Dear Abby Gives Flip Answer To Adoption Trauma

What is it with advice columnists? I realize they’re primarily for entertainment value (and yeah, I read them, which is why I came across this). But seriously, if they are going to put themselves in a position of helping people then they should, um, HELP people.

Dear Abby published the following this week in her syndicated column:

DEAR ABBY: For 15 years I was a happily married homemaker with a wonderful husband. “Duncan” and I attended church together, frolicked through the fields, even exterminated rodents together. He was my best friend. It was bliss.

Last year I found out my father had had an affair with Duncan’s mother the year I was born, which makes him my half-brother! The news was too much for my husband. He had a fatal heart attack not long after. What should I put on his gravestone: “Loving Brother” or “Loving Husband”?

Grieving in Massachusetts

DEAR GRIEVING: Neither. How about “He was ‘Everything’ to me”? That should about cover it.

Instead of giving a flip answer designed to activate the sitcom-esque laugh track, Dear Abby (penned by the original Abby’s daughter Jeanne Phillips) could have done some public good by taking the adoption industry to task for putting people in situations like this.

If we had open records–if every adoptee had the same access to their original birth certificates as the non-adopted, if birth mothers had free and clear access to all paperwork involved with their surrender–then families would be less able to lie about these things and people would not have to suffer the way this person clearly is.

Instead, our trauma is the punchline of a joke in the comics section. Add that to the list of things I wish I’d known before I was adopted.

If you want to write to Dear Abby and express your outrage:

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, a k a Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.

ADDENDUM: Okay, not quite adoption related (see comments), but still begs the question: How do we make sure people know their actual origins?


  1. I certainly agree that adoption trauma id very real and not to be taken lightly, however, I do not see that tis revelation of the biological connection of the husband and wife having anything whatsoever to do with adoption, unless I am missing something.

    These are two people whose parents committed adultery and had an affair. Women cheat on their husbands far more than we like to admit. They have kids that are not their husbands and never tell anyone. These kids have less access to true medical history than any adoptee because they have no original birth record to even unseal if the mother puts he husbands name on the birth certificate. The secret can be kept forever and the child not know his true heritage. It can result in medical tragedies or an incestuous ones like this.

    But I don’t see how nay of this has anything to do with adoption.

    As for flip – the only flippant comment I saw was by the letter writer not Abby, when she asks what his grave stone should say.

    Please enlighten me what I am missing here.

  2. You’re not missing anything. I guess I just assume “adoption” whenever I see stuff like this (and I was too busy seeing red about her response). Perhaps it would have been more accurate to say “origin trauma”.

    Either way, I think that if we had some way all of us could be clear about our origins, people wouldn’t have to go through this stuff. I have no idea how to go about doing that because you’re right, these kids have even less access to their origins because there are no records to unseal.

    Maybe we can brainstorm. How could we ensure that people actually know where they come from? Genetic testing? DNA? Does that leave us ripe for things like being denied medical insurance because the testing shows we have a propensity for such-and-such?

  3. Triona,

    These are issues that date back to the old testement. Jews have always been aware of these issues and that is why the blood line of being of Jewish heritage is matriarchal — because you are always sure, or at least were in those days – who your mother is but not your father. Today with egg and womb sales and rentals it complicates the issue further. One can actually have 3 “mothers” from the time they are born which can later be added to by step mothers.

    But DNA testing? That would be a debate equal to the abortion debate.

    If we were to insist on DNA test every child at birth to reveal genetic parentage, then what about genetic disorders revealed? Predispositions to other diseases? Opens too many Pandora’s boxes.

  4. Yeah, that’s the problem, isn’t it? I read recently about tests that can tell whether or not you have a propensity to commit crime based on your DNA. Would people then be pre-criminalized if they show such tendencies? Big can of worms.

    I’m not sure there is a solution, but I’m not satisfied with the status quo either.

  5. http://Carolc says

    Well actually Triona, I agree that she was being flippant.

    Here is a link to a response Abby the original gave to a first mom who wrote to her back in the 90’s,4889885

    Abby, unlink her sister Ann Landers who was an adoptive grandmother – always seemed to be supportive of opening records.

    Ann Landers had a history on the other hand of telling adoptees that they shouldn’t open that “can of worms” and search.

    One would think Abby’s daughter then would be responsible enough to point out how closed records set people up to date and even marry their biological family members.

    On the other hand, maybe she just didn’t get the connection. I think she could have been a little more sensitive in her answer however.

  6. I read this and thought of adoption as well. The connection is that if you do not know your origins this kind of horrific circumstance could befall you.

    It just points up that ALL people should know their origins which is definitely adoption related. This couple’s fate was sealed by their parents. Why didn’t someone speak up? Silence just like adoption. I think it is something about human nature to live in lies.

  7. Carolc–I agree, that answer really should have been more sensitive.

    Angelle–I don’t know what it is about people who lie about family members. I guess they don’t want to open that can of worms. But (speaking from experience) it’s so horribly betraying to find out that your family knew something that important and never told you. Secrecy in families never works well, the lies are always found out and it traumatizes everyone.