(Birth) Father's Day Questions

Gabriel’s birthfather lives in Texas. I am sure of that. As a matter of fact, I have his full contact info, should I want to contact him. And something about holidays, especially Father’s Day, always brings up the subject of whether or not I should.

When we were placed with Gabriel, through foster care, he had two fathers on paper – a ‘legal’ father, the man his birth mother was married to at the time of his birth, and a ‘biological’ father – the man listed on the birth certificate. His legal father quickly relinquished his rights, but his birth father did not. The state contacted him directly through certified mail, ‘published’ for him and contacted his extended relatives, requesting he take a paternity test. But, no response from him.

The state moved their case forward, after 3 years of waiting for him to respond, and begun the process of terminating his rights. After all, there had been no word from this man in over three years.

Jeff and I got to court one spring morning, anxious for the judge to terminate his biological father’s rights *this* time – the last piece in the puzzle to Gabriel being legally free. When we arrived, our social worker greeted us.

“I have bad news,” she started. It seemed every time we talked to her those days that is how it went. “We heard from Gabriel’s biological father, and he completed the paternity test yesterday.”

“What were the results?” Jeff and I asked immediately – if it didn’t prove paternity, then we had nothing to fear.

“I don’t know, I don’t have the results yet, I just heard from the lab that he came to the appointment. But there is more bad news.”

Jeff and I held our breath.

“Our regular judge is sick today. We expect that the substitute judge will rule to wait to see the results of the birth father’s paternity test. He won’t terminate his parental rights today.”

Jeff and I were sick. But, given that this is how the entire process was going for us; we weren’t surprised. We sat down and waited to be called into the court room to see what would happen.

When our case was announced, we went in and took a seat. The judge came to our case on the docket and from behind his large wooden desk at the front of the room, started to review our paperwork. Our social worker stood up to address the court, “After not hearing from him for the last 3 years, he took the paternity test at the 11th hour yesterday.”

The judge looked over the paperwork, and Jeff and I sat close together, holding hands, on the bench in the corner.

Then the Judge started talking, “It is my ruling that since we don’t have the results to review at this hearing, he waited too long. I am terminating his parental rights.”

Jeff and I looked from the judge to the social worker, who looked over her shoulder and smiled at us.

That was it. One sentence, one morning, and the waiting was over.

Gabriel was legally free.

After going through the adoption finalization process, they disclosed everything to us about his birth father that they knew, including that his sister had pushed him into taking the paternity test because she wanted to adopt Gabriel. But also little things like how much he liked to work on cars.

That little bit of info, combined with the full disclosure of his address, and family’s addresses, has remained on my mind ever since.

Should I contact him?

My gut is yes – I should contact him. Yes, I should to at least ask questions. Get photos.

But, there is always so much going on in our lives. Gabriel struggles so much with autism, sensory processing disorder, bipolar, learning disabilities and more. Will this just add stress to his life? Or worse yet, will his birth father understand Gabriel’s challenges? Accept them?

I always stop shy of contacting him. I just feel like my ‘plate’ is so full of everything else, and Gabriel’s is too.

I am not sure that either of us could handle it.

But then again, maybe he would just send photos…and when Gabriel starts asking about his biological father (a subject he hasn’t ever brought up at this point), I would have something to show him, and maybe even some answers.

Answers would be good, because I have a lot of questions. Does Gabe’s birth father have other kids? Is he thinking of Gabriel? Does Gabriel look like him? Does Gabriel act like him? What is his version of Gabriel’s birth story?

There are times that I see my biological boys with my husband and the resemblance is just uncanny. From their physical features, to their expressions, mannerisms and way of looking at the world – that I can’t help but think there is a man out there that shares those things with Gabriel.

Don’t I need to find him? To say something to express my deep gratitude and love for being able to raise a child he created? I don’t have the words for that, but it seems I should at least start with Happy Father’s Day.

Feel free to give me advice – I need it!


Adoption of Jane said...

As an adopted Adult in an open adoption my first mind screams yes!! But in reality this guy sounds like a loser and his sister sounds like a control freak. However, it is important that Gabriel when he gets older that you didn't have hidden secrets. My suggestion, find an out of state (as far away from yours as possible) family or friend you can trust to get a P.o. box for you. Use that address to correspond. Make your objective clear. I would just send him a short note stating you would like to keep brief contact so that when Gabriel is of age he can locate his family. Be prepared you may get letters asking for money, that is a familiar request in the adoption world. Don't send any, ever. Even if it deems to be an "emergency".. once that cycle starts it never ends.

