Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
Q. Worried: I was adopted in a closed adoption in the early 1960s. I found my (now late) birth mother in the early aughts. Although she did not want contact, and I respected that, her other, older son reached out. I have since met him, our (now late) grandmother, and my older half-sister (with whom I maintain contact). My half-brother, who would have been 3 or 4 years old when I was born, had no knowledge of me until the letter I’d written to my mother reached my grandmother and she contacted him.
Our mother then told him I was a product of rape. He believes this was the cover story she’d needed back in the 60s: Her then-husband was overseas in the military and they were in the process of divorcing. Although that’s plausible, I don’t want to doubt my mother’s explanation, and it’s not difficult to imagine my half-brother having a blind spot about a situation he became aware of 40 years after the fact. My sister has nothing to add. It is unclear whether the man my mother later married—a man she stayed with even after he abused her daughter—knew of my existence.
Although my birth mother did not identify my biological father, I have, through Ancestry.com and 23andMe. I get weekly notifications about people I am related to through him. I have resisted contacting him because I don’t want to engage with a rapist and can’t think of a way to broach the subject with him. I don’t know whether he knows that I exist. I’ve avoided contacting other relations from that side because how do I explain our relationship? Is this the optimal way to proceed, given the circumstances—just ignore that branch of my biological heritage? It’s not like I need a kidney or want to be invited to family reunions. It would be nice, however, to get a better understanding of my origins. I’m just not sure that’s possible. He is approaching 90, so if I am going to attempt contact, time is of the essence.
A: I think this is a good situation in which to think about what you want—and, because you probably can’t have everything you want, what you want the most—and then work backwards from there.
You’ve said you’d like to get a better understanding of your origins but what does that mean? Biological information? Ancestry information? Or the kind of vibes and anecdotes you only get from meeting people personally? Will relatives do, or do you need to lay eyes on your actual father, even if he is a rapist? Would you want to confront him or get closure in any way? How much do you want peace? How much do you want to avoid awkward conversations? How much do you want to continue receiving those 23andMe notifications about random biological relatives?
I’m not trying to duck your question, but it’s just hard to answer without knowing what you value, and what you’re willing to deal with to get it. Put some thought into that, with the help of a counselor, if possible. You might also try to connect with other adoptees for support because while this is a unique situation, you’ll probably find the best insights from others who have reconnected with relatives later in life.
More Advice From Slate
I live in a small building—26 units—with some young families and other singles. It’s an expensive building, as is most every place in L.A. We mostly get along very well—except for a family with two small children, a 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy. They live across the courtyard from me and the children are always crying and screaming; the mother is always yelling at them, inside their apartment and elsewhere. My next-door neighbor hears the worst of it.