Sex offender dad wants to renew his relationship with our son.

Advice on manners and morals.
May 20 2010 6:46 AM

Ex-Con Dad Wants Back in Son's Life

He's a deadbeat sex offender. Should I let him have a relationship with our boy?

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Dear Prudence,
I am a young mother with a 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter and have been married to a wonderful man for almost three years. My husband is not the biological father of my son. My problem is that my son's biological father has just gotten out of prison and is a registered sex offender. He has not seen our son for the past five years and now wants to be part of his life. I haven't tried to hide from my son that he has another father, but I think he is still too young to understand the whole story. My husband wants to adopt him, and I want this as well. But we don't know whether we should do that or let his biological father into his life, even though I'm worried he might hurt him emotionally or, God forbid, some other way. But if we go through with the adoption, maybe my son will resent that we made this decision for him. Everyone close to us has an opinion. I would like the opinion of someone who is not close to the problem.

—Stuck Mother

Dear Stuck,
Your dilemma touches on some of my strongly held beliefs. For one thing, that people are entitled to know about their origins. For another, that children need stability, so a reliable step-parent can be preferable to an untrustworthy biological parent. And finally, that the fewer ex-con sex offenders hanging around the kids, the better. Your fear about what your ex might do to your son tells you that there's really no place for him in your family's life—presumably, the courts would prevent him from seeing the boy unaccompanied. Good for you for explaining to your son that he has another father. And you're right, he doesn't have to know the whole story, but he's old enough to know the general outlines: His father had to go to jail because he committed a crime. However, there's an even more important story to tell your son about himself: that the man he knows as "Daddy" loves him completely and wants to adopt him so that he can be your son's father forever. (Of course, getting the biological father's parental rights terminated requires consultation with a lawyer.) When you complete the adoption, you can celebrate this happy event with a cake and a little family party. Because your son legally has a new father, that doesn't mean you should make the subject of your son's biological father verboten or refuse to let them meet when your son is old enough—if that's what your son wants. Go ahead with the adoption with the confidence that you are acting in your son's immediate and long-term interests. Let me also assure you that no matter what you do, and even if your son had been born to the world's most traditional nuclear family, by the time he becomes a teenager, he is guaranteed to resent you for oh-so-much. 

—Prudie

Dear Prudence:
I've been unemployed for the past two years. I've applied for thousands of jobs in person, online, through the mail, etc. This whole thing has been very stressful and has affected me in a way I cannot describe. I just want to work to take care of myself without relying on anyone for assistance. Recently, I've had a couple of phone calls from recruiters who asked why I've been unemployed for so long. This irritated the heck out of me, and I'm sure the tone of my voice changed after that. Being unemployed this long isn't something I wanted, nor was it a decision I made. Prior to this, I was never unemployed. What can I do to not get so bothered by this? And what would be the best way to respond?

—Not Happy About It

Dear Not,
Sure, you're tempted to say, "Apparently you haven't heard that we're in the worst economic downturn since the Depression, and economists are talking about a 'jobless recovery,' you moron!" But think of it this way—you have attracted the interest of recruiters, and that's great news. Their job is to vet you, and your job is to persuade them to recommend you for the next stage. So do your job! That means you want to answer all their questions without sounding bitter, defensive, or desperate. You can say something like, "If I were in your position, I'd be asking exactly that question. The answer is that, like millions of others, I've been hit hard by the economy—and that is the reason. Prior to the recession, I'd never been unemployed, which is what you'll find when you check my excellent work record and references." I hear from so many people who have been shredded not only financially, but emotionally, by unemployment. It's cruel that people are looked at askance for being out of work through no fault of their own. I know it's hard to stay positive, but by doing so, you will make your return to the work world that much more likely.