"A woman who has a history of abusive relationships is now living in the house of a rapist. And your advice is not to inform her?" Readers question Cary Tennis' response to the rape victim who gave her daughter up for adoption.

Published May 11, 2005 8:15PM (EDT)

Read Friday's "Since You Asked," by Cary Tennis.]

I agree that this writer shouldn't see the given-up-for-adoption daughter. That is her business and should be kept as private as possible. However, now that the daughter and granddaughter are cohabitating with the rapist grandfather, this woman is facing a bigger dilemma than meeting her daughter. The hornet's nest is that she has firsthand knowledge of the rapist. She knows what he is capable of doing.

I wonder how this lady would feel knowing that she might have been able to prevent the rape of the daughter or -- far worse and more likely -- the granddaughter, just by writing to the daughter and explaining the circumstances of her birth and subsequent adoption. Even if the daughter did nothing and stay at grandfather rapist's home, at least she could give the daughter the gift of responsibility and choice. Then the daughter could protect her own daughter.

-- Scott Boyer

Cary's advice to this woman seems off to me. The daughter, coming from a home with an abusive adoptive father, has had a string of crappy relationships, so likely lacks the ability to judge men. I would have counseled the advice seeker definitely to get in touch with this lost girl and tell her the circumstances of her birth. People need good information in order to make good decisions about their lives. Secrets don't do anyone any good in the long run. The mother's biggest fear is contact with her rapist; fine, that can always be taken into account. But for her to avoid her flesh and blood because her daughter inherited the rapist's face is crazy -- the kid is a different being and completely innocent of her father's crime. At the very least, write her a letter to explain the real reason she doesn't want to meet; otherwise the daughter will always have a hole in her heart. Let the healing begin.

-- Andy Shaver

The Cary Tennis column with the letter from Lady Madonna was heartbreaking. What do you tell this lady? I hate to disagree with Cary's advice, but this was a tough one and I've had long discussions with people, and they have convinced me of a couple of things.

1) She should really tell her children. If she does not, then in five or 10 years, they may then be contacted and drawn into it.

2) She should tell her biological daughter to look in the newspapers from the town during a given range of dates. The biological daughter has chosen to seek information. As an adult, that is what she's done. She really should look through those newspapers and court records.

-- Doug Shaw

Cary, you forgot one important piece of advice: Get a lawyer.

-- Chris deMaagd

I agree with the answer to Lady Madonna. However, to help avoid any future contact with the daughter, she should also take the opportunity to include in the letter any relevant medical history that might prove helpful to that daughter. I fully understand the wish to gently let the daughter know that her advances are not going to be accepted, but given that the contact has been made, a quick hand-off of a family health history is the one positive thing that could result here. Indeed, it could one day save the life of the daughter or grandchild. But beyond that, Lady Madonna has every right to decide against further contact with the girl. Indeed, it sounds as if her future happiness and emotional well-being may depend upon it.

-- Name Withheld

I can tell this birth mother with certainty that her whole story will come out. Therefore, she should tell her two children what happened before this woman does. The birth mother has nothing to be ashamed of. The adopted girl/woman is just looking for answers about her life: Do I have a brother or a sister? What were the circumstances of my birth? The truth, no matter how painful, is always better than a lie. The birth mother should see her once -- tell her the truth -- then tell this young woman that now that she knows, please cease all contact with the birth mother and her family. Needing to know the truth can eat at an adoptee for an entire life. Believe me, I know. My advice to the birth mother is, see the young woman, get it over with, and move on. Like you, this young woman was a victim too. After all, she didn't grow up with the family life that your two children enjoyed.

-- R. Mangos

I strongly disagree with Cary Tennis' suggestion that this woman not meet her daughter. By refusing to confront the difficult circumstances of her past, this woman forces her daughter to pay a steep price for the despicable act of her father. Her daughter was in no way responsible for this act, and it would be truly unfortunate if she were to be denied a relationship with her mother because of it.

I did not meet my biological father until the age of 25, when I finally gathered the courage to contact him. Although I was the product of a union that was loving at the time of my conception and birth, the relationship quickly deteriorated, and my father left soon thereafter. He felt a great deal of guilt and shame over having done this, and it would have been in some ways easier for him to hide behind these hard feelings and refuse to meet me. We did meet and have since developed a stable and fruitful relationship.

-- Keegan Walden

Cary, you should have included one important detail in your response -- medical history. No matter how unwilling the mother is to see her, the daughter deserves to know of any outstanding medical issues that are potentially inheritable. So much of medical knowledge and diagnoses is based upon personal and family history. Here's where many adopted kids have a decided disadvantage. Including a small paragraph detailing any sort of family history of major disease, like heart conditions or diabetes, might save that woman's life some day. It really wouldn't change your answer much but it could have a profound effect on the daughter. The lady didn't seem to wish any ill will on her child, just a decided lack of desire to meet her.

-- Name Withheld

I love Cary and read him every day, but I must say that his advice to the woman whose grown-up child (the result of a rape) wants to get in touch with her was really cold. I mean, it's the biological father who's a bum, not the daughter. None of this is the child's fault.

I found it strange that both Cary and the distressed writer referred to the writer's daughter as "that woman" as though the daughter were only getting in touch with the writer to disrupt her perfect life. It seems to me that although "Lady Madonna" had a horrific experience with the rape, the child who resulted from the rape has had a hard life, too. It's not the daughter's fault that she's the spitting image of her rapist father -- I mean, if she more resembled her mother, would the writer find her more acceptable?

