Why We Think So Little About Birth Fathers

Dawn Davenport


Birth Fathers in Adoption

Should we do more to bring birth fathers out of the shadows?

A couple of weeks ago I blogged the results of our survey on what adopted kids and adults call their birth mothers. The actual question we asked was “What does your child or you call their birth mom and dad”, but the vast majority of responses from adopted parents and adult adoptees only included names for the birth mother. We received so few responses on names for birth fathers that we just reported on the results for birthmothers, but it got me to thinking about why we think and talk so little about birth dads.

It is possible that many people responded with birth mother names and assumed we would extrapolate their response to birth fathers. For example, they said “birthmother” and assumed we would know that they also meant “birthfather”. But I think it is deeper than just simply saving a few keystrokes.

In my experience adoptive families talk more about birth mothers than birth fathers, and adopted kids seem to be more curious about birth mothers than birth fathers. This is clearly true for younger children, but even in the interviews I’m doing with adult adoptees for a very long term book project, almost every one who has searched searched for their birth mothers first, then, often after a few years if at all, they sought out their birth fathers.

Why the Emphasis on Birth Moms?

I suppose our societal fixation on the mother/child relationship and the physical aspect of pregnancy and birth are the logical cause we think more about birth mothers than birth fathers. Children see pregnant women and learn that babies grow inside mommies.  As they grow they learn that they grew inside of a different woman – a different mom. A dad’s role is less visible and any discussion gets dangerously close to talking about – horrors upon horrors – sex. Also, in some cases birth fathers are not identified or known.

I also think we don’t expect as much from the father/child relationship; thus, we don’t often think of the sacrifice and grief the fathers might experience when a child is placed for adoption. They and their pain remain in the shadows.

Should We Talk More about Birth Fathers?

Should we as adoptive parents stress birth fathers more? I think the answer is yes. Adopted kids need to know that they came into existence the same way as every other human being, and this way involves a mom and a dad. In the era of closed adoptions, many adopted kids thought they somehow dropped out of the sky or were found by their adoptive parents under the proverbial cabbage leaf. This happens less now that the birthmother has a name and is often known, but we need to bring the birth fathers into the equation as well.

Is your child more curious about their birth mother than their birth father? If you are adopted, did this change as you age? Is it awkward for you to talk about your child`s birth father?

P.S. Creating a Family has a ridiculously detailed list of adoption blogs broken out by type of adoption, country, adult adoptee, adult adoptee who are now adoptive parents, birth mother, birth family, and…wait for it… birth fathers. What better place to start understanding birth dads, than to read their own words.


Image credit: absolut xman

12/03/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 15 Comments

15 Responses to Why We Think So Little About Birth Fathers

  1. Avatar Jenn Porter says:

    For me, I always think about my birth mother first. I do know that my birth father is out there somewhere…but she was the one who carried me in her womb, gave birth to me and then placed me in my mother’s arms. He was gone before she even knew she was pregnant.

  2. Avatar Chelsea H says:

    Thank you!

  3. Avatar Angela says:

    We talk about “birth mother” and “birth father.” My kids were older when adopted out of foster care. What makes it weird is that I am a single parent so there is no other father or dad than the “birth” one.

  4. Avatar Chelsea H says:

    I have no insight into this since we are still in the “waiting” phase of adoption but I wanted to write in to see if the author could post a link to the original post about birthmother names? This topic came up in an adoption support group I belong to and I would like to provide the link to those folks. I tried to search for it myself and couldn’t find it. Thanks so much!

  5. Tara, your son is young so you have some time. What sometimes works is to ask to be able to call her. Treat her like the mother that she is and appeal to her sense of what is in your and hers sons best interest. Talking about natural curiosity and how children do better with some info b/c otherwise they make up stuff in their minds to fill in the gaps. Do you think that might work in the next year or so?

  6. Avatar Tara says:

    My son’s first mom has not shared any information about his bio father, I don’t even think he knows, so names haven’t come up. I know there will be questions and frankly the whole situation scares me for numerous reasons. I don’t think it is fair to my son or his birthfather, but my hands are tied. I need to figure out what to say when he starts to ask questions, but right now I have no clue. I’m afraid to ask her because I don’t want to scare her away, we just text right now. I would love some guidance!

