Dear Mary: Can we force my stepdaughter's dad to face his responsibilities?
Mary O'Conor is a relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist who offers advice in her weekly column.
My wife and I were hoping you could advise us about how to proceed in what is a difficult situation.
My 25-year-old stepdaughter (let's call her Denise, not her real name) went looking and found her biological father about two years ago.
I am married to Denise's biological mother.
Denise's biological father originally denied her when she was born and left my wife broken-hearted at the time.
However, he has now finally acknowledged Denise as his daughter.
He is married with his own family.
He met Denise for coffee on a number of occasions and Denise was excited, forgiving and hopeful that the relationship would develop into some kind of normal father/daughter relationship.
He stressed to her from the outset that he was not ready to reveal her to his family.
After a few tentative meetings with Denise he then broke off contact and has not returned her calls for months.
It has recently been brought to our attention that he and his family are moving to another city.
We don't know if this decision was made as a result of Denise making contact with him or not.
Denise is very upset and angry that she was not only rejected at birth by this man, but he is now rejecting her again in adulthood.
This man never paid maintenance his whole life or contributed in any way to his daughter's life.
Despite the opportunity of a fresh start with her he seems to want to dodge his responsibilities at every opportunity, even now when she is a mature reasonable adult.
Basically, we were wondering if there is anything we can do to force him to face up to his responsibilities.
Mary replies: Denise has every right to feel angry at this double rejection by her birth father.
She must also be feeling very hurt especially as her hopes were probably raised when she actually met him and was able to put a face to the name.
I'm sure she wondered all her life what he was like and perhaps even had hopes of a happy ever after ending to their story.
Instead, he has shown her that he is as callous now as he was when he discovered that he was going to become a father.
I don't believe that there is anything constructive that you can do to force this man's hand.
If you were to make the truth known to his wife and family this would be of no benefit at all to Denise.
It would certainly be distressing for her to feel that he was forced to do something because of her existence.
Even if he had contributed all along to her upkeep that responsibility would now be over as she is an adult and so there is absolutely nothing that you can ask him to do other than acknowledge her, and this he has already done.
She will probably find it hard to trust any man in the future, having been let down so badly, and this is where you come in.
You are showing her great love and concern, even by writing to me, and hopefully she will see that.
It is good that she was able to share all of this with both her mother and yourself, and your support must be her mainstay right now.
I realise that it must be very frustrating for you and your wife not to be able to do anything but this is a case where anything you could do would result in a lot of pain for people who have done nothing to deserve it.
You are probably already aware of the wonderful work done by Barnardos and they offer a post-adoption service.
I realise that yours is not an adoption situation but either you and your wife or Denise herself may wish to contact them to get some further support.
They will certainly have come across situations such as the one you describe.
Have a look at their website: www.barnardos.ie
You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.
Sunday Indo Living