Hugh Hefner as Birthfather
He was internationally-recognizable as the playboy who lived in silk pajamas while making millions, but perhaps far fewer would recognize Hugh Hefner as birthfather– though it was also his title for a time.
Hugh Hefner passed away in California on September 27, 2017 at the age of 91.
In the years since he’d deployed as a soldier in love with his college sweetheart, Hugh Hefner had accomplished many things, some of them newsworthy (and some perhaps not.)
He had claimed to “saved himself” for marriage, only to learn that his beloved had had an affair while he was serving his country in World War II. Hugh Hefner and Mildred Williams married anyway, but as a result, the marriage was (sadly) off to a rocky start.
He remembered his wife’s confession as being devastating to him, and he admittedly retaliated by having numerous extramarital affairs, albeit with his wife’s knowledge. He used to joke that his favorite pickup line was “my name is Hugh Hefner.”
How Hugh Hefner became his kids’ birthfather
Hefner often bragged that he launched his own magazine, called Playboy, with $600 borrowed capitol. He began to build a reputation as a “man about town.” His marriage produced his first two children, a boy (David) and a girl (Christie).
But by the time his daughter was three and his son was one, Hugh had reportedly abandoned his children, for all intents and purposes.
The couple divorced in 1959, and Mildred Williams Hefner was left to raise the kids on her own. Hef did pay for music camp, according to reports, and sometimes sent limos so the kids could come play pinball at his mansion, but he wasn’t ever really into the whole daddy thing– nor did he ever regret all the years he’d missed.
As Hefner recounted to Vanity Fair in March of 2001: “I don’t enjoy parenthood as such. I don’t have a lot in common with children… I didn’t really want the children and didn’t plan them, but I accepted it simply as a part of life. But parenthood was not a natural thing to me, and it wasn’t to my parents, and I think you pass that on to some extent.”
Mildred married again, and at some point, Hugh Hefner’s parental rights were terminated, and the Hefner children were legally adopted by Mildred’s new husband, Chicago attorney Edwin Gunn.
As Christie recalled, she and her brother would occasionally see their birthdad Hugh Hefner for dinners, but it wasn’t until Edwin and Mildred separated years later that she and David reconciled with their birthfather, eventually opting to take his last name again.
One might surmise that the end of that adoption had been a painful parting. According to reports, Christie had long had issues with her adoptive father, but David had felt closer and kept his adoptive dad’s surname longer than did his sister.
And Edwin was said to have loved kids and was similarly adored by the families of his friends and associates. Edwin Gunn died of cancer in Florida in 2008 and his obituary stated simply “survived by many devoted friends, but no immediate family.”
Christie went on to work for Playboy Enterprises from 1982-2009 and became the CEO. Her brother David chose to stay out of the limelight, but both continued a loving family relationship with their birthdad until Hefner’s death this week.
The importance of leaving no one behind
Clearly, the resurgence of Hefner’s interest in his offspring was important to them, and beneficial to him, as well.
But there’s room, nowadays, for children to grow up enjoying lifelong connections with their adoptive dads, as well as their birthfathers.
Open adoption recognizes that adoptees benefit from the presence of both in their lives, and that neither relationship need be mutually-exclusive.
Just because a man may father a child doesn’t mean he’s necessarily well-qualified to “daddy” one, and not every man cut out to be a daddy can become a father biologically.
Still: fatherhood is an important calling, no matter how one comes to it and however one fulfills their role.
In the wake of his passing, we extend our condolences to the four surviving and known Hefner children, as we remember Hugh Hefner: as birthfather, as dad, as serial womanizer and as magnate.