:05 PM on April 9, 2006

You know they say people become like their parents, and there's a biological truth somewhere in that. Apart from all the mental involvements and confusions that could be helped or made worse by meeting this guy, you might see things about yourself that you would otherwise never know.

From being a stepfather I know there are odd things about genetic relationships (quite contrary to my previous opinions) which I would not have discovered without my step relations.

Good luck. It sounds painful and hard, but I think you would be better off in yourself for the long term if you did meet once, even if you had a "fuck you moment" and never met again.
posted by anadem at 1:47 PM on April 9, 2006

I don't have much to say, except that I think you've flagged the right best answers. I also think that you're a reasonable, level-headed person. That means that if you meet these folks and the experience starts to become emotionally harmful to you, I suspect you'll probably have the inner resources to pull out in a sensible way.

Good luck, whatever you do!
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:57 PM on April 9, 2006

I will be talking directly with my half-sister for the first time ever, sometime today. Depending on how that goes, I may or may not talk to him and/or arrange a time to go see him. If she still balks and senses I want to dish out the beat-down (I'm 42 and my ass-kicking days are long gone), I'm sure that I won't be speaking with him. I'm going to try and force their hand and impell him to contact me first. If he still won't, then fuck it. He can go to his grave with that in his head and heart. She has promised to email pictures so I can at least see what he looks like. I'll keep this thread updated. Again, some great answers and things to think about here. I owe AskMe big-time!
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:58 PM on April 9, 2006

Oh ikkyu2, thank you. I'm still marking best answers, heheh. I wish I could mark them all!
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:59 PM on April 9, 2006

KevinSkomsvold, good luck, and let us know how the meeting goes?
posted by salvia at 2:43 PM on April 9, 2006

Anecdotal: My biological grandfather abandoned my grandma and mom when she was a little girl (about 4 or 5). About 35 years later, he tried to contact her, and she refused to meet him - she was angry and assumed he wanted money or something. A couple of years later, he died. She doesn't miss him, obviously, but I think she feels a lot of regret that she will never know what he wanted to say to her. There are some questions that can now never be answered.

So, I guess my point is that you should wait until you're sure, but don't wait too long. If you make the choice not to meet him, know that you may be giving up that chance forever.
posted by gatorae at 2:45 PM on April 9, 2006

Kevin, this isn't so much advice as a similar story and how it worked out for me:

After nearly ten years of build up, I severed contact with my biological father when I was about 17. About ten years later, I got a call out of the blue from a half-sister. This half sister was his child from a first marriage. He abandoned the sister and her mother when she was an infant. I knew that she existed, but nothing else about her.

At that point, I hadn't spoken a word to my father in nine years, and was content with that decision. The half-sister, on the other hand, was very excited about discovering her father and this motley collection of half-siblings (same father, different mothers) that she never knew she had. She wanted to stage a big family reunion at my half-brother's house, but I refused to go if my father was there. I knew this was her journey, and I wasn't confident that my uneasy internal peace with the situation could weather the storm of a direct meeting.

I went to dinner with a table-full of half-siblings that I had either never seen or hadn't seen since I was in elementary school. My father wasn't there. It wasn't disastrous, but it wasn't a tearful daytime talk show reunion, either. My sister was hoping for a deep, family bond between us all and it was just too weird for me.

In the end, I did end up meeting with my father, the next year. We went out to dinner and I discovered that I really didn't like him very much. That was seven years ago and I haven't seen him since. I didn't invite him to my wedding. I won't invite him to my law school graduation. He occasionally sends me a short, shallow email that I usually ignore, but occasionally reply to - mostly to ask after two of my half-brothers who are in active duty in the military. He generally ignores my replies.

So, basically, there was no great revelation as far as our relationship goes. There's a lot about the whole situation that I need to work out within myself but that resolution doesn't involve the man himself. I guess the only thing I have that even comes close to a regret is that I'd like my husband to meet my father, just so he can see the man who contributed so much to own fun neuroses that occasionally make our marriage so exciting.
posted by jennyb at 2:46 PM on April 9, 2006

This is a wonderful thread to read even if it doesn't touch me directly. Great contributions and stories related to a very difficult situation.

There's one thing that sticks out in all of this for me and no one has really mentioned it yet, but I think it's important.

When you say that your half-sister described a totally different man, and in a couple other details in your story, it struck me that perhaps your father or others in that part of his family think this can just be an interesting kind of diversion, to meet you and such.

I don't get the feeling that they are prepared for the idea that this could really change everything - and if they don't admit the possibility, then maybe none of them are really ready to do this in a way that isn't going to take advantage of you once again. If they are labouring under the real or perceived idea that your father is this wonderful man who can do little wrong - well, it strikes me as a bitter kick in the teeth to you to try and maintain that idea about him while also truly believing that the man abandoned a child along the way to such wonderfulness.

