But He’s Not Your Father!

But he’s not your father, he’s just someone who shares your genes

This is a statement that came from my therapist when I shared my grievances about my biological dad, who I recently connected with for the first time in my life.

The backstory is this:
In 1977, when I was born my mother felt she couldn’t take care of me thus gave me to my dad to be raised. This happened minutes after my birth. My dad lived at the time with his parents and they didn’t want to take care of me either. So my grandma decided to anonymously leave me in a Muslim holy place. This happened the same day as I was born.

The next day I was found by a kindly man who worked at the holy place as a janitor. Thankfully I was alive because it was mid-winter.

A couple of years after this tragedy, my dad married his first wife – it was a traditional wedding where one doesn’t get to know each other first. This woman, who turned out to be severely mentally ill, now controls my dad and four younger half-brothers.

So, here’s another backstory:
About 35 years ago, his wife learned about my father’s illegitimate relations with my mom and has since been obsessed with him possibly cheating on her. So, when I recently arrived on the scene, it was bound to cause even more problems for their family, spilling over to me and the relationship with my biological father. In essence we have to keep our relationship the same way as a mistress does to a married man, i.e., like a dirty secret! But I am not up for that challenge. It’s too much for me to expect to be shown any compassion, especially in the light of the passiveness he showed on the day of my birth.

“You live in a patriarchal society, you are a man, you don’t have to adjust to her!”, I’ve said. But my dad doesn’t want to cause problems in his family.

“I am your family. I am your only daughter. I am your first born”, I reply. My dad says he doesn’t want to abandon his other children the way he abandoned me.

“But they are grown men. They are not children. I was an infant”, I cry. My dad says there is nothing he can do and there was nothing he could have done different on the day of my birth. The amount of anger this creates in me is deafening. I start hearing a strange noise and losing my vision just thinking about it.

At the same time, my biological dad wants to do whatever he feels he can for me. In this case, it means calling every single day to hear my voice and to say he loves and misses me. That’s about all I can understand in my native language Farsi. When we sometimes talk with translators, he tells me more elaborate things, like how I’m the love of his life, the most beautiful girl in the world, how he never knew how much he could love his daughter, how I’m the only happiness in his life, etc..

At first, I played nice but after a while, these words and the phone calls started to ring very hollow. Being treated like the mistress of my dad, I can never visit his house, I can’t call him – he can only call me. Still he gives me all these declarations of love. It’s cowardly.

One of my brothers, deeply affected by the family dysfunction tries to blame this on culture and says, “In Sweden, perhaps family isn’t as important?” I reply, “In Sweden we don’t give away babies”.

At times I’ve felt it’s impossible to go on with this relationship. Maybe I just need to be grateful that I got to meet my dad and learn my story. It’s something I never expected to happen.

I shared these concerns with my therapist and she said that I don’t owe him anything, that I can dismiss him the way you dismiss a bad boyfriend.

“But he’s my dad! We will have this bond forever now”, I replied. And that’s when she said, “He’s not your dad”.

Not even professionals can be expected to understand the bonds of both biology and history. I hear my voice in his voice. When I touch his arms I feel my skin, we are both intelligent, we can both sing. I even got personality traits from him – like the fact that I can’t lie and that I’m a survivor. This man is the origin of my life. In a place far away, in a time that seems like hundreds of years ago, I was conceived. My mother gave birth to me, she says I was the biggest of all seven that she has pushed out. I’ve been back to those places – to the house where this labour took place, to the Muslim holy shrine where I was left. That was me. This is my story. These were my people. And after having reconnected with them at age 42, there is no question that they are my people of origin. Even my laughter is identical to some of theirs.

I shared the thoughts about possibly cutting my dad out of my life in an adoptee group. Some were supportive but others (especially men) completely in the dark. Their biggest issue with me was the point of view that my biological parents are to blame for what happened to me.

Apparently, there’s an ongoing perception among some adoptees that we should be grateful that we found our biological families, not blame them, and look at the situation from their point of view. This is laughable because it’s the same narrative that we are tethered with when it comes to our adoptive parents.

The fact that I have issues with my biological father has shown me some of the flagrant misconceptions about adoption and in this case, from the people you would least expect it.

My whole adult life my bio dad has been watching poor women in the streets, women with lots of babies and married to horrible drug addicted men. He looked for familiar traits in their faces, worrying that I would be one of them.

My biological father is very grateful to my adoptive parents. He thinks I should be, too. He says the more I love them the more I love him.

About Sarah Mårtensson

Excerpt: First Letter to my Iranian Father

Return visit to my homeland – Iran, Mashhad

In Sweden where I grew up, people like me are called adopted. It’s easy to spot an adopted. We look like we are from somewhere far away but we don’t know our native language or culture. This creates confusion wherever we go. It also creates confusion within ourselves.

Who are we? Who am I?

We grieve our traumas in silence because as soon as we share our sadness, we are told that we should be grateful: to our new amazing country and our kind adoptive parents.

This is something a Swedish biological child never has to hear: that they should be grateful to live in Sweden! This creates a sense of being worth less compared to everyone else; that we exist in Sweden on other terms compared to our peers; that it’s conditional. In many cases, our adoptive parents didn’t take good care of us. They disregarded our traumas. And they didn’t understand the racism all of us had to endure, both as children and adults. We were unprotected. We were fair game.

When you are adopted you sometimes grieve and think about your mother. For some reason you don’t think very much about your dad. I think this is because we are under the impression that our mothers were clueless and young, perhaps drug addicts, perhaps prostitutes. And that our dad was just some dude. The part with the prostitution, by the way, is part of the narrative that adopted girls are handed when they are young. “If you stayed in your country you would have been a prostitute, so why aren’t you grateful?!” Can you imagine what this message does to us?!

Daddy, like most of the other adoptees, I have spent time wondering about my mother, but I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about you in the past. Now, I think about you all the time.

About Sarah

First gift from my Iranian father