Going for two days in a row with posts here, which is one way of getting back in stride. It does mean, however, that I haven’t had a chance to look at comments. My apologies. I’ll get to them, I promise.
Meantime, this morning my local paper (The Seattle Times) had an advice column Q and A that seemed pertinent. It’s from ”Ask Amy” and I found it on the columnists website.
There has been a lot of discussion here about unmarried fathers and their rights. (You can use the tag “unmarried parent” I think.) A lot of it has been sympathetic to men who are shut out of their genetic children’s lives. And indeed, that sympathy may be perfectly appropriate in a number of instances. It all depends, I think.
The question Amy is asked, however, arises from the “other side of the coin” scenario. The genetic father is not a good guy–drugs, unstable, violent. And he wants nothing to do with his genetic daughter. The daughter is 13, though, and wants to know about her genetic origins. The mom (who has raised the daughter) doesn’t want to expose her to the hurt that seems likely to follow from learning the truth. And there’s also a social father in the picture–a man who stepped into the otherwise empty shoes and has been there for a decade.
I think Amy’s advice here is on-target. You need to be honest with the child, but you also need to be sensitive to all the circumstances. Give the information she can accept at her age. Maybe more comes later. Stand by her and with her as she goes through the process that must follow.
And (this to me is critical) make sure to fix the law part. The social father must have legal rights here. Imagine if something happened to the mother–shouldn’t this child end up with her social father rather than her genetic one? Who could think that in these circumstances the genetic father would be a better placement than the social father?
But the law might require just that. I don’t have any idea, really, because there isn’t enough information here. Still it seems to me that the advice to adopt is sound.
Beyond that, it seems to me that even if they don’t get around to adoption, the law should operate to ensure that the child’s life continues with as much stability as possible–and that means that the law recognizes the social father here. This is what a doctrine like de facto parentage can accomplish. The child’s security should not depend on whether the mother and her husband have the time, money and foresight to complete an adoption.
Whenever we think/talk/write about unmarried fathers there are a range of possible scenarios to consider. On the one hand you have the sympathetic cases, some of which were discussed at length here. (The ICWA case from this summer is such a case, I think.) But there are also stories like this one, where it’s hard for me to muster any sympathy for the unmarried father. One thing we really ought to know before we start making legal policy is which scenarios are most common, or perhaps how common each scenario is.
Sometimes I think the best the law can do is work in the most common situations. (At the very least, it ought to work in the most common situations.) I’m afraid the scenario Amy is writing about may be all too common. But I confess I don’t really know.