Reasons to Disown a Child

Is there any valid reason to disown a child? I can’t think of one, not even murder. As a mother, I have brought my children into the world, and I feel responsible for them, forever. This is not to say that I am responsible for their actions or decisions, but that I will always, always be their mother … to love them, to guide them, to hug them when they make mistakes. I don’t see it as my job to control them (unless of course we are talking about a 3-year old having a tantrum). And yet here are some reasons why people have been disowned:

  • Marrying a different race
  • Marrying a different religion
  • Being gay (see this awful letter)
  • Not taking care of their parents in the way their parents expect
  • Getting pregnant out of wedlock
  • Choosing to pursue a music career rather than devoting themselves to religion
  • Being born a boy when the father really wanted a daughter (and vice versa)

I still cannot readily say why I was disowned. I have sometimes told people it was because I grew up. The reason is true enough. When I got married, I moved to Switzerland. My father adored my husband, but I don’t think he wanted me to move overseas. He never told me this, of course. Would it have mattered if he did? So I think it hurt him that I moved and my father’s way of coping with hurt was to cut me out of his life. Ten years after my disowning, he wrote me a letter. I had been writing to my family for ten years, postcards, pictures, any little thing to keep trying to reconcile. They had never once written back. But this time, I had written to my younger sister, suggesting that our father was repeating a family cycle, since he had a secret older sister who had also been disowned (for getting pregnant). It was my father who replied, and it was a letter that nearly destroyed me. He said I was disowned because he and his wife (my stepmother) were happier without me. At the end of his letter, my father he told me never, ever to contact anyone in the family again. I know my step mother was glad to have me out of their lives, because I don’t think she is a very nice person. She brought out the worst in my father. But I kept these opinions to myself, because my father loved her. So what should I say—that I was disowned because my stepmother didn’t like me? Because my father was happier without me around? Or because my father couldn’t cope with losing me so he had to hurt me in return? Or because my father failed to understand how his own upbringing tainted our family, causing him to repeat the terrible cycle his father had started?

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My Father Could Deny My Existence But Not Our Resemblance

I thought of my father this morning, as I do most mornings. Today was different, though, because I was nervous about a keynote I was doing on cool technology. Every good presentation starts with an attention grabber, a hook to make a connection with the audience. So I had planned to walk on stage in my very conservative black suit, donning a cool 70’s style dress beneath it. Trusting that there would be no wardrobe malfunction, I would drop the suit, as music from Queen, “I want to break free” rose up, and my inspiration for cool, “The Mod Squad” showed on the screen behind me.

I was nervous. It was a conservative crowd. Would they find my stunt too edgy … too silly … too unprofessional?

So I thought of my Dad in circa 1983, then a rising sportscaster in Washington, DC. He was interviewing a few Redskins players on his show, pool side in Miami ahead of the Super Bowl. At the end of the interview, the two players tossed him into the pool, expensive sport coat and all. Some people in journalistic spheres criticized him then, noting that his shoes were coincidentally not on him when the football players spontaneously threw him in the pool. Had he staged the act for the sake of entertainment? Of course he did. It was his hallmark: to entertain while also delivering sports news.
He taught me well.

To educate and inspire people, it’s more effective to make it also entertaining.
I wonder if he was nervous when he staged this event? Surely, he couldn’t rehearse it, as I had done with my suit a dozen times in advance. There were other times though that I had heard him rehearse, usually before announcing a baseball or hockey game, memorizing the visiting team’s numbers. Who inspired him on that day, on so many days? He would have been 43 when he was launching that part of his career. I am now 47, and somehow, I still feel like a child, in awe of my father who was larger than life.

My father may have disowned me, refusing to acknowledge me as his daughter, but in my work, there is no denying the resemblance.