There is a question I have had on my mind for more than 30 years. One of my children from my first marriage is not my biological son, even though my ex-wife told me he was my son. As far as I’m concerned, he’s my son and always has been my son since I knew we were having another child in our family.
After he was a few years old and he was getting more grown up, he did look a lot different from our other children at the time. We started getting the usual funny questions, like, “He looks just like the milk man or the next-door neighbor.”
Well, much to my great surprise, he truly was the son of my next-door neighbor. My wife at that time admitted to me that she had an affair with the neighbor.
She eventually left me, saying she couldn’t handle raising kids and gave me full physical and legal custody of our children. I eventually married a remarkable lady a number of years later and blended our families.
Here is my question: There have been questions over the years of why my son looks different from my other kids, so at this point in our life should he know for himself that I am not his biological father? For medical reasons or anything else?
His mother never really had any relationship with any of her kids and it was her choosing not to do so. I love all my kids the same and he has been my son since before day one. Should I explain the questions that I’m sure he must have in his mind over the past years about why he doesn’t look like his other brother and sisters?
What a difficult and painful situation for you and your children to have your wife and their mother abandon the family so many years ago. You ask a very delicate, but important question. I can only imagine how painful it must have been for you to hold this information all of these years.
You instinctively sense that your son might benefit from knowing the truth about his parentage. Even though you have fathered him all of these years, there is still a mismatch in his soul that doesn’t feel right.
The short answer is this: Tell him.
Let me explain further. You have done a marvelous job of protecting your children as much as possible from the wreckage your ex-wife created in your family. Obviously none of her choices were the fault of your children, so they never needed to know details.
Now that your son is well into his adulthood, this is an important time to allow his true story to line up. This is only for his benefit. He senses something isn’t the same about him and it isn’t: He has a different biological father and it’s not your job to protect him from that reality anymore.
We protect children from those details when they’re little because it’s too abstract and, therefore, would cause harm for them to make sense of an affair and the resultant pregnancy. However, he’s capable of understanding this story now and you don’t have to keep that secret any longer.
The only caution I would offer is to make sure your son is in a stable place in his life and that he has the maturity to process such shocking information. Even though there isn’t a perfect time for these types of revelations, some times are certainly better than others.
I imagine that since you have worked hard to protect your son all of these years, your motivation to do this now has nothing to do with maligning your ex-wife or neighbor. In fact, this might be something that your son instinctively senses but has never been able to explain.
While it will certainly be shocking and difficult for him to hear, it also allows him to truly make peace with why he doesn’t look anything like his siblings.
I encourage you to work closely with a competent counselor who can be available to help guide you and your son through this sensitive revelation. The counselor might even help you facilitate the discussion to make sure you both have the support you need. This will most assuredly spread to your other children, so recognize the wide-reaching effects this could have on your entire family.
Of course, make sure to express tremendous reassurance and compassion to your son during this difficult conversation. We can’t know his reaction and it may take a long time for him to wrap his mind around something so surprising.
You are his father and this will be an important time for you to stay close to him while he makes sense of his biological history. However, I trust this will be something that gives him closure and relief.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News. Reader question lightly edited.
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