Biological father tells his side

Relates to:
Date: 2007-12-28

Coeur d'Alene Press, The (ID)

Baby in interstate tug-of-war between Utah family, Idaho blood relatives

Author: Lucy Dukes; Staff Writer

COEUR d'ALENE – Twenty-year-old father Matt Tenneson doesn't talk much, but when he does, he seems sincere about wanting to keep the baby his ex-girlfriend is trying to give to a Utah couple for adoption.

"Towards the end of the pregnancy, I was very adamant about keeping the baby," he says, inspecting his hands as he sits hunched and thin across the room from his son's still-wrapped Christmas presents.

"I've always wanted to be a dad," he says.

The baby is in American Fork, Utah, now, with Jed and Callie Nielson. Birth mother Cammie Knight surrendered the infant to the Nielsons through LDS Family Services in June-Tenneson says without his consent.

Earlier this month, after months of litigation, Magistrate Barry Watson ordered the couple to return the 6-month-old baby to Tenneson. The Nielsons are fighting to keep the infant out of concern for her baby's future, Callie Nielson says.

She also says they are not violating a court order with any jurisdiction over them.

"I want to say that what I'm doing I'm doing out of love for my son," she says.

"What kind of mother would I be if I didn't do whatever I possibly could?"

The couple's attorney, Larry Jenkins, says the two were not a party to the court proceedings in Idaho.

"We're not just going to turn over the child based on the order of the court entered up there," he says.

The Tennesons are fighting, too, for Matt's rights as a biological father-rights they say are ignored far too often nationwide.

"It's so wrong. What they're doing is so wrong," says Kerrin Tenneson, Matt's mother, who maintains the Nielsons are violating the court order.

"We want to be part of the solution, so it never, ever happens to another young dad."

They say Cammie Knight told the Tennesons many times that she would call them when she went to the hospital, but she did not. They say that the Knight family cut off contact with Matt Tenneson, not the other way around.

"I made it very clear … that we continued to ask for an opportunity to see the baby," Kerrin Tenneson said. "We had no reason to believe we wouldn't be called."

They say Knight concealed the baby's birth when the infant was born two weeks early-so the baby could be taken away without Matt Tenneson's permission. They say Kerrin Tenneson called the Knights four days before the baby was due, on July 2, to ask how Cammie Knight was doing. But the infant was already in Utah by then, taken without Matt Tenneson's knowledge or consent. The family contacted an attorney on July 3 and filed suit July 5.

"They knew that Matt had been excluded from the process," says David Tenneson, Matt's father. "They knew the whole time that Matt's rights had not been terminated."

Family Services representatives did not respond to the allegations before press deadline. Representatives said they were attempting to research answers, but the holidays made contacting people difficult.

The Tennesons say they offered to help pay for the pregnancy, offered to have Knight live with them and that they would have supported the decision to adopt if Matt had agreed to it.

"We offered support to Matt and Cammie, whatever choice they made," Kerrin Tenneson says.

They also deny that Matt Tenneson asked Knight to get an abortion, as has been reported. They say they knew Knight was considering adoption, but had no way of knowing she was going to go through with it.

Now, Matt Tenneson plans to live with his parents and the baby until he can support the baby on his own. He has a job at a video store and is on the waiting list for North Idaho College's culinary arts program.

"We're not even asking for child support," he says.

"It's my flesh and blood and I want to raise him."

Knight says she was shocked when she found out Tenneson was contesting the adoption. If he had said he wanted to keep the baby early in the pregnancy, it would have made a difference, she says.

It was to be an open adoption, and when Cammie calls the Nielsons she can hear the baby cooing happily in the background. She says they can give more to him than she and Matt Tenneson can, and she says it's wrong to tear him from the home.

"I made the right decision," she says. "I put him in a good family, they're married, they're financially ready. They love that baby so much."

Knight says she decided to adopt out the baby after Matt kept changing his mind-first he wanted to keep the baby, then adopt, then keep, then adopt.

"I remember exactly where we were every time he had said that to me," she says.

Knight says she asked for communications with the Tennesons go through her father, because it had become too difficult for her. She says the Tennesons knew she was going to adopt out the baby, and they had every chance to contact her family if they wanted to. Tenneson could also have visited his son through the open adoption process.

"We gave him the opportunity more than once, and he shot it down every time," she says.

She also says she didn't hide the baby's birth.

"I didn't conceal the birth. I didn't expect him," Knight says.

Tenneson changed his mind about keeping the baby because he was worried he wouldn't get another opportunity to have a child. But he will, she says, with someone he loves and when he's ready.

"I don't think it's right to put a baby in the situations that we're in," she says.

"What they're doing is wrong."

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