Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Disappearing Birthfather: Reality and Myth

Relationships end. Thank God that they do. Imagine the number of horrendous middle and high school relationships we would be doomed to otherwise. As a society we can recognize that some relationships should not continue. The relationship itself may be unhealthy, or one or more of the participants may be an unhealthy partner for the other. Sometimes no one is as fault and two healthy people simply aren't a good fit for each other, despite all appearances to the contrary. And in some instances, even love is not enough to make the relationship work.

Yet for all our understanding, when a relationship ends during pregnancy, in most cases, the man is villainized. Nowhere is this shown more frequently, nor more brazenly, than in the discussion of adoption. The disappearance of the birthfather is often cited as a primary reason for choosing to place a child for adoption.  But where do these men go? Why did they leave, not only the birthmother, but their child as well?

The unfortunate truth is we have practically no idea what the answers to these questions may be. The men in question are largely silent. Or are we looking at the equation backwards? Are the men silent and disappeared, or have they been abandoned and the questions left unasked? I suspect the real answer is both.

Many women who choose to place their children for adoption were left by their male partners. But before we start pointing fingers, it's important to take a few considerations into account. First, failed romantic relationships outnumber lifelong partnerships for most people by at least an order of magnitude. For some people, two orders. After all, a lifelong partnership is just that. A lifelong commitment. That isn't the sort of relationship that happens every day. Second, the stress, conflict, and duress that is implicit in an adoption plan is enough to shatter most relationships, let alone one that may have been unstable from the start. To give a parallel, many marriages end after the loss of a child. The grief and existential pain that must be processed, both as individuals and as a couple, is significant enough to justify some couples parting ways. It's not an exact corollary, but close enough that we can see some similarities.

Further, many men actually try to stay involved but aren't given that opportunity. Just as many men will end a relationship during pregnancy, so will many women. This is the circumstance that creates the possibility for a stereotypical last minute contest to an adoption. The birthfather swoops in and tries to claim custody. Often this happens after placement of the child has occurred, and is very upsetting for the adoptive family, and typically the birthmother as well. But looking at this scenario from the other perspective, the birthfather, he is merely trying to do what he feels is right. The birthfather is trying to raise his child, often emptying his savings to pay lawyer fees in the process. It's a scenario that no one wants, and is painful to everyone involved. At the very thought of this scenario, most people I've encountered suggest temperance on the part of the father. It is wished that he'd "do the right thing" and "step aside" to let the adoptive family continue their role as caregivers and fully step into the role of lifelong parenthood. This attitude tips its hat to a dangerous thought process.

In adoption, the child is somehow less the father's than the mother's.  That is to say, the mother has more claim to choice regarding a child, and contact after placement than the father does. In most adoption scenarios the birthfather's contact with the adoptive family and placed child is contingent upon his continuing romantic relationship with the birthmother. So if the birthfather is to have any contact with his child, it is to be meted out by the birthmother. Rarely adoptive families will step into a direct relationship with both birthparents as individuals. It is truly exciting when that happens. But its infrequency, from a birthfather's perspective, is unacceptable.

Birthfathers do leave. So do birthmothers. Relationships can end, and thank God that they do. But what does any of that have to do with a mother's or father's relationship with their child? The assumptions made about birthfathers highlight some problematic hypocrisy. We praise women for leaving hurtful relationships even during pregnancy, raising their children alone, and standing against social convention to follow their conscience. When men attempt the same, they are condemned as the villain.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Re-Skinning the Cat: Another Invertview

I had the pleasure, and surprise, of being interviewed last week. Unlike the Open Adoption Interview Project, this time around the request was spontaneous. It was quite a pleasant way to pass part of my Saturday afternoon, and I had the chance to chat with another seriously involved father.

Lawrence, at America Adopts, is an adoptive father who put together a website to help prospective birth parents and hopeful adoptive parents connect, find resources for support, and get information about adoption and how to do it well.

The interview was cordial, and actually rather fun. We talked about many aspects of open adoption, gender roles, personal experience, and social bias. I suggest hopping over there and taking a look at what's going on.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Out of the Shadows Indeed

Serendipity came knocking at my door this week on three occasions. One of these is still in the works and, as such, I won't bother sharing until there is something post. The others, however, are live right now and available to all.

Birthfathers Recognized is a project that has only recently begun to create an open dialogue among and with birthfathers. While the site is still in its infancy, it has the possibility to be a significant venue and resource for demystifying the first father experience and giving current and future first fathers a place to plug in and find some resources and support. It is exactly what I wish had existed when Athena and I were making our adoption plan. Currently the site plan will have a place for birthfathers to tell their stories in their own words, and will also have a forum. Here's the really great part; the forum is open to anyone. The forum is there to foster open communication. Unfortunately the site doesn't pop up much on most search engines yet. So if you know a birthfather or someone who may be part of an adoption plan, please point them toward this site.

Earlier this week on Shareable, I noticed a word on their front page one rarely sees. Empathic. That's not a word encountered much on this side of the pond (here in the States), but its cousin empathetic may be more familiar. It happens to be one of my favorite words, and favorite concepts. Perhaps you can imagine my surprise when I found, in the article on Shareable, an entire blog and social change agenda devoted to empathy and the art of living. But enough with the preamble.

Check out Roman Krznaric's talk at the RSA on The Six Habits of Highly Empathic People. His speaking, writing, and his blog Outrospection are great. He has some valuable perspective on how we cam to be where we are as a society, why empathy is scary, how ideological change can change society, and ways we can actually practice to get better at empathizing with others.

If you wonder why I'm posting this here, or what all of this has to do with adoption, please go to his blog and watch the video (also available on YouTube).