Where are the Birth Fathers?

3 years ago

Joe babyI know many adopted people and adoptive parents and I've never heard a single one talk about birth fathers.

Birth mothers, yes. The getting abandoned scenario is a very rough movie and it always stars a woman, usually portrayed as poor and faced with such terrible choices that the only valiant one is to leave her child someplace or with someone. We want to appreciate and admire her for our own sake and for the sake of our children so we make her decision as noble as we can even though it baffles and hurts.

The sequel, a rescue complete with amazing love and complete selflessness, also features a woman in a solo role. Here we see a woman putting her own desires aside to become the mother to someone else's child, another layer in the adoption narrative of sacrifice. The adoption triangle of fiction and fame is female-dominated: birth mom, adoptive mom, and the child they share, either actually or in some weird ephemeral way that both understand but neither could describe.

But where are the birth dads? And why don't we ever talk about them?

I think two historical forces are at play. The first is the schizophrenic exalting and blaming of mothers that is the foundation of every culture around the world. It's the two-sided coin with 'I owe you everything' written on one side and 'You are to blame for everything on the other.'

We don't ask 'why was the adoption decision made?' We ask 'why did the birth mother give up this child?' These are two different questions, the first is neutral, the second is blaming.

The other enormous thick curtain of a backdrop to the adoption narrative is the extreme ease with which men are let off the hook for the children they father. Fundamentally and from the beginning of time, the opportunity to walk away from a pregnant partner has approached the level of an entitlement decision. In other words, men may choose to stay or go without incurring extraordinary consequences. Once committed to a pregnancy, a woman loses that option. Her choosing to go is regarded as catastrophic, his is inconsequential by comparison.

What I'm getting at is this: there aren't three people in the adoption triangle, there are at least four with the birth father and if the adoptive mother has a spouse, there are five. It is, for the adopted child, more people to puzzle over but also more people to care about and maybe to appreciate for the characteristics they passed on and the decisions they made. The adoption narrative becomes, if more tangled, much richer and deeper.

I would be happy if my adopted children could see their many parents as jewels, some known and some unknown. There were many hands in their making, not just hers and mine.

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