There is a question I have had on my mind for over 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 as kids do, he did look a lot different than 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 did admit to me that she did have an affair with the neighbor.
She eventually left me, saying she couldn’t handle raising kids and left me with 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 the son in question looks different than my other kids. And, of course, the funny answers come out. 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 of 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 a 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 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.
You also don’t want him to find out from someone else before you have a chance to tell him in person. It would be horrible for his mother or the neighbor to contact him and reveal this information to him without giving him any real support. You are the best one to tell him.
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 of 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 other children.
Of course, make sure to express tremendous reassurance and compassion to your son during this difficult revelation. We can’t know his reaction, and it may take a long time for him to wrap his mind around something so surprising. He will likely feel betrayed, confused, angry, sad, and other difficult emotions. You are his father and this will be an important time for you to stay close to him while he makes sense of this new reality.
Remember to turn him to his Savior and remind him, as Elder Dallin H. Oaks recently taught, that, “having descended beneath it all, [Christ] is perfectly positioned to lift us and give us the strength we need to endure our afflictions. We have only to ask.”[i] Your son needs to know that Someone knows what he’s feeling.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.