Sometimes, on slow days, I go hunting for stories in the classified ads of this very newspaper, which have grown thinner in the digital age but still hide treasures.
Once, I found a woman who’d discovered a stray goat in her yard. Another time, I read about a woman who’d picked up a stray Bible on the side of the road and hoped to find its reader. But in 20 years, I’ve never seen anything like this ad:
“To the father of a male child born on August 28, 2014, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Said father’s name may be Tom.”
The ad described an unnamed couple meeting in a bar on Jones Franklin Road and conceiving a child in November of last year.
It offered a rough sketch of the father – about 5-foot-11 with dark hair, brown eyes and a medium brown complexion, possibly a senior at N.C. State University and a native of Pennsylvania – and it explained that parental rights would soon be terminated if he took no action.
Among all the details, vivid enough to paint a picture in my head, one thing especially struck me about the ad buried on page 9B: This is a child born to strangers. I’m not pointing this out to judge or condemn, and I hope you won’t either. I just never expected to see a child’s future sorted out in the same forum where people report lost cats and advertise tractors for sale.
I called the attorney listed at the bottom of the ad, Michele Smith of Greensboro, who told me that such ads are common. She seemed surprised I’d never seen one before. They’re a legal requirement when parental rights are taken. When you don’t know exactly who the father is, or where, you post notice as widely as possible around the city where the child is conceived.
I checked and she’s right that they’re common. Depressingly so.
Most often, these ads call out a specific father by name, giving him a deadline to respond. But the unknowns are out there more than I realized. I found five of them sent to anonymous fathers dating back to June: one in Vance County, one in Perquimans County, one in Davie County and two in Johnston County.
Smith told me that in 21 years, she’s had two responses to ads like these. Two.
The birth mother for the child from Raleigh will place the boy up for adoption. Smith represents the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina, founded in 1902, which reported 143 children adopted statewide in its last year. I know it’s got to be a hard choice for the mother, and I wish her well. I don’t mean any harm by publicizing all of this.
I think, more than anything, I just want people to know that this happens. By “this,” I guess, I mean that children enter the world under circumstances ...
I’m mincing words. People sometimes meet in bars, hook up and have babies they didn’t mean to have. Sometimes they don’t even know each other’s names. There’s such a thing as a chance encounter, an attraction that bubbles up and immediately cools off. Having this plot unfold in your life’s first chapter doesn’t automatically spell a sad story.
I got reminded of this reading the classified ads.
Good luck in your first new year, little boy. I bet you’ll turn out great.