Dear Dr. Meg,
My name is John and my wife Brittany and I have been married almost 5 years. When I met Brittany she was 3 months pregnant with a little boy, Jacob. He is now 8. I was there in the delivery room, I’ve been there for all of his firsts, and when my wife joined the Army I was there every night while Jacob slept and woke up from nightmares because he missed his mommy.
Now, out of nowhere, Jake’s biological father wants to “be a part of Jacob’s life.”
My wife is confused and scared. I’m angry and scared. I have been listening to your podcasts, reading your articles, and I have your audio book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. That book and your podcasts changed our lives because it gave me confidence in being a parent which helped me calm down and not parent in haste or anger.
With Jacob’s most formidable years in the not-distant future and the struggles he is bound to face in our culture and inside himself, what should we do? Should we throw this monkey wrench into our well-oiled machine or should we try to move on, running smoothly?
Sincerely and thank you in advance,
I don’t blame you for being angry. You are right to be concerned, but don’t be scared. The tricky part is keeping your feelings in check because this situation pushes a lot of very intense emotions. First, let me reassure you of something: you are not going to lose your son. The love and care that you have poured into him during his early years will not come back void. He knows you are his father. This other man will feel like a stranger to him. There may well come a day when he will want to get to know him and even live with him for a while. Or, he may not. It’s hard to tell what kids will want to do because they each react differently. Usually, the time when they want to get to know their biological parents (if they want to) occurs when they are teens or young adults.
This man may or may not have pure motives, and the truth is, right now you just don’t know what his motives are. As such, your first priority is to protect your son. Here’s what I would do in your situation.
Consult a lawyer. You need to know if this man has legal rights concerning Jacob. That will determine your next move. Have you adopted Jacob as your son? If not, I would do that ASAP. If he has no rights, then you decide what you feel is best for Jacob and do it. Jacob didn’t walk out on his dad, his dad walked out on him, and in my book, that disqualifies his biologic father from getting what he wants. He isn’t Jacob’s dad – you are. So, decide if you want to let Jacob see him at all. To help decide that, I would want to know, does Jacob ever ask about his biologic father? Does he know about him and does he seem curious about him at all? If he asks and then says that he would like to meet him, let him – but do so with close supervision. Be there with him and keep the visit short. If Jacob has no interest, I would try to keep this man away.
Caring for, protecting and being present for a child, not just making a baby, makes you a real dad.
If the man has legal rights, then you need to consult a “Friend of the Court” or social worker who can help you make a plan to allow Jacob to see him. But do whatever you can to be with him while they are together. This man is a stranger to your son. The court will let you know what you can and can’t do as far as this man is concerned.
Tell Jacob who this man is in very matter-of-fact terms. He may barge into Jacob’s life in some way and Jacob needs to hear from you who this strange man is. Tell him that Daddy’s can get Mom’s pregnant but then leave and that doesn’t make you a real dad. Loving a child, caring for, protecting and being present for a child makes you the real dad, not just making a baby. Be upfront with him so that he doesn’t get surprised or confused.
When a child learns about an adult who left him, they sometimes wonder who else will leave.
Tell Jacob that you will never leave him. When a child learns about an adult who left him, many feelings arise. Sometimes kids wonder who else will leave. That’s why it is important for you to reassure him that you are never going to leave him. He won’t ask you, but he may feel it, so tell him even though he doesn’t ask.
You’re a great dad, John, and I know you’ll navigate this situation wisely.