Against all odds? Birth fathers and enduring thoughts of the child lost to adoption

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This paper revisits a topic only briefly raised in earlier research, the idea that the grounds for fatherhood can be laid with little or no ‘hands-on’ experience of fathering and upon these grounds, an enduring sense of being a father of, and bond with, a child seen once or never, can develop. The paper explores the specific experiences of men whose children were adopted as babies drawing on the little research that exists on this population, work relating to expectant fathers, personal accounts, and other sources such as surveys of birth parents in the USA and Australia. The paper’s exploration and discussion of a manifestation of fatherhood that can hold in mind a ‘lost’ child, disrupts narratives of fathering that regard fathering as ‘doing’ and notions that once out of sight, a child is out of mind for a father. The paper suggests that, for the men in question, a diversity of feelings, but also behaviours, point to a form of continuing, lived fathering practices—that however, take place without the child in question. The conclusion debates the utility of the phrase “birth father” as applied historically and in contemporary adoption processes.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2019


  • birth fathers
  • adoption
  • fatherhood


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