11 October, 2012

An Absentee Father

In a few short months, it will be my biological daughter's fourteenth birthday.

Already, she is at the age I was when I first started making mistakes that had significant impact on my life. When I was 13, as she is now, I was expelled from the top boarding school in the state of Alabama. It was a stupid mistake; having girls in one's dorm was against the rules, and I disobeyed the rule multiple times, even after getting suspended for breaking it previously. To me, the prospect of sex was just too much more important than whether I would be expelled. Obviously, it was a dumb decision, but I felt I was making the rational choice at the time.

So it occurs to me that she is now at that age when some of her actions might have drastic effects on her future. I sincerely wish her well on these first few important decisions. I'm not too worried, though, as I'm confident that her mother will have raised her well enough to do better than chance.

I say this even though I have not seen either my biological daughter or her mother for thirteen years. I know nothing of their life, nor how things have gone. I have not attempted contact with them, nor they with me. It's justified in their case, as I was a particularly poor teenage father and they were much better off without me. But I've had more than a few people say that even if they are justified in not attempting to see me, I am not similarly justified in not even attempting to maintain any kind of parental relationship, however tenuous it might be.

I'm well aware that this is a legitimate complaint. To many people, an absent father is not only strongly negative, but downright heartless. "Any relationship," they claim, "will be better than absolute silence. Surely you must at least make it known that you care, even if your daughter does not return the sentiment."

Yet this argument does not move me at all. I really was a terrible father (I seriously doubt I'd be any better of a father today, unless I adopted a child that was already partially grown). I honestly believe that the policy of no contact resulted in the best effects overall for all involved. I feel no regret nor shame at not being a real father. I regret many of my actions from that phase of my life, but not that I stayed absent. I'm not only comfortable with not being there -- I'm proud of the decision.

But this does not satisfy some critics. "You sound so cold when you say these things. You continually call her your "biological" child, rather than just your daughter. Don't you even feel a thread of responsibility? How can you live without even thinking of her?"

For many years, this objection really confused me. It has always seemed to me that my feelings on the matter are not cold, but instead quite reasonable. I am not her real father; a real father is someone who is there for a child: someone who takes care of, teaches, and helps them. That's not me. It never has been. I was, at most, a biological donor. I still wish her well; I want her life to be good and for her to experience good things in this world. But I'd say the same for the child of my neighbor, or the child that crosses the street on their way to the bus. I do not feel any special feelings for her -- furthermore, if I did, I can't help but to think that would be creepy. What right would I have to have special feelings for a thirteen year old child I do not even know? It honestly confuses me how others don't automatically see that such feelings would be genuinely creepy.

But, as the years have passed, I've come to understand a little more of what these critics are trying to convey. To them, the passing on of genetic material is somehow a sacred act, and there exists a duty for those who pass on such material to become a parent figure in the life of that child. It's still a terribly silly notion to my mind, but at least I'm starting to get why so many disparate people have made the same complaint.

To this, I can only say that my lack of special feelings does not mean I have negative feelings. If, for some reason, Adrianah Celes Herboso (or Guyer or whatever name she now goes by) wanted to contact me or otherwise have some kind of relationship, however trivial, I would not automatically be opposed to it. Even though I do not believe the passing of genetic material is important (far more important are the actual parents that do the work of raising a child), I can understand why she might not feel the same way. If that's the case, then I'd be willing to see if a positive relationship could be maintained. Not because I feel a special bond, but because if she felt it was important, then what reason would I have to dissuade her from it?

So, I will continue to not attempt contact of any kind, nor would I have any particular wish for her to initiate contact with me. But, if for some reason she does anyway, I would do my best to be a positive influence. Especially now that she's at an age where her reason might be tested in situations that could seriously impact her future life.

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