“And your dad?” A question I have been asked countless times, by countless people.
It seems natural for most people to ask about someone’s father. It’s on every medical form you fill out, it’s a ‘get to know you’ question for many and for most people the response is probably completely straightforward. Instead, I have had a ‘Days of Our Lives-esque’ experience, leaving me with an awkward silence, followed by a vague response or if I’m brave, the truth; a truth which seems to usually be the source of absolute fascination, almost entertainment, for whoever it is hearing it.
Although I can totally understand this, it creates a twinge of pain within me that connects directly to my sense of worth and identity, a slow and painful hurting that I have had for as long as I have known. This experience has shaped me in many ways and is something that even now, in my thirties, continues to influence my life.
My ‘dad’ Thomas* is a man that I have never really met. He is a man that had an affair in his late thirties. My mum was the ‘other woman’ and also his student- she was a mature-aged postgraduate student; he was her tutor at a well-known university.
Their affair wasn’t a night of passion or because he was unhappy in his marriage. It lasted seven years, five before I was born and two afterwards. My ‘dad’ always said he “loved” his wife and that she was his “best friend”. I still don’t know why he did what he did or why my mum did it either.
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Although this in itself has enough material to make for a season of any soap opera, like any other ‘juicy’ storyline it doesn’t stop there. My ‘dad’ is also the father to another, 11 days younger than me. My ‘brother’ for his whole life has had no idea about me, no idea about his dad’s secret.
He has lived a life where his dad was his dad. He saw him, talked to him, lived with him, knew him, called him “dad”. He was loved, cared for, embraced. The ‘only child’ of a man and his loving wife; his secret was far away, hidden in a world that would never be uncovered by his real family. A world where the decisions made by two people would influence my life so incredibly, shaping me into me.
A part of my identity has always been that of the ‘secret child’. Dealing with the complexities of secrets and truths that form who I am and how this has led me to where I am now.
Finding out the truth was definitely an enormous moment in my life but ironically, I can’t remember the exact details of how it unfolded. I was about seven or eight at the time, still at primary school, still filled with that childhood positivity and naivety that makes that period so happy.
I do remember searching through photo albums for the images of my mum and dad’s wedding from a marriage I was told hadn’t worked out. Needless to say, this search was in vain. There would never be any images as there was never a wedding, at least not between them.