Gallinger: Adopted brother has the right to get in touch with brothers, even if mother objects
Q: My husband was born in the 1940s and given up for adoption. After a long search, he learned the identity of his birth parents, and the fact that he has several brothers. He contacted his birth mother, and cautiously requested permission to be in touch with his brothers. She informed him that they knew nothing of his existence, and he was, under no circumstances, to get in touch. His birth father died of cancer. Recently, my husband saw his doctor, who told him he had precancerous tissue that might lead to the form of cancer that killed his dad; the doctor advised him to notify his brothers so they could be screened. He repeated this request to his birth mother, but her negative response was even more emphatic. My husband knows how to contact his brothers but feels constrained by his mother’s wishes. What should he do?
A: He should contact them.
Giving birth to a child does not give parents control over them for the rest of their lives. And especially, it does not give them the right to manipulate their relationships with other people. We give birth to children, nurture them and set them free to make the best decisions they can. That’s why parents get a birth certificate, not a bill of sale.
Your husband is his mother’s son. But he is also his brothers’ brother, whether she likes it or not. You don’t tell me why he was put up for adoption while the other brothers were raised by their birth parents. Nor do we know why the parents chose not to tell the younger boys of their brother’s existence. There are many reasons, both good and bad, why they may have made that decision.
But in the end, none of that matters. The simple fact is that your husband has brothers, and his parents have no right to prevent him from talking to them.
Certainly, making contact has the potential to be disruptive for the family, and that’s too bad. Sometimes we make bad decisions, and they disrupt our lives later on. But the decision to keep your husband’s existence secret was made by his parents, not by him, and the responsibility for repairing any damage that results is theirs, not his. And yes, I know his mother is now old – but such is life.
The medical information your husband has is important, and the willingness of his mother to deny that information to her sons points to an approach that has likely defined her entire relationship with her kids. She’s afraid, but it’s sad that she puts her fear above her sons’ health. They have every right to know of this potential time bomb ticking inside them; your husband has a responsibility to share what he knows.
But even without the medical aspect, even if all your husband wanted to do was share a game of golf with his bros, he has the right to do so. If he contacts them and they tell him to get lost, so be it. But that’s a decision for these mature men to make – not something to be controlled by a guilt-ridden, and ultimately selfish, mother.