These words have been taking up room in my head for far too long and need to come out. I’d like to thank you in advance for reading, but must warn you that it won’t be the jolliest post you’ll come across today. I’ve written before about the importance of dealing with demons, so that your past does not end up dictating your future. But imagine a past so dark that no amount of counselling or medication could free you from it? The man I grew up believing was my father has an early life straight out of a misery memoir. What he endured was utterly horrific, yet he thought he was in control of it. Trust me it was the other way round. I’ve written about my mother’s upbringing before, and I think you’ll agree that she didn’t have a pleasant time either. I guess self-reflection wasn’t as trendy in the 70’s and 80’s as it is now, and neither of them recognised how damaged they were.
My step-dad was the youngest of six children, and his mother died when he was two. His father was in the navy, and often away from home. When he was back he was having a relationship with the eldest daughter. Sometimes they would make the other kids watch them having sex. When he was away he left her in charge with money to feed them all, and she’d lock them in the cellar where my step-dad (being the smallest) would have to escape and forage for food. If all that wasn’t bad enough, when his father died my step-dad was sent to live with an aunt. She had two boys who hated him and bullied him relentlessly. One day they put him into a beer barrel full of stinging nettles and rolled him down a hill. As soon as he was old enough to fend for himself he got into crime and spent his adolescence in and out of young offender’s institutes, then later prison. At some point he was diagnosed with bi-polar and given all sorts of treatments, then put onto the drug lithium long term. This is his first 20-odd years in a nut shell. There are so many stories but you get the drift.
My mother worked behind the bar when she was young, which is where they met. She would have been 21, and I would have been two. She had already cut ties with my biological father – who had an affair with her while engaged to the woman that is still his wife. To this day the wife does not know I exist, but that’s a story in itself. When she told him she was pregnant with me she gave him an ultimatum expecting him to call off his marriage, but he didn’t and that was that. She then met my step-dad, and fell pregnant with my half-brother a few months later. Unfortunately by then the wheels had already started falling off but it was too late to back out. All she ever wanted out of life was a family (her words), but this would not be be the happy ending she had so desperately longed for.
They spent my entire childhood in some strange on again off again relationship. From what I can remember it was a clear cut case of ‘I don’t want you, but I won’t allow anyone else to have you’. He didn’t live with us until the last few years that I was at home, but would come to our house most days at about 4pm for an hour or two. Apart from the odd Christmas where he’d sleep over, like the year my half-sister was conceived. He would often fill the freezer up with meat and bring food round, so I guess you can call that providing in the literal sense. He would inappropriately flash his money on our birthdays, which I know made my mother feel like crap as she lived on benefits and was barely able to make ends meet. He was never emotionally present, and could hardly give you a hug because it made him so uncomfortable. I think because he was never shown love or kindness, he didn’t know how to show it.
We were never allowed to meet his family which was a massive bone of contention. I later found out it was because he’d had an affair with his brother’s wife and fathered a son who his brother thought was his. Apparently the boy and my half-brother were the spitting image of each other and that’s why he kept us separate. Unlike most of my mother’s siblings, he prided himself on the fact that he worked. He never paid taxes though, it was all under the table cash in hand. I can’t help but feel this was just as bad as the dole-bludging my mother’s side did. It’s worth noting that he was an alcoholic, although completely in denial. In his eyes by working, and never having a drink before 6pm, he did not have ‘a problem’. He was an emotional bully for sure, but he rarely raised his fists which I’m thankful for. After they finally went their separate ways shortly after I left home, he travelled the world on his motorbike. He even came and visited me in Asia. I got on with him better by then, as had forgiven him for his part in my unhappy childhood. I stayed in touch with him for another couple of years after I stopped seeing my mother, but a dispute over my wedding day saw our relationship come to its final end.
My point is this: how on earth could someone so damaged just be expected to put it behind them and lead a normal life? How can a start like the one he had not have a massively detrimental effect on the rest of it? I firmly believe that unless we make peace with our past, it will haunt us forever. Too many people seem to think that having children will be the magic cure to all their problems, but my parents and lots of other people I have known throughout my life are living proof that the opposite is often the case. What are your thoughts on dealing with underlying issues of the past before starting a family? Should more be done to promote mental-health well being before conception? Do you have any recommendations of great websites or resources for people who need help? I’m really keen to know your views on this one. Please share any insights in the comments section.