Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Quandary: Do I Contact the Lost Son?

I stayed awake for a long time last night after I got in bed. Michael fell asleep within minutes, while I ruminated and worried for what seemed like hours. Of course, he doesn't know that anything is bothering me, so I can't really blame him for dozing off so peacefully, can I? Since I am faced with a situation that is making me crazy, I decided to write about it. Perhaps I shouldn't, but I can't keep ignoring the situation forever.

I think I have found my husband's lost son and I am in a quandary about what, if anything, to do about it.

When I met my husband in St. Louis 33 years ago, he told me about his son, Geoffrey, who he had not seen since the previous year. With a daughter not quite two, I could understand how painfully he felt the separation from his four-year-old son. As I got to know Michael, the whole story came out.

His wife divorced him out of the blue when Geoffrey was a year old and a few months later disappeared with him, leaving Michael with no information at all about their whereabouts. Her parents refused to tell him anything. Eventually, he found out she had moved to Moscow, Idaho, but she would not tell him where she lived or how to contact her.

When he had almost given up on seeing Geoffrey again, the ex (Betty) contacted him and asked if he would keep Geoffrey for the summer while she traveled with a friend. Of course, Michael jumped at the opportunity and Betty duly delivered the three-year-old to him in St. Louis. The photographs Michael took of Geoffrey and of himself with Geoffrey tell the story of a happy and joyful summer. When Betty returned, she promised that from then on she would let Michael stay in touch with Geoffrey even though they lived so far away.

Sadly, she lied. Michael couldn't even get a phone call through to his son, sometimes hearing Geoffrey say, "No I'm not," when his mother told Michael that he couldn't come to the phone because he was sleeping. Eventually, the phone number stopped working and future numbers were unlisted. Michael had never had her address. He found himself up against a brick wall again.

We met about that time. I remember his efforts to get contact information for Betty and Geoffrey. Again, the ex in-laws claimed to have no idea where Betty lived or how to reach her. By this time, I worked for the phone company and I used my resources to check their phone calls. Betty's number jumped off the page. They were calling her regularly. That evening, I dialed the number and asked for Betty. When she came to the phone, I handed it to Michael. He said something as innocuous as "This is Michael. I'd like to speak to my son." Betty hung up on him, took the phone off the hook for the rest of the evening, and had the number disconnected the next day.

How many years does it take to give up? We talked to a lawyer about enforcing his visitation rights, but those were the bad old days before uniform child custody laws. Every state had to be addressed individually and Michael's Missouri rights had no standing in Idaho. The lawyer explained that we could hire an Idaho lawyer and spend about $50,000 (this is late-70s, early-80's money we are talking about) to gain visitation rights, and, by moving across state lines to Washington, she would force us to start all over. Multiply $50,000 by 50 states and you can see that the odds were stacked against us. His last ditch effort involved child support, which he paid through the court system. He asked them to locate Geoffrey for him, but the officials claimed that they couldn't because they paid the money to an Idaho agency, not directly to Betty.

"How do I know my son is even alive?" Michael asked. Shoulders were shrugged. Michael decided to stop paying child support until someone proved Geoffrey's existence by providing contact information. It never happened. Instead he got blackmailed by Betty and the Idaho Legal Aid Society, who came after him for failure to pay. They said they would take legal action against him unless he relinquished his parental rights to Geoffrey.

I have never seen my husband so crushed. We went back to the lawyer, who told us again that all the legal cards were stacked against Michael. Since Betty seemed determined to keep Michael from ever seeing Geoffrey - for reasons we have never known and can't even guess - the lawyer recommended giving up and signing the relinquishment.

Michael did it. Partly, he wanted to protect our family, which now consisted of Alex - who Michael had adopted - and our young son Nick, from financial damage; partly he just couldn't keep fighting the inevitable. Michael never knew why Betty declared war on his relationship with his son - except for that summer she traveled with a girlfriend and needed a
convenient , long-term babysitter - but she had beaten him, and he knew that.

Of course, that isn't the end of the story. Several years later, we met a fellow who had just moved to St. Louis from Moscow, Idaho and guess what? He knew Betty and Geoffrey! My god, Michael felt elated. Finally, he had a chance to find Geoffrey at an age where he could talk to him without as much interference from Betty. When he asked for contact information, though, the guy refused, saying he would have to ask Betty first. Guess what Betty said to that?

This blow affected not only Michael but our whole family. Our other children knew about Geoffrey: he was their missing brother. We hoped someday he would be able to be part of our family. We had always had photographs of him around. Our son, especially, yearned to have a big brother. (I shouldn't use past tense. Nick and Alex still harbor strong hopes of finding their brother, and even Victoria, who is only 16, knows who he is and that her dad gets sad if anyone talks about him.)

Michael quietly hoped that when Geoffrey turned 18 or 21, when he grew up, he would look for his father and seek out Michael's side of the story. That never happened either. Who knows what Betty told him about his dad? Nothing very flattering, I'm sure, although I have been married for 32 years to this same man and he has been the best father and husband anyone could want.

Both Michael and I, although we rarely discuss it, regularly Google search for Geoffrey. We have never been successful. I redoubled my efforts last Spring, though, because I had a trip planned to the Northwest. I located Betty pretty easily, in the Seattle area, although that did not do me much good since I had no interest at all in contacting her (except in my fantasies, which are better left unreported). I did get some leads on Geoffrey and went so far as to pay quite a bit of money for the privilege of searching a people-locator site. That pointed me strongly towards Portland.

One day, on a hunch, I searched for him in Oregon using initials. For some unknown reason, I looked in images. Suddenly, I found myself staring into the face of my husband about 30 years younger than he is now. The young man looked so much like Michael used to that it took my breath away and made me start crying.

So what is the problem and why am I writing this? I am afraid to do anything about my discovery. I do not want to hurt Michael again by raising his hopes. What if I'm wrong and it isn't Geoffrey? Worse yet, what if I'm right, but Geoffrey wants nothing to do with his father?

In my fantasies, like last night, I call the young man at work (because I have that information) and I verify his identity, then tell him I am married to his father, who is a fine man who has always loved him and dreamed of knowing him. Geoffrey is stunned at first, then excited. He wants to know Michael, too. You see the happy ending rolling in here, don't you? But this is real life, not a fairy tale, and happy endings are not guaranteed.

It is terrible to be so afraid to act. It is not like me. If it were my life, I would have driven to Portland when I visited Washington state in April. But it isn't my life, it is the life of a man I love so much I can't bear to hurt him by exposing him to the ultimate rejection.

Any helpful thoughts from the blog ether about my quandary would be welcome. Am I doing the right thing staying silent? Should I tell my husband? Should I contact Geoffrey? (Or at least find out if it really IS Geoffrey?) And how in hell do I get my brain to stop dragging this up night after night so I can get some sleep?

Ain't life grand?


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