So that's the question I would have for the sister, and for her to go around to that part of the family and figure out. Are they able to admit that their whitewashing of the man might not be the reality, and that it would, for instance, be insulting to just insist "oh he was great" and ignore this "new" old fact?
posted by mikel at 3:33 PM on April 9, 2006

I think I could have written your post word-for-word. My half-sister contacted me recently on behalf of my father (whose English isn't so good) wanting to get in touch. We're in the middle of an email pause, so to speak, but I feel exactly where you're coming from.

Part of me is pissed off that this man is such a great father, because you know what? Great fathers do not abandon their kids. Great fathers should not have to find their kids or have their other kids find their kids and provide excuses or reasons for their absence over the years. Great fathers are a part of their kids lives from day one.

The other part of me aches to know him, to find out more about him, if only to see what he looks like in person and if I look like him.

Right now I have no idea what I'm going to do. It's a mess. I'm six months pregnant and I have no idea what I'm going to tell my child about his maternal grandfather. So, this post isn't much help other than a virtual pat on the back.

Oh, one bit of advice: Make it on your terms. Take things quickly or take things slowly, but YOU dictate how things go. Your father had all of the opportunity before to get in touch with you. Make sure you do what is most comfortable for you. And good luck.
posted by cajo at 3:57 PM on April 9, 2006

Call me shallow, but I can't understand why you wouldn't meet him based just on sheer curiosity.

I think I would be absolutely consumed with the desire to meet him at least, if not necessarily get to know him, just because there's so much you don't know about yourself if you don't know about him.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:22 PM on April 9, 2006

I'm adopted, and I can't ever imagine interacting with my biological parents in any way.

I do have curiosity about the very clear difference in my emotional tenor and approach to life from that of my adoptive parents, and I think it would be interesting to know more about my otherwise invisibly Northern European ancestry.

But when I really want to learn that information, I will do so in ways that do not involve meeting, speaking to, contacting, or otherwise interacting with the pair of humans who mated and conceived me.
posted by mwhybark at 4:31 PM on April 9, 2006

I'm sorry I don't have any specific advice for you Kevin but I did want to respond to paulsc as I was on the opposite end of your story.

My father left when I was 1, and due to a tragedy involving my mum, I was raised by my grandparents. He tried to come back into my life, just as I was entering my teen years. I tolerated him for a while, but the exact same thing happened to me as you described. Eventually, I got tired of this near-stranger, who had never been there for me when I was small, suddenly offering me advice and criticisms as if he was a real father.

By the time I turned 20, my attitude was essentially 'fuck you' and I cut off contact which has never been renewed. And I love what you said about cherishing the silence. I do get a sort of cold comfort knowing this man, who is now in his 60's, will die never knowing his grandchildren, without any of his children in his life, and will be very alone at the end.

He is, by all accounts, a decent man now, and looking back on my teen years, he was decent then too. He was never evil, just terribly irresponsible when he was 24, when I was born. Having been painfully irresponsible when I was 24, I can completely understand his actions, even if my slacking never caused a child to suffer. But, despite that, I just can't forgive him even if there is understanding.

It probably would have been best if he had never contacted me as a vague ghost would have been much better than the annoying reality. The only thing I regret is not getting a medical history of the family as I have no idea to what sort of foulness my genes are predisposed.

So if there's any advice in this rambling, if you do contact your father, get as much medical information as you can, if you're in doubt about the family history.
posted by pandaharma at 5:16 PM on April 9, 2006

My husband's father left the family when my husband was ten days old, never to be part of the family again. I think he was supposed to pay child support after divorcing his wife, but doesn't seem to have. I asked my husband if he'd wanted to meet his father, who apparently went on to re-marry and have another family and become a professor at UBC in Vancouver. It was hypothetical, as the father was dead by then.

My husband said no, he wasn't at all interested. The man had never been part of his life, and my husband had no interest in initiating contact, which I understand. Curiosity wasn't enough to merit seeking out this non-person.

My mother's father also left her family when she was under the age of five, and she felt the same way: indifference, and in her case, some scorn. Her older siblings were more interested in tracking him down, and his relatives, but my mother never knew him, and hence, never cared.

In both cases, my mother and my husband saved their caring for the part of their family that stayed, that raised them, that loved them, that were literally there for them.
posted by Savannah at 6:43 PM on April 9, 2006

I've been on the half-sister end of this story, sort of.

My own father was divorced when his daughter and son were both very young. I don't know much about what happened between him and his ex-wife, but I do know that I saw my siblings occasionally until I was about three years old. Then, suddenly and inexplicably, he ceased contact with them.

