An­nal­isa Bar­bieri

Should I tell my adult daugh­ter that her fa­ther may not be the man she has al­ways called Dad?

The Guardian - Family - - Family life - @An­nal­isaB

I am not sure who the fa­ther of my daugh­ter is. And I am not sure whether to tell her. She is in her 30s, and mother to a young boy. I was glad she had a boy, as it broke the rather toxic moth­er­daugh­ter thread in my fam­ily. All the women seem to have hated their moth­ers, as far back as I know about.

My first hus­band was se­ri­ally un­faith­ful, and it was at this time that I had sex with a friend of his (I’m not proud of this). When I got home, my hus­band forced me to have sex with him. That was the night my daugh­ter was con­ceived. I di­vorced my first hus­band when she was a tod­dler, so she didn’t grow up with him.

My daugh­ter and I had a fraught re­la­tion­ship, as I did with my mother. Both of us have worked re­ally hard on it, and are now very ap­pre­cia­tive of one an­other, and I think we are pretty hon­est with each other. Since hav­ing her son, she un­der­stands a lot more about the com­plex­i­ties of moth­er­hood and has ad­mit­ted as much to me. She had post­na­tal de­pres­sion, and this also brought us closer to­gether, as I have tried to be there for her and her lovely hus­band. She is hav­ing psy­chother­apy, which is great. Like me, she has al­ways wanted to un­der­stand her­self bet­ter, and be­come bet­ter her­self.

We are talk­ing about her child­hood, about fam­ily her­itage. Do I tell her that the man she has al­ways called Dad may not be her fa­ther? She has a rather dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship with him – he has al­ways dis­ap­pointed her and has not been there for her.

The other man had anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion that she might have in­her­ited. But I have no idea where he is, or what his sit­u­a­tion is. He was mar­ried and had a son, who is a few years older than my daugh­ter. He got di­vorced not long af­ter I di­vorced my first hus­band. He did come to see me once and asked if my daugh­ter was his, but I told him it was best to leave things as they were, with her think­ing my ex-hus­band was her fa­ther.

All things con­sid­ered, I am in­cred­i­bly grate­ful that we have as good a re­la­tion­ship as we do. But I recog­nise that it is frag­ile and can eas­ily be bro­ken.

I would wel­come your thoughts on this. It has been bub­bling un­der for ages, but now that she is in ther­apy, would it be use­ful to her to know?

Your much longer let­ter had a lot of in­for­ma­tion about your tumultuous life and I am pleased that you have got to where you are, es­pe­cially with re­gard to the pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship you now have with your daugh­ter. But you are right, what it boils down to is: do you tell her or not? If you don’t, you have to be ab­so­lutely sure she won’t find out some other way. If you do, you need to care­fully man­age how you tell her so as not to po­ten­tially dam­age a re­la­tion­ship you have both worked hard on.

I am a big fan of talk­ing ther­apy, but es­pe­cially so in this case: I strongly rec­om­mend you book your­self some ses­sions to talk this through so that if you do tell her, you do it in the best way pos­si­ble and the first time you say this out loud isn’t to

your daugh­ter.

Ther­apy doesn’t have to be ex­pen­sive, and some places of­fer it free: ask lo­cally and check out the link be­low.

Ni­cola McCarry, a fam­ily psy­chother­a­pist (, came up with some things for you to think about. “Ex­pe­ri­ence has taught me that it’s re­ally im­por­tant for chil­dren to know their her­itage. If you knew who the fa­ther was – and I re­alise you don’t at this stage – it would be im­por­tant to tell your daugh­ter so she could trace her fa­ther [if it was the other man] be­fore he dies and the op­por­tu­nity is lost to her. But telling her it could be one of two men – would un­bur­den­ing your­self be bur­den­ing your daugh­ter?”

This is why we think it is vi­tal you talk it through in ther­apy first be­cause some of the de­tails you shared with me need care­ful han­dling. You sound very car­ing and, as McCarry says, pro­tec­tive of your daugh­ter; but I want you to be sure you are not, sub­con­sciously, try­ing to sab­o­tage a mother-daugh­ter re­la­tion­ship that is go­ing well, when all you have pre­vi­ously known is them go­ing wrong.

Do you have any clues? “Does your daugh­ter look like ei­ther man?” asks McCarry. “Has any­one else ever won­dered about who her fa­ther is? The facts as you have told them are a bru­tal truth that no child would want to hear about their con­cep­tion.”

On the one hand, you told us about a man who forced you to have sex (which is rape), and the other was a man who seemed to have few pos­i­tive fea­tures. Your daugh­ter will want to know what made you have sex with this other man. “Is there any­thing,” asks McCarry, “which you can bring for­ward to show his more at­trac­tive side? You don’t want to lie, but is there some­thing a bit more pos­i­tive a child, al­beit an adult one, may want to hear?

“You need to think through the risks of telling her ver­sus the risks of not telling her.”

Telling your daugh­ter may ex­pose her to “shock, de­spair, maybe be­trayal”. But if she finds out by ac­ci­dent, th­ese feel­ings will be stronger still.

If you get to the point of telling her, this link,, tells you about DNA and pa­ter­nity test­ing.

Your prob­lems solved Con­tact An­nal­isa Bar­bieri, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, Lon­don N1 9GU or email an­nal­isa. bar­ An­nal­isa re­grets she can­not en­ter into per­sonal cor­re­spon­dence

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