Candor is a double-edged sword; it may heal or it may separate.–William Stekel
I’ve seen promos recently for a program on the WE network called “The Locator.” It’s a reality show about a guy named Troy Dunn, who’s made a career out of looking up long-lost family members for hire. This week, for example, the featured hunt is “a young woman’s search for the biological father she didn’t know she had.”
My thought would be, if she’d grown into young womanhood without this man, does she really need to find him?
I don’t know anything about the facts of that case, but I’ve run into this sort of situation many times over my years of legal practice. It almost never turns out well.
For example, husband and wife live together for ten years and raise two children. Everyone remarks over the years how daughter looks just like dad, but son must have traits from a prior generation. Lo and behold, when they break up and he wants to file for custody, mom pops out with “But he’s not your son. Mr. X is really his father.”
Son learns this truth and then spends the next however many years trying to rationalize why his real father left, whether he should love or hate the man who’d raised him, and why his mother is a cheat and a liar. Lose-lose in my book.
Or a case where one parent has moved far from the other to escape domestic violence or a parent who’s commited sexual acts against the children. It’s possible to change names, Social Security numbers, and vanish into a new place, where parent and children can be safe–as long as they’re not traced.
What if one of these children finds some evidence of a former life and begins to unravel the careful web that’s protected her?
Or in the worst possible set of facts I’ve encountered, mom has an affair which brings her a child. Husband, horrified because of the affair, divorces her. Because she’s married at the time of the birth, a legal presumption applies and the biological father, though verified by genetic testing, is let off the hook for support. Husband will have nothing to do with this child, knowing it’s not his, and the father has vanished from the child’s life. Child grows up with no father at all.
When he gets old enough, what could he possibly learn from the man whose DNA makes up half his chromosomes but who walked away and washed his hands of the mess?
Would someone like Troy Dunn really help any of these people?
On his website, Dunn talks about the need to “purge,” that people will heal and feel better once they’ve come clean, as it were, and revealed the truth.
Every family has one or more secrets they have chosen not to share, for one reason or another. Some of these old family stories might just be a fictitious wedding date, to protect the legitimacy of a child, or they might be something very serious, like the ones above. Even adoptees desperate to find information about their birthparents might discover that that mother or father had very good reason to place a child into a loving home, and the revelations uncovered could do a lot of damage.
Sometimes Col. Jessup is right: we can’t handle the truth. And we shouldn’t have to.