by Carolyn Berger, L.C.S.W.
Father’s Day is fast approaching and with it comes quick trips to the stationery store to find the perfect card for Dad.
This year I’ve been reading and thinking about the role of birth fathers a lot and have been heartened to find an assortment of birth father cards at the store. One of my favorites is the slightly overdone “ To My Wonderful Birth Father: You have been a beacon of light in my life. May your life be illuminated by my love for you, not only today but always.”
Wow. It didn’t used to be this way. We often talked about the “adoption triangle” (child, birth mother and adoptive parents) with scarcely a thought to the birth father. A birth father was often viewed as a possible roadblock to a successful adoption or simply a man who had sex with a woman and then abandoned her when she got pregnant.
I confess I sometimes thought of them this way as well.
But times have changed. I recently read Birth Fathers and Their Adoption Experiences, by Gary Clapton and my thinking shifted. Clapton, a birth father himself, conducted in-depth interviews of thirty birth fathers, before, during and after the adoption of their children. Some of these men were directly involved with the adoptions and some were deliberately kept out of them.
All of them expressed feelings of loss. One said, “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of him (the child). I feel as if there is something inside me that has been ripped out and I feel empty and nothing is going to fill that.” Another said that the initial void closed up but, like many of the men, he talked about the “regular presence” of the child in his thoughts in the ensuing years.
I was surprised by how much these comments sounded like those of birth mothers.
In fact, the resonance with the experiences of birthmothers was the central finding of Clapton’s study. And he points out that this has many implications for policy and practice in adoption—including the need to include birth fathers in the adoption triangle. Birth fathers are people our adopted children need to know about. They are, in fact, an essential part of their identities.
The wording in the birth father cards at the stationery store seems to be reaching toward an acceptance of the important role birth fathers play. The one that breaks my heart just a little says, “Happy Father’s Day to My Birth Dad. I hope over time I can get to know you better.”
The antidote? A Birth Father’s card right next to it that says, “To My Birth Dad” I’m glad you are a part of my life.”
Happy (Birth) Father’s Day!
Carolyn N. Berger, LCSW
Carolyn N. Berger is Founding Board Chair of The American Fertility Association and Chair of its Adoption Advisory Council. She has a private practice specializing in Fertility, All Family Building Options and Adoption.