Who's Her Daddy?
The man I thought was my daughter's father isn't, and now she wants to find her real dad. What should I do?
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Twenty years ago, I had a child out of wedlock. I had slept with two men during that period, "Tom" and "Mike." I assumed Tom was the father, but when I told him, he said he was infertile because of a childhood illness, and he showed me some paperwork to prove it. When my daughter was born, she looked just like Mike. I told him he was the father, but he didn't want anything to do with her. When my daughter was 5, I got married, and my husband was the only father my daughter has known. She loves him, but she always had questions about her biological father that I couldn't answer. I eventually got divorced, and when my daughter was 18, she wrote a letter to Mike. They started corresponding, and he flew out to meet her. They developed a relationship. We did a DNA test because he needed proof to add her as beneficiary to his will and other things. When the test came back, it proved Mike was not her father. So now my daughter wants to go to Tom's house and meet him. What do I do?
The ultimate lesson here is that sometimes we invest way more than we should in that double helix. You saw the inherited resemblance between your daughter and Mike, even though it was nonexistent. He felt the pull of shared genes with a child who turned out not to be his daughter. I hope your daughter keeps this in mind as she makes (or doesn't) contact with her actual biological father. It sounds as if you know where Tom is and how to locate him. I think the first contact should come from you. Get a phone number, or if you have only an e-mail, reintroduce yourself and say you need to have a conversation that would go better on the phone. Then lay out the facts as you've explained them here. Add that your daughter is a wonderful young woman who was lucky enough to be raised by a loving stepfather, but she has always wanted to know her biological origins. Tell Tom that, of course, your daughter wants to undergo DNA testing to clarify paternity. Then see how he reacts. If he denies paternity or says he wants nothing to do with you and your daughter, explain that you know he must be stunned to hear this. Say that you'd like to give him some time to absorb the news, and you'll contact him again after he's had a chance to think about how to proceed. You also need to prepare your daughter that, though she may have fantasies about how this reunion should go, even people with whom you share 50 percent of your genes don't always live up to your expectations. I hope that despite your divorce, your daughter still has a good relationship with her stepfather. Because whatever a cheek swab reveals, her father is the man who raised her.
I am a female law student who is employed for the summer (and potentially for the school year) at a small firm that I'm really enjoying. The law office shares a floor of an office building with a bigger law firm, and my cubicle is "on the border." All of the attorneys at both firms are male, but at the other firm, the men are far from politically correct. I have two issues: First, one of the attorneys, "Jerry," often makes comments to me about my appearance. These range from annoying but harmless ("Nice tan") to creepy ("I like that skirt," in a lecherous tone). I have tried to ignore him or subtly indicate his comments aren't welcome, but neither approach has worked. I'm tempted to speak to one of my firm's partners, but I fear it would make me look like a little girl running to a man to fight my battles. I'm also considering documenting all his comments until I have enough for a sexual harassment suit so I can make his firm pay for the legal education I used to nail it. Second, I overhear a lot of conversations I find highly offensive. The men are fond of using homosexuality-based insults, calling one another or opponents "fag" and "homo." The work environment is becoming so unpleasant that I wonder how long I can stand it. What should I do?
—Livid but Lost Law Student
I hope you don't view your law degree as a carte blanche to take to court everyone who makes you uncomfortable. If you tell a judge that getting the compliment "I like that skirt" made you unable to discharge your own legal duties, the conclusion may be that you need to find another line of work, not that the firm of Blowhard, Homophobe & Creep owes you a tuition check. The law firm you're working for likely won't be impressed with your enterprising spirit if they find out you've filed suit against the guys next door. Let's deal with Jerry. As you've discovered, being subtle isn't working. I assume your legal education is teaching you to state your position plainly, so do so. Next time Jerry comes over, tell him, "Jerry, I'd appreciate it if you would cease remarking on my appearance. I find your comments disruptive and your tone hostile. I hope you understand what I'm saying and that I won't have to say it again. Thanks." Only if he escalates should you take it to one of your partners, explaining that you've tried to deal with him yourself. As for the frat boys next door—get a sound-blocking headset if you must. Yes, their comments are repugnant, but you don't want to be the Carrie Nation of your floor. Let's hope this is resolved one day when a client of the firm who doesn't share their sensibilities overhears the office banter.
Photograph of Prudie by Teresa Castracane.