Imagine if some higher power decided that on a specific day at a specific time, doors -and we’re talking the ten foot reinforced steel type – that had for all your life held secret information were suddenly and without warning opened for a short while and you were given knowledge that made you break down.
This is what happened to me some weeks ago. And I can remember the day, the evening because I had already been given overwhelming news that day. I was going to be working at Oxford University. Surely a day couldn’t get any more strange or exciting than that?
In her PhD thesis, Backstory:Writing and Not-writing on the Cusp of Life and Fiction (2012), Josie Pearse talks of discovering a different life history:
‘…when I became aware of the circumstances of my birth, a kind of cognitive dissonance occurred for me. I had thought I was one person with one history and now I was another with another history. I was no longer the granddaughter of a wheelwright grandfather.’
I had never met my father and had long ago given up hope of ever finding him. Psychically, I sensed he was dead and that he had died of a heart attack.
I had sent off a DNA sample some weeks previous and had almost forgotten about it. Not only were the results live but there was an email from someone saying that the DNA sample indicated we were half-sisters!
I was given details of the half-sisters’ mother and father. I did not recognise the names. I knew it couldn’t be a link through my mother. Though for a few moments I wondered; had she had another baby that had been given up for adoption? I checked the dates; half-sister was born in Wales in 1969. I knew where my mother was in 1969 and she was alive and living in Willesden, looking after my three-year-old sister and ten-year-old brother as best as she was able. So, I surmised that it was a paternal link. From my new sister’s family tree, it looked as though strike up the band, Johnny Long, the man I had thought was my father, was in fact not.
My real father it seemed was more of a ‘do Ron, Ron’. Ronald Richard, with a surname that was both unusual and relatively rare; a medieval name. He was twice married, had three children from his first and two from his second – it was the eldest girl, M from the second marriage who had contacted me. He died in 2008.
Pearse (2012) refers to Lavone H Stiffler who wrote Synchronicity and Reunion(1992), about the phenomena that can occur when in the state of searching for one’s family even if in my case that involved writing a fictional history. Pearse goes on to say: ‘Instances of coincidence in the search for birth families by adoptees and their parents are well documented.’
At five years old when I was staying (temporarily) with my mother. She showed me a photograph of a soldier. I remember it to this day. I’ve written about it many times. A rifle slung over his shoulder and holding a dead rabbit by its ears in the other hand.
It is possible that when I was younger, I had a photographic memory – I could never watch a film or read a book more than once as I knew it by heart. Regardless, I memorised the photograph of my ‘father’. I became interested in war films and watched them whenever I had the chance. When I was a bit older, I’d go to the fairground every year. I would practice shooting at the firing range, always hitting the bullseye. I felt close to him at those times. He was my fantasy father and men like Cary Grant were my fantasy look-a-like daddy-figures. As I got older, actors like Dirk Bogarde, were fancied in my flights of fancy – oooh those dark-haired moody men.
My mother died in 1971 just as the May blossom was at its most beautiful. I was 13, she was 36. She took her own life and left behind two sons and two daughters. It was no age at all and we still had so much to talk about. Including my father. Since that time, nearly 50 years ago; I have had no way of finding out who my father was or anything about him. So apart from the fantasies I had built in my head, that daddy space, like the blank on my birth certificate was a void.
Old voices floated past; I remembered comments: your father is not who you think he is. I didn’t know what that meant. Who was he then? I don’t think your mother knew who your father was. My mother was ill, stamped, filed and classified: manic depressive. Never stepped outside the door the whole nine months she carried you. I held onto the photograph in my mind’s eye: This is your father. I thought he was dead. I knew she loved him and I knew my step-father knew that too.
When I was about twelve years old and hanging out in a local youth club, a boy who had the same dark hair and moody features as my fantasy father, threw a peanut at me. I fell deeply in love and as we grew older and met at other youth clubs I stared at him longingly. We met up a couple of times, kissed but it fizzled into unrequited love that lasted years.
I bumped into my peanut lover, thirty years later and discovered he was a racist, the lighted candle was snuffed immediately. What a relief not to carry that yearning – the bricks in my backpack were chucked.
As well as being a love sick teenager, I was also known as a stroppy mare with a big mouth. This is what I have been told. I would speak out if there was injustice. And I demanded my rights before I knew what rights were. I wanted to see my files. I wanted to see some of the shit that had been written about me. I was all front and bravado really.
In 1975, at seventeen, I sat in a dirty beige room with a faded green door and read words written about a fantasy child in care. I wasn’t allowed to take the files them away. You have to read them here. Using my super-powers, I mentally photographed what I saw. There it was in typewritten clarity, Father: John Long. It seemed he was married.
I’d been brought up relatively well in the children’s home. We had morals! Church in our Sunday best; roast lunch and bible reading in the afternoon. The housemother, as she was called back then, was strict but fair and occasionally even kind. To read that my father was married was a huge shock. The prim and proper me came out in full force. What had my mother been thinking of? But it was also another piece of the puzzle – this then was why they couldn’t be together.
Many years later I found myself living next door to a lovely old couple. It turned out after one of those doorstep conversations that her son was in the Middlesex Regiment, the same regiment as Johnny Long. Oh, could he, would he, get me a photograph? He would and he did and one fine morning there it was. Another photograph. It was the same man in the photograph my mother had shown me; I was sure of it. Older but still with that stern, moody look.
So at least I had a photograph even if I never met him. I had proof I existed because of him. And up until a few weeks ago, that story had stayed the same. DNA was about to prove otherwise. And you can’t argue with scientific fact.
Suddenly I had real proof of who my real father was. I discovered he had gone to grammar school and been an engineer in the RAF. Both he and my mother were twenty-one when I was conceived in the summer of 1957. And he lived in a nice area of Mill Hill, very near to my grandparents’ house where mum lived too.
There was more and some of it spooky, unexplainable. As mentioned, I always felt that my father had died of a heart attack. It turned out this was true. A fateful heart attack aged seventy-two in 2008. My paternal grandmother and father’s oldest child were called Victoria, sadly the daughter died in 2009. The same name as my daughter. Coincidence? Genes?
At 61, I have discovered who my father was.
After a few days of correspondence, my sister sent me a photograph of ‘our dad’. As I looked and looked, I could see a clear likeness to one of my sons. And his eyes were mine. And through the mists of time, conversations I had heard as a baby, came back to me: she’s got his eyes. I knelt on the floor and sobbed for a long time and even now I am still very emotional. The coincidences continue – the day my father died, is my eldest son’s birthday.
Altogether there are FIVE other siblings, only four are still alive. On my mother’s side I have two brothers and a sister. This makes my total sibling family to a humungous NINE! I am one of nine. Unbelievable!
Not sure where we will go from here, it is a shock for everyone. I am finding out more about our dad through my own research and from M who I hope to meet one day. She has welcomed me with love. We are taking things slow, the healthy way. No instant meet-ups and subsequent disappointments.
To have had the confirmation of who my father was has had an astounding effect on me. I have seen many long-lost family shows and cried heaps. I always wondered when the found-family-member would say, I now feel whole – how that must feel. I don’t know that I would describe the feeling like that but there has been a shift and I feel different. There are siblings out there with my father’s blood running through their veins. It is good blood. I am looking forward to meeting the rest of my family.
Josie Pearse, Writing and Not-writing on the Cusp of Life and Fiction. (Cardiff University, 2012)
Lavone H Stiffler, Synchronicity and Reunion (Hope Sound: FEA Publishing,1992).
Pearse, (2012) Op cit.