If my father had seen me, what would he have done?
So I’ve been following this TV soapie (we all have our weaknesses, and this is mine). In it, a woman (let’s call her Jane) has a relationship with a man (Dick) and falls pregnant. After much soul searching she decides to keep the baby, even though Dick doesn’t want her to, and even offers to pay for an abortion.
Enter a good friend of Jane’s (who, in true soapie style, is also secretly in love with her). He (Tom) not only offers to marry Jane, but also publicly accept responsibility for fathering her baby. He also negotiates an agreement with Dick to adopt the baby. So far, so good.
Until the baby is born. It’s a girl. Dick goes out of his way to avoid visiting mother and baby in hospital, but then something comes up and he has no choice but to go. While there he gets to see his child and even hold her for a few minutes while Jane takes a call on her mobile. Father and daughter share a bonding moment.
Later, Tom presents Dick with the adoption forms, but is taken aback when Dick asks for more time before signing them. Reluctantly, however, he agrees. While perusing the forms Dick reads the following line: “the parent shall relinquish all rights to the child”. A light goes on. He realises that he cannot sign away all rights to his daughter. While Jane was pregnant with her he was able to convince himself that she was an abstract entity. But since holding her in his arms, everything has changed. He finally decides not to sign the adoption papers.
Watching all this unfold on my television set I felt my chest slowly begin to constrict until eventually I had to rub it in an attempt to ease the tightness. It’s what usually happens when an adoption issue touches me on a personal level.
When my birth mother told my biological father she was pregnant with me, he left her. She never saw him again.
I often wonder whether he ever wonders what happened to the girl he got pregnant back in ’63. Does he wonder whether she had the baby? Whether it was a boy or a girl? Or did he forget about the whole episode, as my birth mother told me he probably did? I have asked several men if they would be able to forget about an unplanned pregnancy they had been party to and the answer is always an unequivocal no.
Back then it was not uncommon for men not to want to face responsibility for an unplanned pregnancy. South African birth mothers were not legally required to name the father of their baby, nor was the father’s legal consent required, as it is today, for the baby to be given up for adoption.
But I can’t help wondering… If my father had stuck around while my birth mother was pregnant and then visited the hospital where I was born – would the sight of me have caused him change his mind?
Would he have wanted to know me, perhaps even to keep me?
Would he have wanted his name on my birth certificate?
Or would he have decided to walk away anyway?