As a woman who spends a lot of time working within the online adoption space, I am often surrounded by hundreds of other women and only a handful of men. It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that women have deeper emotions surrounding adoption than their husbands (thus our need for community and support), but that’s simply not true. The truth is that, as a whole, women simply have a greater need for expression.
There are always exceptions to this rule, but we need to recognize that even though fathers—whether they’re adoptive fathers or birth fathers—might not be represented online as strongly as adoptive and birth mothers, it doesn’t mean they aren’t walking this road, too. You can be guaranteed that if a mother touched by adoption has felt offended on Mother’s Day, fathers have experienced similar feelings on Father’s Day.
Just like all other kinds of fathers, adoptive and birth fathers exist at varying places on the good vs. bad spectrum. You’ve got amazing and invested fathers who do everything they can for their children, and you’ve got hurtful and disengaged fathers as well; being an adoptive dad or a birth dad doesn’t make you any different. The thing is, you have to care before you can be offended. This article is about the dads who care, whether they’re expressive about it or not.
I talked with some adoptive fathers and birth fathers as I prepared to write this article, and also gathered my thoughts based on what I’ve witnessed myself over the years. The men I spoke to shared many of the same thoughts, explained similar scenarios that had stuck with them, and talked about the things that had gotten under their skin over the years. Here’s their top 5:
1. Tell a father he is/was less invested in the adoption process than his wife/partner.
Want to see a father bristle? Insinuate he was only along for the ride, and that he cared less or was less invested in the adoption process than the mother. Don’t assume the women made all the plans while the men sat back and shrugged in apathy, void of opinions or emotions.
2. State that fathers don’t experience emotions that are as intense as the mothers’.
Whether men express themselves as openly as their female counterparts or not, it doesn’t mean fathers don’t experience intense emotions. It doesn’t mean they don’t relive the moment they first met their child over and over again, or when the child was taken from one set of arms and placed into another. It doesn’t mean their hearts don’t swell, or that they don’t grieve. Don’t minimize a man’s ability to love his child as fiercely as his child’s mother(s).
3. Make the assumption that fathers are less valuable to their children than mothers.
All too often, society insinuates that fathers are less important to children than mothers. The truth is, with every decade that passes, men are becoming more and more invested in their children’s lives. We do our children a disservice when we minimize the role fathers (both birth and adoptive) can play in their lives. Birth father rights are critical to ethical adoptions, and it’s important that everyone (not only triad members) recognize that birth fathers have a voice. As adoptive families, we need to recognize the birth fathers in our children’s lives on Father’s Day, just as we do their birth mothers on Mother’s Day, if the relationship permits.
4. Call the other father the child’s “real” father, or imply that he is less recognized as a father.
My husband has dealt with this many times, because we have more conspicuous adoptions (meaning people can tell our family is grafted by adoption). Curious people ask questions, but it’s especially upsetting on a holiday like Father’s Day when someone says, “Where’s her real dad?” On the other side of the coin, our daughter’s birth dad deserves to be recognized on Father’s Day as her “real dad” too, because he is. No one is fake here, and both dads are constantly pouring love into their daughter’s heart, and both are worthy of being celebrated.
5. Speak ill of any other triad members.
Men are protectors by nature, so it makes sense that they go on the defense when they hear someone criticize any member of their adoption triad. Open adoption is hard (ALL adoption is hard, but my experience is with openness) and while we all might have our own hardships, issues, or hurdles, it’s a personal family matter. We may lean on friends for support, but it’s not appropriate for anyone to speak ill of our children’s other parents. Otherwise laid-back fathers can often be seen fiercely protecting their families when people take the liberty of speaking inappropriately.
We owe it to fathers to respect their importance in their child’s life. Triad members recognize that their family dynamics fall outside what others would consider the norm, which means we understand if you don’t know exactly how to react to a holiday like Father’s Day. My advice when you aren’t sure about how to support a loved one is to ask. If you know a birth father and aren’t sure whether you should wish him a Happy Father’s Day, ask! If you know an adoptive dad and you find that you just put your foot in your mouth by insinuating he wasn’t a “real” dad, be humble and ask him how you can better rephrase whatever you said.
I also think it’s important to acknowledge that we shouldn’t just aim to not offend a father touched by adoption on Father’s Day, but we should do what we would do for any other father on that day: Build him up. Tell him you admire him, tell him you’ve noticed his strength or courage, and most of all, validate him. No matter the role he plays in his child’s life, he is essential to that child, and he deserves to be recognized and praised alongside all other dads on Father’s Day.