Dilemmas: My son has found his real dad

Adriana kept it secret, but her 23-year-old son has found his natural American father, who dumped Adriana when she got pregnant. The son is now ignoring Adriana's partner, who brought him up. Adriana's upset and resentful. What should she do?

VIRGINIA'S ADVICE

If anyone should be upset and resentful it should, surely, be Adriana's son, who's been brought up being lied to night and day for the whole of his life. And it hasn't been just a little Father Christmas kind of lie. It's been a lie about who is his real father - a great big whopper.

I know I will get inundated with letters about who is a child's "real" father, but a "real" father to me is the person whose genes are swarming round that child's body. No matter if he's a monster or a murderer, a real father is the one who comes up as dad when the DNA tests get done.

So it's small wonder that Adriana's son has got friendly with his real dad, and Adriana shouldn't begrudge him this new relationship. He now has two men in his life - a father figure, and a real father. Lucky old him.

As for Adriana's fury that this man behaved badly when she was pregnant, it was over 20 years ago, for heaven's sake, and young men often behave appallingly out of fear and selfishness. He shouldn't be judged any more than Adriana would judge herself for a ghastly tantrum she had in the supermarket at the age of three.

This man is now, apparently, married with children, and he cried when he heard about his son.

He's a changed person. Adriana may see him as a creep, because he was vile to her when she was in trouble; her son, however, knows only the new, more mature man who has been kind and loving towards him.

However, Adriana's feelings can't be ignored as they're totally understandable, if irrational. And the way to help everyone would be for her to meet the new man her son's father has turned into, for herself.

She could start with a letter, perhaps adding that she'd be very happy for him to show it to his wife so that she doesn't feel threatened.

Adriana should say that she is getting in touch for their son's sake, that she has always felt angry and resentful about the way he behaved in the past, but that she's trying to move on, and that she would like to ring him up or perhaps even meet him, if he's ever in England, and talk about their boy.

She could say she's worried that their son seems to be neglectful of the man who brought him up, and hopes that perhaps his dad could give him some good advice in that direction.

He probably has no idea of what chaos his presence is creating in her family, and it would probably be a very good idea if everyone could meet, Adriana and her partner, him and his wife and perhaps all the children.

It would be like getting all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together in one box and starting to work out a new picture together.

As it is, it's as if Adriana's got a bit of sky and a bit of cloud, her son and his father have got a bit of tree and a bit of ground, and her partner probably once had the box the pieces came in but now has lost the picture.

This man is here to stay in her son's life. The sooner Adriana can face the demons she is harbouring the better. True, everyone may not be palsy- walsy, but at least they can stop living in the past and step out of the dishonest dream world that they have all been living in for the past 23 years.

READERS' SUGGESTIONS

Don't interfere, be calm

Your son needs to find out for himself how much his natural father should mean to him. Explain how badly you were treated but acknowledge how young you both were. Try not to make him feel ashamed of half of himself. Don't interfere, be calm, be reasonable beyond the call of motherhood. Fathers can love more than one son, so perhaps sons can love more than one father.

ANNE BAYLEY

Sherborne, Dorset

Avoid bitterness at all costs

Perhaps Adriana should try and see it as a compliment to herself and her husband that her son took this potentially devastating piece of news so well and has derived benefits from it, as well as bringing joy to his biological father. I think Adriana's son must be told how upset his father is, and perhaps how much she herself was hurt.

However, something extremely good came out of what must have been an awful experience, and bitterness should be avoided at all costs as this could be a greater danger to her and her husband's relationship with their son than contact with his biological father.

PAM WALKER

Stansted Mountfitchet

Essex

This could lead to forgiveness

What your son feels bears no relation to your suffering and pain. He is exploring his loss and will find answers to his identity. Your loss has been experienced and assimilated and you have a partner and step- father for your child. Your son will appreciate your joint parenting after he has come to terms with the regaining of a lost segment of his identity. Be glad that your son's natural father feels loss and love. Perhaps this could be the route to your forgiveness of his youthful betrayal. Be supportive of your partner until your son acknowledges a step-father's love as part of the foundation for his adulthood.

Your benevolence could make so much difference to at least five people's lives.

CHARIS CHAN

Poole, Dorset

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I've been deeply unhappy for a long time. I've seen everyone from my doctor, psychiatrists, healers, counsellors, homeopaths, but nothing helps. A friend has told me there is only one way left - to pray. I've tried it, but I don't really know how to do it. Do I have to go down on my knees? How do I phrase the prayers? I feel stupid asking friends as most of them think praying is a waste of time.

Yours sincerely, Cherry

Anyone with advice quoted will be sent a bouquet from Send letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182; e-mail dilemmas@ independent .co.uk. Give a postal address for a bouquet

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