Does the truth really set you free?

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.


5 thoughts on “Does the truth really set you free?

  1. Pingback: Does the truth really set you free? « Awalkabout's Weblog Children Me

  2. I think so much of it depends on expectations, especially with adoptees. We have a longstanding cultural story that says parents relinquish their biological children only great duress, and are happy to get them back later. (see Moses, Superman, Zeus, other cultural heroes) Get past that, and the expectations upon discovering a biological parent are much more realistic. My best friend and her husband are both adoptees. She’s found her birth mother, who was happy to hear from her. They’ve managed to build a reasonably friendly relationship without damaging the relationship she has with the family that adopted her (and which she considers her actual family). However, she is also still looking for her birth father (birth parents had a nasty breakup, so birth mother won’t divulge his name) not because she thinks the same thing will happen, but because she wants a medical history. It’s the same for her husband’s birth family: they want to know if there’s a history of cancer, or mental illness, or other things that might be relevant for them and their children. In this case, and actually in some of the cases you mentioned above, I think full disclosure of the available information is better. The abused spouse/child, for example, would be a case of making sure the child (who would have to be old enough to hire someone) knows exactly why these steps were taken. Knowing the full situation (as much as possible) before the step of locating the person should make the set of expectations more realistic. Not that humans always react logically, of course.

    / 2 cents

  3. my observation that such television programming is exploitation, masked with a thin veil of helpfulness. “Hoarders” is my current example… exploiting mental illness to make viewers feel a little better about their own messy closets.

    Regarding tracking down lost family members? It’s fueled by the fantasy that there’s a rich, loving, perfect family out there, who accidently misplaced us – and everything would be all better if we could just find them…

  4. Good morning Walkabout! Excellent blog and very interesting points. However, the facts simply don’t back up your theory. Having rebuilt thousands of fractured families fom all walks of life, all parts of the world, I have learned that it is true, you cannot find peace until you find all the pieces.
    While some may seek and find what you have portrayed here, some horrible situation, some horrible-heartless father or mother who abandoned them without a care in the world…. that is not the case more times than not. There are three sides to every story and the version told by ‘present company’ in one’s life is generally a filtered version of the truth and too often just a complete fabrication.
    Lying to children about something as basic as the identity of their parents is a destructive as anything you can do to a child. There is no justification for it that passes the long-term tests; history has proven to us that eventually the truth DOES come out and when it does, it will expose the lying parent who opted not to be truthful and will damage that relationship. Deception is deception, no matter the reason. A bad idea always.
    Time after time I have seen these lies come out at the worst possible times. In some cases, the truth comes out after the deceiving parent passes away and the real parent attends the funeral service where he (wrongly so IMHO) reveals the truth. In other cases, I have seen the child require sudden medical care and the doctors demand full parental medical history, therby forcing the truth to the service in behalf of the child’s life. Awkward at best, destructive at worst.
    I have heard adoptive parents offer up every imaginable reason for lying to their children about the true identity of their bio parents. And many of them sound really good when said outloud. But no excuse has ever passed the mustard test when the truth finally comes out. And know this… it does come out. The idea of lying to “shelter” your child from something ugly is rationalization at it’s worst. Life isn’t about hiding the “bad stuff” from our children. It’s about preparing them for a world where bad stuff exists and arming them with coping skills. Letting them know that while some people throughout their life may lie or deceive them, they can always count on us and trust us as their parent- biological or not.
    Love and honesty do not require a DNA match. 🙂

    Kep up the great blog and the open conversation. Excellent forum for truth here! By the way, what I do on “The Locator” is truly my life’s work. It is why I believe I am on earth. Not exploitive tv as ‘Daisy” suggests. And if I may address another comment Daisy made, most adoptees are not under some dillusion that their bio family is some rich, famous family who is longing for their lost love child. Adoptees are educated as to the reality of what may be waiting for them and I believe our show has been very truthful at showing what can happen when things don’t go as hoped. I am being as truthful about the possible outcomes as I would like parents to be when taling to their children about their bio parents.
    To answer your question in your headline, yes. Eventually, the truth does set you free. Wait for it…
    God bless all of you and the families you are working so hard to raise. Parenting is not easy but it is worth it. It is God’s work. 🙂
    “The Locator”

    • Mr. Dunn,
      Thank you for taking the time to comment on the story. There are definitely at least two sides to all these family stories, and I hope for each one that is negative, another comes forward that is positive and satisfies everyone. I certainly welcome the open discussion. Anyone else have thoughts?


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