Also, there's the troubling aspect that the daughter and the writer's granddaughter are living with the creep rapist-dad. It seems that the mother should intervene to prevent another tragedy from occurring. Repulsive as it is to her, this is her daughter and her granddaughter she's talking about!

-- Ann

A woman who has a history of abusive relationships is (presumably) living in the house of a rapist. And the advice is not to inform her?

Also, I must say I'm appalled at the apparent weakening of the privacy laws. You would have thought the biological mother's permission would be obtained before any information was released to the daughter (barring the need for a medical history).

-- Peter Sirokman

I always find Cary's advice columns filled with sage, well-thought-out advice, but I must take some exception to his most recent advice to "Lady Madonna."

What this woman experienced is unbelievably horrible -- not for one minute do I want to belittle that fact -- but nowhere do either the woman or Mr. Tennis contemplate the fact that the child of this rape (the daughter who is now trying to get in touch with Lady Madonna) is completely innocent.

Adoptees are put in a very strange position in our society. We exist in a sort of netherworld. On one hand, once the birth parent puts us up for adoption we are supposedly no longer their flesh and blood, and when we are adopted we are "totally" a part of our new family -- except that our new family usually tells the world that we're adopted (we have no voice or choice in the matter).

Even the media feels it has the right to tell the public when children are adopted. Notice that the media almost never refers to Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman's children, and the children of other celebrities who've been adopted, without the phrase "adopted son" or "adopted daughter." If adoptions are legal and the records are sealed, why do the media and public have the right to know and continue throwing it in adoptees' faces?

No one truly wants to be adopted (except in rare circumstances for good reason). We all want to belong.

It would have been very adult and very brave if someone could put themselves in the shoes of the young woman longing to meet her birth mother. This young woman is in the particularly nasty situation of having to find out that her birth father (with whom she now lives) actually raped her birth mother. Even if her birth mother never tells her, even if she refuses to ever see her or explain the story, the young woman is bound to eventually find out.

Yes, it is awful that the daughter just happens to look like the man who raped Lady Madonna -- but again she had no choice how DNA arranged her features. And it is likely that deep in her psyche she already knows that she's a product of violence.

At 33, I decided I finally needed to track down my birth mother. I had a feeling it needed to be done at that moment. I knew already from my adopted family that my birth mother was in her 30s when she had me, and that I had two older half siblings. I found out where she lived eight years ago and I drove to her house and left a letter on her porch. My feelings of urgency had cause; I found out from a neighbor she was very ill. Eight years ago on Sunday, Mother's Day, we spoke for the first time, and I found out that I was the product of a rape.

But I'm lucky in that my birth mother was ready to see me. We only met twice and she only lived for a year and a half after we first met.

Another thing that neither Mr. Tennis nor Lady Madonna contemplate is that much has changed in both the judicial system and society's eyes about rape. It's also possible that her ex-neighbor continued in his violent ways and kept getting away with it.

My own birth mother, though beaten black and blue, was told by a neighbor cop not to report the rape because she wouldn't be believed. She was an attractive divorcee and had made the mistake of accepting a ride home from a bar from some college boys. In society's eyes it was her fault.

And at the time, of course, abortion wasn't legal. My birth mother was so distraught during the pregnancy that at one point she tried to kill herself.

But somehow she was able to pick up the phone and call me and let me know that she wanted to see me. It may well be that it was because I looked very much like her and was very clear that I wanted nothing from her.

Finding out that I was the product of a rape was devastating, but somehow I always knew. Just as Lady Madonna has had to live through a rape, being the product of rape is something that very few people can comprehend. I still cry about it on occasion -- like now. It's awful knowledge -- but I'd rather know than be kept in the dark, or perhaps be surprised with it by a stranger.

If Lady Madonna isn't up to meeting her daughter, couldn't someone in Lady Madonna's family, or a trusted friend, or a clergy member, have the generosity of spirit to sit down with this young woman and 1) let her know about her birth mother as a person and 2) explain why her birth mother wasn't up to seeing her and reliving something that had been such a terrible ordeal?

Couldn't someone be adult and really understand that the adopted daughter has never been given the choice of any rights? Isn't it possible for one moment for Lady Madonna to step back and see that the rest of her life has been very blessed and that perhaps now would be a good time to face her demons and try to finally heal?

-- M. Balmer

Cary's advice to the rape victim was only half right. She should tell the woman the circumstances of her birth and say this is one reason she does not want to see her. The daughter deserves to know. Also the daughter is putting herself and her daughter in danger by living with this man. The letter author should adamantly refuse to see the daughter as Cary suggested but also should say why.

-- Name Withheld

I am deeply disappointed with Carry Tennis's advice to Lady Madonna. He suggests that taking action that could potentially save her daughter's life is "the stuff of novels" and that she should abdicate her responsibility in this matter and do what is more convenient and comfortable for herself. This advice is utterly reprehensible and borderline criminal. When her daughter's body is dredged from the bottom of a lake, she sit can back, satisfied that she didn't have to go through the horrible stress of warning her. The stuff of novels, indeed.

-- Zack Leven

I'm concerned about the advice Cary Tennis gave to the woman impregnated by her rapist in his May 6 column. He told the woman not to give the daughter she gave up for adoption the key information that the man her adopted daughter was now living with was not only her biological father but also a rapist. Simply telling her that he is a "dangerous man" is not enough, especially with a child (her biological granddaughter) living under the same roof. She should tell her daughter the truth in a letter. Devastating as this news may be to the woman, the information is less potentially devastating than living in the same house as a rapist, where real harm could befall her or the child. She deserves to know.

-- Name Withheld

By Salon Staff

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