Saturday 17 February 2018

Orla Barry: Long-lost father connects on Facebook

Library Image.
Library Image.

Orla Barry

ALL my life I thought my dad died shortly after I was born. That was the story my mother told me and which I believed up until a few months ago.

I received a friend request from an older man on Facebook some months back. I'm not particularly precious about my Facebook page, so I accepted the request without really thinking. I noticed after a while that any time I posted something he would always comment or 'like' it. I did think it was a little strange but I didn't really give it that much thought.

When I checked his page there was very little information on it, and just a couple of pictures of him with a woman and a small boy.

A couple of months later he sent me a message saying that he had something to say to me but he didn't want to do it over Facebook. He asked if there was any way we could meet up. I freaked out and told my mum that I thought I had a stalker. She looked at my page and was completely shocked. I could see from the way she was looking at it that she knew this person.

She told me after a lot of hesitation that it was my father. It turns out he was a heavy drug user when she got pregnant and never supported the idea of her having a baby. Before I was born he was caught selling drugs and got a jail sentence of a few years. He never kept up contact with my mother, never supported her when she had the baby and apparently disappeared from her life until now.

She was furious when she saw he had made contact with me. I was furious with her for lying to me. She said she was doing it to protect me because she didn't want me thinking my father was a criminal.

He says he is a very different man from the one my mother knew. My mum has begged me not to meet him. Who is she to tell me what to do? After all, she lied to me for 21 years.

Orla replies:

WHAT a discovery to make after 21 years! The curiosity about who your father is and why he behaved as he did must be immense. However, do take it slowly, and don't take action in order to spite anyone else.

It must be hard to accept that your mother kept this lie alive for over two decades. In many ways it's a wonder she thought she could get away with it for so long. I can only assume that whatever hurt she experienced at the time must have hardened her so completely that she thought it would be better for both of you if he had died.

Being abandoned by your boyfriend when he discovers you are pregnant must be excruciating.

The first year of your life likely solidified her anger towards him and her decision that he would never have anything to do with you. But this is not her decision to make. Like it or not, he is your father and he does have a right to at least make an effort to meet you.

If you have no interest in meeting him, then that is a decision he must respect.

It's very likely that this man has changed from the drug-dealing boyfriend your mother knew over 20 years ago. However, I would question why he decided to make contact with you over Facebook.

I understand he may have recognised your mother's reluctance to meet, but the respectful thing to do would have been to approach your mother first.

Have you asked him any of these questions?

There does not have to be an immediate meeting. He has a lot of explaining to do and you need to take your time absorbing all of this. He may be anxious to meet because he has thought about this for some time.

Go at your own pace. Perhaps for a few weeks you can find out more about his failure to maintain contact with both of you, as well as his life between then and now. Be mindful of your expectations of this relationship.

On the one hand, you might be experiencing the bitterness your mother is feeling.

On the other hand, you have a father you never thought you had which may be exciting and overwhelming.

He may feel that he has a lot of catching up to do and might overwhelm you with the need to spend time together.

Do be mindful that his abandonment was very painful for your mother and seeing him back will raise hurtful feelings for her.

So far you have only heard one half of the story, so try not to be too judgmental.

I understand your mother doesn't want you hurt the way she was, but this is a decision you will have to make yourself.

Irish Independent

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