am a 40-year-old woman. I had an OK childhood with my mother and loving father, always in the knowledge that I had a different biological father. The father who brought me up, whom I loved, died five years ago. I now have children and feel an urge to find out more about my biological father. My parents never told me anything other than that he was out there but had never shown any interest.
I feel extremely loyal towards my mother and do not want to betray the loving memory of my late father. At the same time, I want to know more, for my sake and my children’s sake. My husband thinks we both deserve to know and is putting pressure on me to ask my mother as she is quite old. I don’t want to hurt my mother’s feelings and guess I do not want to admit that this information is also important to me, in some unexplainable way.
Is there an easy route? How can I write to my mother without betraying years of love and hard toil on her part? She always says that my biological father does not “deserve” me.
Anon, via email
It’s completely normal to feel as you do: guilty for wanting to trace a biological parent, worried about bringing it up with a parent who won’t talk about it, but nevertheless wanting to find out more. You didn’t say if the dad who brought you up (whom I’ll refer to as dad in this answer) adopted you or not, so I’m going to run through a few scenarios.
By “easy route”, I presume you mean a route that doesn’t involve asking your mother. I know this may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how the obvious can evade us in times of high emotion. Have you seen a full copy of your birth certificate in your original name? I assume you were born in the UK and, if so, you can get a copy here – www.gov.uk/order-copy-birth-death-marriage-certificate – for £9.25. You don’t need to tell your mother. That said, your biological father (whom I’ll refer to as father in this reply) will only be named if your parents were married at the time of your birth or if your father went with your mother to register your birth.
If your father was on the birth certificate and you were adopted, his permission would have been sought. In that case, you could go about trying to trace him that way. I’ve included useful websites to start the process of getting access to records and trying to find him.
If your father isn’t named on the birth certificate, then I’m afraid the only thing to do is ask your mother. I think the best way to do this is face to face. Is this possible?
You mention writing to her, and I wonder if this is because of fear or geography? I get the sense you don’t want to give her the power to know this matters to you, and I understand that. But if you want to find out who your father is, then you need to ask her. If you can, do it in person. Pick a moment where you are calm (not in an argument) and tell her how important it is for you. Not least because you may need to know health factors about your father for your own children. If you can get a family member or friend, someone who will support your request if things get heated but someone your mother also respects, to be there at the time of asking, then I think this would be immensely beneficial for your cause.
If you really can’t do it face to face, say because she lives too far away, then I would write to her telling her you would like this information and then say you will follow up with a phone call, so she can’t just ignore your letter.
Partly what’s holding you back, I think, is fear of your mother withholding the information, but I think if you perhaps talk your choice through with someone first (see later), this will make you feel more confident and less apologetic when you do ask her.
I would advise you to talk through your decision with someone neutral but informed, not least about what may happen if you find your father. Your GP should be able to put you in touch with a counsellor, though there will probably be a waiting list and you may have a limited number of sessions, but it’s a good first port of call. You can also find a private counsellor via itsgoodtotalk.org.uk or psychotherapy.org.uk; with both you can find a therapist who is near you and deals with this issue. Or try Relate. Good luck and let me know what happens.
• Helpful links: gov.uk/adoption-records
baaf.org.uk, helpline: 020-7421 2600
afteradoption.org.uk, helpline: 0800 0568 578
First published in The Guardian Family section on 5th July 2013