When Darrick Rizzo was 18, his girlfriend of three years told him she was pregnant. With the couple on the cusp of their college careers and unprepared to parent, his girlfriend chose to pursue adoption. Despite opposing the decision, Rizzo ultimately acquiesced, hoping to offer the best life possible for his son.
“I was willing to do anything for my boy, even if that meant listening to his mom and choosing an open adoption,” wrote Rizzo in his book, The Open Adoption: A Birth Father’s Journey.
Rizzo was committed to his role as a birth father and sent letters and gifts to his son. Years later, he learned his child had never received his correspondence. Despite a desire to be an involved birth father, his efforts were thwarted.
Whether or not they make the effort, the reality is that many birth fathers end up absent from the lives of their adopted children. And until recently, the relationship between adoptees and their birth fathers had not been given too much consideration in the context of the adoption conversation.
But as social media and family genealogy tracing allow more children to find and connect with their biological dads, Christians involved in adoption are thinking about the significance of such relationships.
“We’re starting to see a little more discussion around birth fathers, where historically they’ve been left out of the picture,” said Cam Lee, an adoptee and a Christian who now works as a therapist with adoptive families.
“What we know is that when birth fathers are involved … it’s a better outcome,” said Jennifer McCallum, foster care and adoption counseling supervisor for Buckner International, a Christian organization that facilitates open adoptions.
“We tend to think of the expectant moms as the only one making a sacrifice or grieving,” said McCallum. “But we want birth fathers to be a part of the entire process.”
Both parents can experience a sense of loss when their child is adopted. There isn’t much research out there, but one study of 30 birth fathers found that they experience feelings similar to birth mothers: grief, distress, and pain, for example.
“Birth fathers reported similar waves of emotion around birthdays, holidays, major life events and other major triggers,” according to the National Council for Adoption’s report.
Roger Matthews, 61, placed his son up for adoption over 40 years ago. He maintains it was the right decision for him and his girlfriend, both just 18 at the time, and one born out of their nascent Christian faith at the time.
Years later, Matthews met his adult son, and it was the beginning of a new family tree for them both. Matthews’s son initially sought contact with his birth mother, who then connected the three of them. “We now see them regularly,” Matthews said in an email. “I count them as part of our family.”
Theodora Blanchfield, 38, was adopted as a newborn. As an adult, she met her birth mother first. That desire felt “urgent” at the time. But it wasn’t long after that when she was compelled to find her birth father, too.
“Growing up, I had envy of people who weren’t adopted,” said Blanchfield. “People who took knowing stuff about themselves for granted.” Though she said meeting her father was somewhat anticlimactic, she was thankful for the opportunity.
Lee, the therapist who works with adoptive families, never met the birth father who died when he was a baby. But he has a “living curiosity” about him, including regular thoughts and dreams. “There’s a longing to humanize him,” he said.
He believes it would be beneficial to start incorporating birth fathers more into his work with families. Without the presence of a birth father in any way, he said, identity development can be harmed.