He would talk about them, always wistfully and with love. It seemed he wanted to contact them but didn't know how to do so (if it is hard to admit faults immediately, it becomes even more difficult as time passes).

When I was 15, he got in touch with my half-sister. They met once, at Thanksgiving, and she seemed very nice. I think they spoke occasionally.

But my father died the following year. My brother never spoke to him, or to me. And my sister and I lost touch. Now, as an adult, I wonder if they have children. I wonder what they do and who they are. I heard once that my brother was a journalist, like me.

I think it's probably a good thing that my siblings never knew my father well; he was a very hard man to know. But I do wish they'd known him a little bit. I wish I knew them a little bit.

Fast forward 10 years: My soon-to-be stepfather recently went back to Korea to try to contact his adult sons. According to my mother, he had tried to contact them many times while they were children but was turned away by the boys' mother.

The story goes like this: He sent money every paycheck, asked to have the boys visit in the summer or at holidays, and so forth. After being turned away about a million times, he gave up.

He's about 62 now, semi-retired, and desperate to meet his sons. When he first returned to Korea, both sons flat-out refused to see him. He stayed in the country longer than he had planned to, extending his trip again and again until finally his younger son agreed to a meeting.

At their meeting, the son had only one question: "How much money have you brought us?" It broke my soon-to-be-stepfather's heart. And he is a spectacular man.

So much of the advice you've been given so far is great. Don't go into it with high expectations, do protect yourself, do investigate this man. But also, do hear his side of the story.

He can tell you things you may never be able to find out elsewhere. Who were your grandparents? Do you have aunts and uncles? What are/were they like? What is your biological father's family story? He has memories of his father, his mother, his grandparents, that only he can pass on to you. If you're curious, or if you think your kids will be curious, you should give him a chance.

It's true that he could be a miserable man, one you don't want to know. You can end any contact you have with him on your terms. You have control over this situation, unlike the one in which he left you.
posted by brina at 7:28 PM on April 9, 2006

Basically, my father was an awesome guy - just with a different family.

you so do not know that. You have one email of evidence of that. There are so many layers to different people, and the different relationships they have. There are ways I could describe my dad that would make him sound "awesome" (building treehouses, swimming with my baby sister on his back, taking us for ice cream etc) but there are many ways in which he is not awesome. He has four kids from two marriages, and in the end we all have accepted that really he is more like an "uncle" - fun in fun times, not reliable or deeply interested in our development/life. Once you accept that about him, it's fine to be in touch (all four of us have gone thru periods of non-contact with him), but if you expect more, it can really be frustrating & difficult.

WHich is all to say, if the guy could abandon you and forget about it for howevermany years, it probably wouldn't have been entirely different if he'd stuck around - he'd still be selfish and unreliable (not to say being actually abandoned is not a worse fate - just that it's not necessarily the whole story).

preview: I wrote this much earlier in the thread but was out all day... it looks like you have figured things out pretty well, but I will post this anyway - best of luck.
posted by mdn at 9:04 PM on April 9, 2006

Mikel stated:
So that's the question I would have for the sister, and for her to go around to that part of the family and figure out. Are they able to admit that their whitewashing of the man might not be the reality, and that it would, for instance, be insulting to just insist "oh he was great" and ignore this "new" old fact?

In my first draft email to her yesterday, I spent a good four or five paragraphs describing every reason why I think she's delluded. I wanted her to know the truth. But as I read my draft, it sort of sunk in to me; who's reality is more accurate here? Hers, which has been cultivated over a period of years or mine, which was based on extremely fuzzy recollections and handed-down stories? I had to go with hers. I did tone down my response but I do think it's important that she realizes it wasn't all chocolate teddy bears and balloons. She inititated contact and seems to believe it's incumbent upon me to live and let live, let bygones be bygones, etc., So I told her "Thanks but no fucking way" that will happen. At least at this juncture.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:28 AM on April 10, 2006

My father was a deadbeat who wasn't around long enough to really leave. Lead a life outside of me and when he fell ill tried to make nice.

I don't think I have as much "baggage" as the average person about the whole situation because I had great family, but I opted not to even open that can of worms. And I passed up the funeral as well - because for lack of being able to be say it any other way - he was a stranger to me.

I think the whole thing just depends on your emotional stability. Decide whether or not you can really handle it and proceed with caution because you may wind up being disappointed.
posted by heartquake at 7:42 AM on April 10, 2006

Wow. This a great thread.

Alot of what I would say has been said very eloquently. My story is pretty simple: mom and dad have kid, dad disappears when kid (me) is one, never seen again. Mom remarries, stepdad adopts kid, happily family ensues.

I'm often asked if I have unresolved issues or why I don't hunt my birth dad down. For me its pretty simple, he's not my dad. My dad is the guy who raised me, was always there for me, and is there for me still.