K- floortime lite mama said...

I would not contact him
I often have this feeling that the things I DONT want to do .. is the right thing to do
But frequently it is not
There is no need to hide his being adopted - Kids can take things like this in their stride
But letting another adult into their life who does not really sound responsible at all
makes noooooo sense to me

Anonymous said...

I have to say I would not contact him for two reasons. First you could be inviting trouble especially if the sister pushed him to get a paternity test so she could adopt Gabriel. Obviously legally she cannot do anything now but if she gets wind of you contacting she could track you down and start all sorts of trouble....emotionally that is. Second I would wait till Gabriel is an adult and let him decide what he wants to do with the info. Honestly that birth father did not contact for 3 years, and only took the paternity test because he was talked into it. I doubt he could handle knowing that Gabriel has issues, besides you and your husband are the best thing that ever happened to Gabriel. :) Look at all the great stuff you have done for him, can you imagine where he would be if the sister had gotten her way? Ok that is my two cents. I will be quiet now LOL> sorry. :) Jenna

Stacey,momof 2 said...

I think, and this is just my two cents-- that the Adoption of Jane had a great idea... collect information but don't have contact-- that way you have it on hand but Gabe and your family can decide as he gets older if he wants to know more.
My brother's birth father never had contact with him-- and because (my brother) didn't have the details about his birth Dad for many years, I don't think that he found closure-- because his birth Dad had passed, before he could ask questions.

In Real Life said...

What a heartfelt post. As I was reading, it sounded to me like you didn't feel ready to contact your son's birth father at this point, and I think it's important to trust your feelings. It does sound as though contacting him could be inviting a lot of trouble and complications into your life at the moment.

Patty O. said...

Wow, this is a pretty big dilemma. I don't have any answers except to say that I think you should take your time and not feel too pressured to make up your mind. Maybe you (and Gabriel) aren't ready just yet. I think you'll know when you are.

Just another Mom said...

I also think that the advice from "Adoption of Jane" is good, if you were just like everyone else. You said that it was an open adoption. Does that mean that the birth father has your name as well? If so, all he has to do is google Hartley Steiner, what would he find? Maybe he, or his sister, have already done that. If not and you make contact, he may become curious and again just google your name. Is this a can of worms that you want to open right now? Gabriel does have a right to know who he came from. He has a right to ask why, and all the other questions that will follow. And you being the great mom that you are are already anticipating that and formulating a game plan. You want to be able to give him the answers to his questions, but maybe it is best to wait till he asks and search for the answers together. Travel that path along side him instead of rushing ahead. When the timing is right I think you will know it and will be able to go forward with no reservations.

Caitlin Wray said...

First Hartley, Gabriel says "THANK YOU MOM!!!!" for grappling with these issues out of your love for him. I know he says thanks, because I was once a little kid living in a tangled family. I won't call it broken, and it wasn't adoptive, but it was very, very tangled.

My mother left my father when I was 6, and he visited for a few months, then stopped. So for my first 6 years of life I had a Dad (who was a lawyer no less). Then, poof. When I was 16, a woman with a thick Aussie accent arrived at my small-town school office asking for me. My dad was Australian/Canadian. She was my half-sister, from his first marriage (before my mom). Talk about weird and awkward.

Then, I began receiving air mail from my paternal grandmother in Canberra, asking me to "come back into the fold" of their family. And through it all, my mom could not shed her intense bitterness toward my father and did her best to poison me against him at every turn.

You know what I needed? I needed someone like you to figure out what I was ready to know, who was safe enough for me to form a relationship with, and what I needed to be sheltered from until I was old enough to protect myself.

I was so confused/angry/hurt during those years when no one in my family seemed to be watching my back (except for their own selfish reasons) and those experiences had a lasting and profoundly effect on me well into adulthood.

So, if you trust Gabe's biological father to not break his little heart, not manipulate him, not confuse him, to keep only his best interests at heart the same way you would, then contact him.

Something tells me... you don't. Something tells me... you already know what you should (and shouldn't) do. Deep down I think you wish he was a different kind of man, so you COULD contact him, because I know you want Gabe to have a healthy extended family - not a messed-up tangled one.

