Wednesday 22 November 2017

Dear Patricia: I love my mum but the riddle of my father is coming between us

Patricia Redlich

I'M 19 and in my first year in college. I was raised single-handedly by my mother, whom I love very much. My father never wanted anything to do with me, although I do see him sometimes. He has another wife and family.

Recently, while clearing out some stuff at home, I found a legal document dated around the time I was born. It was between my mum and dad and something to do with sorting out a paternity payment. However, the name of the man on the document, who is supposed to be my father, is not the same man whom I have always believed to be my father.

I brought this discovery up with my mum but she just brushed it off angrily.

This has really been bugging me as I want to find out who my real father is. But I find the topic so uncomfortable to talk about with my mum, and I really don't want to upset her. I do want to know the truth, even if it means going for paternity tests, or whatever.

Patricia replies:

YOU are a very good son, with a kind and loving heart. You and your mother are lucky to have each other. And I'm sure she's very proud of you too. All that said, we sometimes have to push things, even at the cost of upsetting someone else. The issue of who your father really is will not go away. So yes, you have to face it. So does your mother.

You need to bring it up with her. Tell her you love her, ask her not to get angry, and then say your piece. And yes, say it even if she does get angry. I think you understand that her anger is just a defensive move. She can't actually be angry with you. You had no hand, act or part in how you were conceived. Nor is it in any way, shape or form your fault that you found the document. Your mother kept it. It was her responsibility to hide it better if she didn't want it discovered.

Don't be intimidated by her distress. Persist, with kindness -- at least in terms of saying your piece.

I am very slow to put the argument that you have a "right" to know. It's hugely difficult to decide between someone's desire to keep a secret and someone else's right to know the truth. I mean, your mother might have kept this secret, and let it die with her.

I presume you have a birth certificate, and I presume the man you know as your dad is named on that. Or maybe there's no father named, but you always accepted that your dad is your dad. The point is, your mother could have kept this other man entirely out of the picture. And who's to say that would have been a wrong thing to do? Oh, I know I'm out of step with modern society in saying this, but I firmly believe there is no absolute right to know.

The situation you face is different. This is not about the "right" to know. You have been presented with a puzzle. That puzzle will not disappear. A wise mother would accept that, and talk to you. It would be wonderful if you could find some way of explaining that to her. As an intelligent woman, she must understand that a series of events has now been set in motion. To take appropriate control, she needs to talk to you. Because while I'm not an expert on legal issues, I imagine you have options. Maybe the document was registered somewhere. You have a name and a date. You get the picture.

In all of this, I am most certainly not trying to be harsh. And yes, of course, you could decide to drop it. It will never go away, like I said, but you could decide to live with the uncertainty. I just feel that would be a sacrifice too far. And that sacrifice might ultimately come between you and your mother, and spoil the intimacy the two of you share.

If we're asked to bear too heavy a burden, we turn away. That's why it's important in any relationship to stand up for what we truly need. Think about it.

Sunday Independent

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