I’ve written many times before about my complicated family, and my self-help book Become the Best You details my dysfunctional childhood in depth.
When I was twelve I confronted my mother and step-father about the doubts I had over him being my ‘real dad’. These doubts were mainly fuelled by the way he always treated me differently – there was something just not quite right. This was their golden opportunity to fess up, tell me the truth and make the lies okay. To make me understand why they made the decisions they did, and to ask for me to forgive them. Instead they looked me in the eyes and told me an elaborate bunch of lies about the reasons my birth certificate said ‘father unknown’. They looked me in the eyes and told me he was indeed my ‘real dad’, and that he loved me just as much as he did the half siblings I grew up with. Four years later, after my second suicide attempt in a year and their final separation, my mother told me the truth. I already knew most of it anyway, because I’d discovered over the years that my parentage was no secret in our wider family. Everyone else was in the know, and they didn’t bother filtering their conversations around me. Was it any wonder I picked up on the situation and questioned it the way I did at such a young age?
Although my biological father is a fairly ‘normal’ man, nothing in my life was straight forward back then. When my mother put us in touch with eachother it transpired that he had kept my existence a secret from his wife. He and my mother had an affair when he was engaged to his wife, and when my mother found out she was pregnant she gave him an ultimatum expecting him to break off his engagement. He didn’t, and although the two of them remained in contact while she was pregnant and I was a baby, as soon as she met my step-father she told my dad that he couldn’t see me any more. In her minds eye he should have fought for me, but he didn’t.
Nowadays with a 300 mile physical distance between us, I only see him sporadically. The last time was on our 5½ year old daughter’s second birthday. He’s gained two more grandchildren since then. I have often questioned why I bother having him in my life, but I always come back to this: he has never pretended the situation is anything other than what it is. I don’t doubt that he genuinely loves me, and wishes things were different, but it’s all too late now. If this secret came out it would destroy his marriage and his family. I don’t want to be responsible for that. I don’t need vengeance, I made my peace with all this a long time ago. So he calls every now and then, and sends us cash at Christmas to buy the kids presents. It’s all he’s capable of doing, and I don’t expect anything else from him.
What’s your point I hear you ask? For what it’s worth I’ve come to this conclusion: secrets and lies do nothing but cause harm. They tear families apart, and leave people broken hearted. I would advise anybody thinking of telling lies like this to their children to carefully consider the long term ramifications first. The truth will come out one day, it always does, and when it happens what will the fall out look like? My mother’s justification was that it would have been too confusing for me as a small child. She assumed that growing up I would have used the truth as ammunition against my step-father. I disagree though, because if you are doing your job properly as a parent your children will grow up respecting the adults around them. Kids learn quickly though, It’s not a given. Perhaps deep down she knew this, and it was easier to just maintain the lie?
*for various different reasons, my word this week is complicated