My birth father has never reached out to me. But my opinion of him, based on his behavior, is similar to the others who have experienced this type of behavior. I cannot imagine ever abandoning a child, and I think someone who does is an irresponsible dickhead. During the period when my mom raised me alone, it was hard, very hard financially. I consider her one of my heros (of course she has lots of faults and idosyncracies), as she never ever regretted her decision to have me or to be a mother, and made it clear just how much she loved me, regardless of how hard it got.

I would reiterate the importance of getting the medical records, which, by the way you could get from your half-sister without ever talking to the guy.

From what you have posted, something sounds very off. Frankly, they both sound crazy (with their concern about you kicking his ass, give me a break; also I have concerns about someone who doesn't have the guts to contact you directly; there is an element of selfishness and refusal to take responsibiity for his actions. The fact that they are so concerned about your reponse does indeed suggest that what they are really asking for you not to judge him, which is ridiculous. With the little, somewhat inconsistent behavior you have shared about this situation, your sister's story already rings untrue - great fathers don't ask their childen to take the brunt of someone else's anger for them. You should be concerned because his behavior towards her is already inappropriate).

One reason I have never tried to contact my birth father is that I was concerned about what I would be letting into my life. Having a relative who is an alcoholic or other type of issues (ranging from serious mental illness to an irresponsible money borrower who would be a pest to me, my family, and my hopefully future children) is not something I take lightly. To me it seems like Pandora's box and I don't think the benefit of meeting a congenial stranger outweighs the risk of opening the door to someone who could be an emotional and financial burden.
posted by zia at 7:16 PM on April 13, 2006


After much wrangling and talking with my friends (including the advice here), I spoke to my father for the first time ever, yesterday. Obviously it was very ackward at first. He is now 74 but was a lot sharper than I imagined. I asked him numerous questions. One question was "What memories do you have of me and my brother" and he talked about walking us by Lake of The Isles (Minneapolis) and going to the Loring Park Zoo. He remembered how I made my brother drink Pine Sol and how he panicked and called poison control (something I did remember). Before he left us for good, he told me about sitting me down and telling me to take care of my brother.

I found out hat there are some amazing similarities (we both love to smoke and drink coffee, we are both musicians, both have been sober for over twenty years and we have the same laugh). At one point during our conversation, he started to choke up when I asked him why he left us. He said it had a lot to do with something my mother had done (infidelity) and that he was pushed out of the picture. He strikes me as a very passive man or someone who would let himself get walked on so I guess this could be in the realm of possibility. The sense I got was that he certainly has regrets about all of this but didn't know how to express them. I did ask that we talk about this next time we talk which he agreed to.

What else do you say to someone you don't remember? Our conversation drifted off into politics (he talked about wanted to get out of "the liberal hotbed") called Oregon. We didn't stay on that subject long and started talking about guitar setups. He has a weekly gig at a local coffee shop, playing keyboards and guitar. We talked about amps, his old Fender guitars and various country artists. We ended the conversation by agreeing to speak again in a week. Before I hung up the phone, I said "Bye Roger". There was a part of me that wanted to say "Bye dad" but it did not feel right. He is nothing more than a long lost part of my life at this point.

The significance didn't really sink in until much later in the evening. As I drove my wife and daughter home from a movie I was thinking about something and the thought "I do have a dad" just sort of popped into my head. Before, the concept of father was somewhat abstract and nothing I could relate to. Today at least, it feels like part of the puzzle is getting done.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:45 AM on April 17, 2006

posted by tkolar at 9:19 AM on April 17, 2006

That's great Kevin. *sniff* It make me a little misty.
posted by dejah420 at 1:03 PM on April 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Today at least, it feels like part of the puzzle is getting done.

Kevin, that is really great. I'm all choked up!

This has been an awesome thread. Thanks to you (and everyone) for sharing these stories.
posted by luneray at 1:31 PM on April 17, 2006

...we should have a fathers' day thread this year...
posted by five fresh fish at 1:55 PM on April 17, 2006

Now I'm verklempft!

My best friend was sort of the tip-in on this. I had a long talk with him about it before I posted this and wow, I couldn't believe the responses that were generally in favor of my contacting him. As recently as a month ago, my brother and I talked about our father and how we'd react if we ever saw him. Most of it was tough-guy posturing but in general, we thought rather negatively of him. I came here really wanting to hear "yeah man, fuck that dude!" and/or a simple "Don't bother" but I got far better in return. Your warmth and similar stories really affected me and in return, pushed me in the right direction. Now I just need to fly out to Eugene, OR to meet him and the circle will be complete.

"Wow" really sums it up well.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:15 PM on April 17, 2006

I hate it when I tear up at work.
posted by Carbolic at 9:19 AM on April 18, 2006

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