This November, my son turns 18. For the past 15 years, I have not been in his life due to the choices I made. My most fervent prayer is to be allowed in his life one day.
Over the years, I have tried to initiate communication many times and have not heard a peep. He is living with his mother, and I highly doubt she encourages any contact with me. She has emailed photos of my son to my father.
Of course, there is a lifetime of issues behind all of this. I lived with my mother until I was 6, then with my father until I was 13. To this day, my father and I have a very strained relationship.
I am wondering if I should pay a private investigator to find him when he turns 18? I know it is my fault that I haven’t been in his life. Can you give me any advice?
Dear Estranged Father,
It is very admirable that you want to be in your son’s life after so long. Yes, I think you should do everything in your power to reconnect with him. It will be life-changing, strengthening, even healing for both of you.
Once your son is an adult, you have the legal as well as moral right to establish communication. I’m sure a good private investigator could do the job, but I wonder if perhaps communication could be established through the family? This way might accomplish more for yourself and your son. Let me explain.
Since you have had almost no contact with your son since he was less than 3 years old, you will be building a relationship almost from scratch. Now it may be that this relationship comes easily—like building a sandcastle, but it also may not be easy—like building a medieval fortress. So I think a preparation step is important because you won’t be able to build a fortress without some know-how.
It is a truth that when a child doesn't have a father present they are left with questions about how worthy they really are.
- What do you believe about them? (Are they good? Are they smart? Are they dumb?)
- How do you feel about them? (Are they lovable? Are you ashamed of them? Are you embarrassed by them?)
- What are your hopes for them? (Do they have a future?)
“Our prisons are filled with men whose spirits are crushed because they never had those questions answered by their dads.”
Even successful men struggle if they haven't had a father. Meeker said she also works with professional athletes, teaching them how to be fathers and they too struggle with chaos in their souls because—though they may have achieved the epitome of fame and glory in the world—they don’t know the answer to these questions in a deep part of their hearts. The same is also true for elites in any realm.
You mention that your relationship with your own father is strained, so perhaps it's helpful to consider how he answered those questions for you. Possibly he didn’t do the best job. If this is the case, if he didn’t believe in your potential, in your inherent worth, and didn’t tell you so, then this may have set you on a path toward your mistakes.
But, of course, you can't blame him now—he was probably beaten down by life in some way. The best way forward now is to acknowledge any wounds still unhealed in you, accept that your father had faults, and forgive him for them. I would guess he was doing his best with the hand he was dealt—most of us are.
Your desire to be a present in your son’s life—despite all this time—really speaks to a nobility and strength in you. In my experience, parenting requires a lot of strength because, since we love and care so much for our children, they can bring up deep fears. In those moments when I’ve been really challenged by my son, I think back to how I felt when he was a newborn—how I knew he had amazing potential and that I would do and sacrifice so much for him, and this gives me the strength to overcome in myself what is challenging our relationship.
I mention this because it may be that when you meet your son, he might not the person you hoped he would be, or he may have a very distorted view of you (we have no idea what his mother has been telling him) and you may have to prove to him that you are still worthy of being his dad.
Put another way, I think your search for your son is an actual hero’s quest, and thus you will meet with setbacks, perhaps rejection, perhaps disrespect, and there will be moments in which you will doubt yourself. But it's the nature of the quest to be hard.
So as to your question about how to contact him, you could hire a private investigator, but what if you take the path of first easing some of the strain in your relationship with your own father? Then what about your son’s mother? Could you become on cordial terms with her? The benefit is that you will start to reweave family bonds around your son, which might naturally lead to a connection with him, and importantly, through this process you gain strength and wisdom.
I think if you reflect, you will know how best to proceed.
My other suggestion would be to consider reading, to help bring you perspective, courage, and wisdom; some works to consider might be hero tales such as Hercules or biographies of great men like George Washington.