  7. Avatar Robyn C says:

    DS’s birthfather chose not to be a part of his life. There’s a very difficult reason for that. I really wish we knew more about him. DS has been asking about him more because we actually have a relationship with DD’s birthfather.

  8. Avatar Michelle K. says:

    This is a very interesting subject to bring up, and I agree that it’s not fair to elevate an adoptive child’s birth mother above the birth father. Same as with the birth mom, as long as the birth father is a cooperative partner in an adoptive family and respects boundaries in an open adoption, the birth father should very much be included in the larger family circle. It really depends on the person (regardless of gender) and her/his commitment to their children’s ultimate well-being that should determine her/his role in the child’s life.

    My own family’s situation is unique in that we adopted our two sons from foster care after both biological parents’ rights were terminated by the courts. We do allow limited contact–including occasional supervised visits–with the kids’ biological father, but will not allow any contact with the biological mother due to 1) her unique history of abusing the boys, which I will not disclose here; and 2) her refusal to accept responsibility for her role in losing custody of the bio-parents’ children, where the kids’ bio-dad has shown remorse and efforts to mend his relationship with the children he once neglected and turned a blind eye when they were in peril.

    When our kids turn 18, they will have the choice and the right to reconnect with their biological mother if they wish, but to this point, have not expressed a desire to do so, and it’s been six years since the boys have been in our custody (combined foster and adoptive).

    Like I said, a relationship with an adoptive child and ANY biological parent (mom OR dad, or both) depends on the person, the history, and ultimately the well-being of the child.

  9. Avatar AnonAP says:

    I think some of it is due to our legal and social constructs, and some of it is due to biology. Like it or not, the fathers can disappear from the picture before birth either due to their own leaving of the area or the expectant mother cutting off contact and not telling him about the pregnancy. On the social side, all types of dads are given short shrift as parents in media. There also seems to be a cultural/social thing thing online where women are waaaaaay overrepresented in the the conversations about parenting. They seem to focus very often on what it means to be a mom, so men and their roles as fathers get ignored, and this plays out in the adoptive and biological family communities.

    I hope we hear more about birthfathers and that the balance changes as our community becomes more aware and respectful of legal and emotional implications of not listening. I also hope that as issues of paternal rights and paternity leave and the like become more prominent in the world of biological families that this will shift the balance for the adoption world as well.

  10. Avatar Christie says:

    I think I answered the original post by saying my son just calls them by their names. That being said, my son has more of a relationship with his birth father. Maybe that is because his birthfather has custody of his birth brother (also called by his name =0) ) and we work really hard to keep that relationship going. His birth mother is in and out of the picture and the main way we keep in contact with her is through the birth father. Every fall we take a family picture and this last fall is the first time birth mom appeared in it. Though I tried to explain to my son who she was, I don’t think that I made much of an impact on him. He knows the guys, but doesn’t know her.

  11. Avatar Dina says:

    Our oldest son’s Birth father wanted nothing to do with the adoption process except to sign the paperwork. Our son is now 6 and we know the questions will come soon. We visit 2 times a year with his Birth mother and talk about her all the time. Our youngest son’s Birth father appeared to be different he was part of the adoption process, his idea to begin with. We met both of them together prior to our son’s birth. He was present at the hospital and even came to 1 visit. Suddenly a “no contact” was issued by him to the agency who let us know he did not want to see us any more. We still send photos and request via agency if he’d like a visit but nothing. H doesn’t pick up pictures. His Birth mother also no longer has contact. We hope one day both men will be part of our lives!

  12. Avatar AC says:

    Sorry I didn’t respond to your initial poll, Dawn. We have extensive contact with our daughter’s birth dad and almost none with birth mom (her choice). Here is a pic of them together at our home this past Christmas. I love this pic so much because I think it shows that they are developing a true connection, which has taken a lot of effort on all sides, as we live 8 hours a part and birth dad has no car. We think of him and speak of him often. <3

  13. Avatar Tiffany says:

    I’m glad you are bringing up this issue. I am an adult adoptee who didn’t think a lot about my adoption until having children of my own and specifically having biological children (I have one non-biological child as well). I gave almost no thought to my birth father until I found him a year and a half ago. We have a close relationship now and my life is much fuller because of it. We should include them in the conversation about adoption. Thank you.

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