What About Dad? The Importance of Birth Fathers

This post is written by Dr. Jeannine Zoppi. According to her website, Dr. Zoppi specializes in individual and group therapy for adoptees and adoptive families and adoptive families.

Adopted children are usually told a story, a narrative, about the circumstances around their being placed for adoption. The content of this adoption story varies based upon the amount and type of information contained in the adoption record as well as the personality, needs and fears of the adopted parents and adoptees.

The common thread that runs through all adoption stories is a focus on the birth mother. However, the role of the birth father in adoption has not been sufficiently addressed and his relationship with his child placed for adoption has not been given the magnitude it deserves. A relationship between birth father and adoptee does exist, even if the relationship is a fantasized one.

Our fathers have had a profound effect on all of us. Whether they are alive or dead, whether we knew them or not, whether we consider them good fathers or not so good fathers. Our fathers shape us.

We have all created our own stories about our fathers.  Who among us has not looked at pictures of our father, taken when he was a child, and said to him “Tell me a story about when you were little” or “Daddy, what were you like when you were in college?”  These stories are often told to us or by family members, even if our fathers are no longer with us. These stories about our fathers shape how we think about and what we feel about them. They also influence how we feel about other men and how we feel about ourselves.

The impact that a father has on his child’s identity and on his child’s relationships with other people is quite remarkable. This impact happens even though the child may never have known his/her birth father, because all children develop fantasies about their fathers in an attempt to connect to him and to make sense of who they are.

I think it is crucial to create another type of adoption story.  In order to help adoptees make sense of their adoption, to help them form attachments to their adoptive parents and other relationships, as well as develop solid identities, adoption stories must include thoughts and feelings about birth fathers.

Adoptive parents and adoption professionals must help adoptees write adoption stories that focus more on the thoughts and feelings they have about their birth fathers and what they imagine their birth fathers think and feel about them. This different adoption story must include fantasies about who their birth father is as a person, and not just musings about “Do I look like him?”  Adoptive parents must acknowledge and work through their own anxieties and any negative perceptions of birth fathers they may have to help adoptees feel comfortable developing these birth father fantasies and to talk about them.