But you can't untangle it for him, you can only keep him out of the woods until he can find his own way out the other side.

One day Gabe will be old enough to start working through these things, with you, with Jeff, with Texas man. Until then, know that just being the kind of Mom who struggles with these decisions is not just enough, it's EVERYTHING.

Lots of Love,

Just another Mom said...

Caitlin...YOU ROCK! :)

Hartley said...

Adoption of Jane: I think you are right about the PO box in another state -- I hadn't thought of that, and I am definitely going to use that when the time comes...thank you.

KFLMama: I think you are right; doubt means don't. Thanks for remding me. :)

Jenna: Thank you.

Stacey: I think that you are dead on with the closure piece -- I want to reach out to G's dad before it is too late -- he has moved, or is dead...I just want info.

InRealLife: You are right. I am not ready, but feel a pressing urgency -- I mean it has beennearly 5 years that I have had his info, and I am still not ready...

JustAnotherMom (Jen): I am definitely affraid of what would happen if he knew my real name (he doesn't have any of my info to my knowledge...) and Googled it. You are right on with that.

Caitlin: In case I haven't told you this in too long, I think you are amazing. Truly, Caitlin, you have a way about expressing yourself that is rare and special. Thank you for your personal words of support. And for now, I will wait until, as you said, Gabe can find his own way out the other side. :) And Jen is right, you do ROCK!

Gavin Bollard said...


It sounds scary but the idea about the PO Box sounds really good.

I guess that if it were me, I'd probably talk to Gabriel and ask him what he wants to do.

He'd give a simple answer without considering any other factors but maybe that's what you need.

If nothing else, then at least doing things that way means that you'll be able to talk to Gabriel with a clear conscience when questions about his father arise in the future.

Anonymous said...

I was adopted and I while I see how you are looking to solve this issue/problem for Gabe - my opinion is that it is for him to decide later on in his life. Just because that man is biologically tied to him - doesn't automatically mean he has to be in Gabe's life. I know that sounds backwards, but I'm adopted and there is a difference. If he doesn't want contact, then don't open that door for him. Because once it's opened - it's harder to close. Be open and honest about being adopted and let him decide.

Natalie said...

As I'm sure you know from reading my blog, I'm biased since we have a VERY open adoption with both sides of Hannah's birthfamily. I would definitely say contact him. If you have his phone number I would call, chat a bit, and get a sense of the kind of person he is. If he doesn't seem like someone with whom Gabe's having a relationship with right now would be healthy then delay physical contact between him and Gabe, but gather the info and keep the relationship up on your end. That would be my advice. Even though our children's birthfamily make bad choices, choose to not be the active parent of our children, or have complicated lives does, it does not change the fact that they are the only biological ties our children have and they deserve to have that. In my opinion, brief contact started slowly when they are young would lay a good foundation for our kids to be able to make an informed decision later and life and far less traumatic than a huge "reunion" todo. Though our kids might get hurt a bit and we certainly want to keep them from all the hurt we can, experiencing that hurt and knowing some of the sometimes hard truths can help them slowly process their adoption again and again as they reach various developmental milestones. If they constantly experience broken promises or a lack of follow through then they will slowly be able to understand why their adoption happened and on the flip side if they experience a mix of good and bad they will learn that their birthfamily are not movie stars nor horrible people, but just normal folks doing the best they can like you and your husband are. Just remember, you are in the drivers seat and you know Gabriel better than anyone. You'll know when to say enough is enough or when to let some things slide and push on with a relationship in whatever form it may take. So, my advice is to make contat, gather info, establish an initial relationship, and then decide where to go from there. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on Gabriel being free and FWIW, I feel that seeking out the biodad may cause more harm than good right now.

My sister adopted a boy who came from a home where the mother was bipolar/schizophrenic and she made it very difficult for them to adopt him. I do not understand all that you have gone through, but I sympathize and bless you for now having him free.

Hartley said...

Thank you all for the comments -- I think that the fact that nearly everyone has a different view shows how difficult this decision is for all of us.

For now, I have decided to wait. When the chaos of managing Gabriel's health needs subsides to a dull roar, then I'll be ready for the next chapter. And trust me, I'll be asking all of you for help.