“We don’t have birthfathers.”

By Stephanie. Yes, it’s been a while. Like, a long while. Partially, I’ve been so ridiculously busy that even showering has been a rare treat (which I’m only admitting because our relationship is entirely virtual). Also, wading into another weighty topic has required more strength than I’ve been able to muster: as I kept turning this topic over in my mind, I couldn’t ever seem to land on the right words. But the right words might never come, and so I am finally taking the plunge:

When she was about three years old, Dani began teaching herself the fine art of stalling at bedtime. One night, she fired off at least a half-dozen questions which I did my best to parry. I had finally taken two steps out the door when she piped up with: “What about, who is my birth dad?”

Fortunately, Dawn had my back. She may have even said, “I can tell her, Mom”—I don’t remember. Because, instead, what she did say to her baby sister was:

“We don’t have birthfathers.”

Dawn and Dani, 2014

Oops.

We had a picture of Dawn’s birthmother and half-sister right by her bed, and Danelle was making regular appearances in the twins’ lives. Danelle had good reasons why she didn’t share much about the twins’ birthfather, and Dawn’s birthfather had warrants out for his arrest. I hadn’t meant to make the kids think these men didn’t exist—I just didn’t have much to go on, less to say that was positive, and even less hope that they’d be forming relationships with the kids, so I didn’t mention them.

At all, apparently. And naturally, a kid will conclude…

My kids’ experiences are not that unusual. Birthfathers are quite often completely out of the picture, as issues around adoption complicate already-messy relationships. There is scant education or information around birthfathering–Ron was recently asked to be on a panel about the subject, but the webinar was canceled due to a lack of participants. I don’t have any expertise in this area, but I can imagine how cultural hurdles stack on top of legal ones (we had to ask the court to terminate paternal rights, as neither birthfather signed the papers). We can send photos and letters to Dawn’s birthmom, but we have no way to locate her birthfather, much less ask if he’d like to be involved in her life.

(And it’s quite the involved life.)

The absence of the twins’ birthfather points to a real absence of Black men in Darnell’s life. I feel this keenly, and I have made a few gestures toward connecting him more to the men in Danelle’s family, but they are hundreds of miles away, and nothing has really worked out yet. Hopefully, we will figure out how to make those connections happen when they need to, as well as find some role models closer to home.

But the life in which Darnell gets to shoot hoops or throw a ball with boys and men who share his DNA is not the life he has now, and that possible childhood is forever gone. I know he and his sisters feel this loss sometimes—maybe even most of the time—and I know they have imagined wonderful, wholehearted lives with kind and rich and beautiful and loving relatives. And I further know that they won’t share these fantasies with me because they don’t want to hurt my feelings (I’ve noticed that adopted kids watch out for their parents’ feelings a lot).

So, sadly, I’m not privvy to any details of the fantasies the kids have about the lives they might have lived, with one exception: for a while, Darnell convinced his second-grade class that he was actually related to Michael Jackson.

(You’d believe him too.)

Published by Danelle Henden & Stephanie Lundeen

Danelle: I am an HR professional with a keen interest in psychology and in adoption activiwsm. I work with a nonprofit that supports adoption, On Your Feet Foundation. Stephanie: I am a writer and editor with a background in education (I have taught English as a Second Language, college writing, and college literature courses).

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