Free: A Birthfather’s Story

This post is by Shane Lynen, a birthfather who blogs at Northern Lights. It is part of A Dad’s Devotion, a month-long series of original stories related to adoption, fatherhood and Father’s Day.

Open and honest.  That’s a phrase which has been used around our house a lot in the past 13 months.  We have used that phrase as the base for every discussion in that time.  We made a commitment to be open and honest with everyone in this family on every topic because the pain of secrecy had almost ripped us all apart.

Let me back up here and give some context.  You see, I had a secret.  I had a daughter who was born when I was 19 and given up for adoption.  And I told nobody about it.  It was my personal, private shame.  I wasn’t ashamed of my daughter, but I was ashamed that I had allowed a young lady to get pregnant and then have to give that baby up for adoption thereby destroying both of their lives.

I felt guilty, embarrassed, ashamed, and powerless.  In fact, I kept my secret right up until the day my daughter found me again 16 years later.  That was 6 years ago, and it was the day I first told anybody about her existence.  That first person to find out was my wife, after 10 years of marriage.  I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain how much that little surprise rocked her world.

Last year, my daughter, or as I call her, my Big Little Girl, came to visit us and meet me for the first time.  We opened our home to her and her best friend and invited them into our family.  The problem is, once again, I had kept Big Little Girl a secret.

To my wife, she was a total stranger, but I knew everything about her.  We had spent 4 years building a relationship through letters, email and texting.  We talked every single day.  I shared absolutely none of that relationship with my wife.  My wife felt betrayed.

Big Little Girl stayed for a week, and by the time she went home, my wife and I had some serious work to do to fix us.

The legacy of closed adoptions

Since then, we have all been active participants in this reunion journey; me, my wife, our 3 kids, and Big Little Girl.  We’ve had our ups and downs, but we are all much better people for it.

I bring all this up because this is the legacy of closed adoptions.  Hidden away.  Shameful.  Guilt ridden.  Something to never speak about.  I used to actually pride myself on being a “private person” who never shared details about my life with anybody, all because I was never allowed to be involved in her life.

Because I was told as a young, confused man-child to go away and get lost.  I wanted to be involved, but I was told that I wasn’t wanted and that I had already caused too much pain.  That’s a heavy burden for a young man to carry.  The way closed adoptions dismiss the fathers causes pain on a galactic scale.

But, closed adoptions don’t care what fathers think or feel.  Big Little Girl grew up thinking she must have been a bad baby because she was given away. I feel she wouldn’t have carried those thoughts if she knew I existed.

This has changed somewhat in the past 13 months.  Sure, some of the old feelings linger on, and they are hard to erase.  There is a scar we share, her and I, which may never fully heal.  A scar of profound loss and grief and missing a lifetime of each other.

Living as a birthfather

However, My Big Little Girl took it upon herself to change this closed adoption into an open one.  And I couldn’t be more grateful to her for that.  Because of her choice to know where she came from, she affected all of us.  She brought us into her world, and we brought her into ours.  We have grown and healed in so many fundamental ways through each other.  She has a family here, and she knows it.

Y’see, I’m now FREE.  That means I have gained a Father’s Right to Express Emotion.  FREE.

I am a better father and husband today because I have allowed myself to actually fall in love with my children, all of them.  I can talk openly and honestly about my fears and insecurities and joys and happiness.  On any subject.  I’m not that super private person I used to be.

This is why I started blogging.  Because it’s important for fathers to understand what a true connection to their children and spouse sounds like.  I am an open book.  I certainly don’t get it right all the time.  I make mistakes, I misunderstand intentions, and I say the wrong things.  But, I will never, ever allow myself to be emotionally closed off again.  This is the strength I’ve learned in the past 13 months.

My challenge to fathers everywhere, as you are looking for a way to have a deep, meaningful relationship with your kids; be open and honest.  Be FREE.  You have a right to express your feelings.  Reserve that stoic, stiff upper lip stuff for the office.  When you’re at home, be who you are meant to be.

It’s not a weakness to admit you’re afraid, or sad, or confused, or even angry.  Fatherhood now means to me to not only be a financial provider, but an emotional one as well.  When fathers model that for their children, they know they have a safe place to come when the world seems too hard for them.  My kids know my world isn’t easy; that I have times of unease and sadness.

And that’s okay.  They respect me for it.  My kids know that the hard emotions they have as they grow into the teen years aren’t theirs alone.  That I can relate to what they feel.  My wife also enjoys the honest husband she’s gained.  Remember guys, happy wife, happy life.

I lived as a birthfather in a closed adoption for 20 years.  I’ve lived as a Daddy in an open adoption for the last 2 years.  I much prefer being a Daddy.

Because of it, I’m FREE.

Shane Lynen lives with his wife and 3 children in Calgary, Alberta. You can follow the ups and downs of their reunion story at his blog, Northern Lights.

Do you have an adoption story?
Share it with us as part of A Dad’s Devotion, a month-long series of original stories by adoptive parents, birthparents and hopeful adoptive parents and adoptees. How has adoption changed your definition of fatherhood or family? What impact has adoption had on your life and what do you want people to know about it? Submit your story here or learn more by checking out our Guidelines For Guest Posts at America Adopts!