Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: When I was 18, my mother revealed that the father I grew up with was not my biological father. She claimed she didn’t even know my bio father, and never contacted him again after their brief weekend fling at his college. The conversation we had was very emotional.
Fast-forward 12 years, without any further conversation about this. I broached the subject again with her. This time, she eventually admitted she did know who he was. She showed me his Facebook profile, saying, “one of his daughters looks just like you.”
She has known the entire time, but did not want to tell me because she feared I would contact him.
He was apparently in a relationship with his now-wife when I was conceived, and they have four children.
I want to contact him, but I’m getting a lot of pushback from my mother’s family. I feel like it’s a human right for a person to know if they’ve sired a child. Please help.
DEAR PUSHED: So much to sort out.
First, I’m sorry this is how your mom handled the news. It is obviously complicated, involving her own shame for having such a secret, her impulse to protect the father you grew up with, her impulse to protect your bio-father and the family he created with his then-girlfriend. There are a few decks of cards involved in the house these trysters built.
Second, you’re the heir to this house. Please tell all back-pushing relatives that this is your biology, your father, and your decision now. Assure them you’ll take into account the potential consequences — but this is not about them anymore. You don’t owe anyone anything except compassion and care.
Third, you hint at some unproductive reasoning when you suggest it’s your bio-dad’s right to know. Whatever you decide needs to be mindful of him, yes — but not presumptuous. Only he knows what he needs. Since the secrecy means he’s unable to decide for himself, you can only decide what your values require. And do so, again, while being mindful of everyone’s consequences.
This involves some higher order hair-splitting, but I think it’s an important hair to split. If you forge ahead with certainty you’re doing him a moral or cosmic favor, then this could backfire on you quickly and hard.
So. Find the most morally defensible use of this information you can — whatever that entails.
You don’t mention being angry at your mom, but in case that’s an element of your confusion right now: Anger would be a natural, valid response, one to deal with head-on so it doesn’t control you.
It would be so easy for indignation over the lies and secrecy to push you toward blowing everything up.
Take any anger to a good therapist first — or just go anyway to sort things out — and don’t rush to decide what to tell whom, how, when and why.
There’s an old saying, “Marry in haste, and repent at leisure,” and this seems like an “Act in haste, repent at leisure”-type opportunity.
RE: BIO-DAD: What does “Pushed Back” hope to get out of contacting the biological father. A relationship? Answers? Acknowledgment? It seems important to figure out before contacting him.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Essential, in fact, thank you.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.