The weekend has been long. And momentous. Yesterday I felt like I was in a film. I started by going out to meet my aunt M. This is my father’s younger sister – my father who I never see. M has kept in touch with me all my life. She stepped in after my dad’s departure as a kind of surrogate parent. In my childhood I would see her every few weeks and we would go on fun days out, many of which were the highlights of my life. When I was 9 she took me to Eurodisney, in Paris. It was the first and only time I travelled abroad before the age of 23. She’s been very, very good to my mother and I over the years – a saviour, in some ways. I have always loved her dearly. These days we don’t see so much of each other. Busy lives and all that. Yesterday was the first time I’d seen her since Christmas. I went down to meet her for lunch in her home town in Surrey. It’s not a long journey; I was there an hour after setting out. The first few minutes were not exactly awkward, but I can feel a bit icy with anyone I haven’t seen in a while, even my own mother. It’s the social anxiety disorder. Family members aren’t excluded from the illness. It didn’t help that I was feeling extra edgy yesterday, due to the continuing side effects of the Prozac. For about four days now it’s been doing the opposite of what it’s supposed to. My nerves have been worse than ever almost constantly since Tuesday, and I can’t think of any other explanation for it other than it’s the new chemical that I’m putting into my body. I really, really hope that the pills start to work properly soon.
I was with M for about three hours yesterday. By the end of it, I didn’t want to leave. For the past few years now we have always ended up talking in depth about things which I’ve never spoken to anyone in the family about before. M is an incredibly genuine, warm person who happens to know the whole story of what happened between my parents 25 years ago, and out of everyone in the family, she is the only person who has ever been honest and kind enough to tell me the truth. I look forward to our meetings a lot now because I know I might learn more about my father, what he’s like as a person, why he did what he did. Yesterday I learnt a lot more about the story than I ever thought I would. Until yesterday, I thought that my father was simply a heartless cad who didn’t want a child. What I’ve now learnt from M has turned my perspective completely around, more than I ever thought possible.
When we meet nowadays it’s usually only a matter of time before we come onto the subject of my dad. Yesterday, we were talking about the situation when I was born. She was describing to me the relationship that my mother and father had. I’ve never known much about it, because my mother has never talked about it, and when I asked my father about it on our first meeting in 2001, he didn’t go into much detail. I had never realised that after I was born, my father kept in touch for a while and saw me every now and then. It turns out that he was willing to support me and be a part of my life after all, even though he hadn’t really been ready for a child. My mother always made it clear that I was the most important thing about the relationship, and this got my father down.
M believes that my mother wanted to get pregnant so badly because she was desperate for a family of her own. She wanted my father to marry her, but he never did, because he wasn’t in love with her. After discovering that she was pregnant he agreed to support us, even though he was just 22 and never wanted a child in the first place. Unfortunately, about a year after I was born, my mother took him to court to claim proper maintenance payments from him. I knew before that she had taken him to court, because I remember those measly maintenance cheques coming through the door every month – I remember being taken to the court every now and then when a cheque had failed to arrive, my mum shouting at the court clerk to get to the bottom of where that month’s money had gone.
Being hauled up in court was the last straw for my father, and from that point on he decided to have nothing more to do with us. For a year, he saw me regularly, bought me toys, he even took me to the zoo once apparently. I always wondered why I could vaguely remember my father’s face, when I was supposed to have never met him. I remembered his face from that day, the last time I saw him as a baby. Staring down on me, fatherly and caring. Because he didn’t want to get married, my mother punished him by taking him to court. For the next sixteen years, he would have to inform every employer about these child maintenance installments coming out of his monthly salary. How humiliating. No wonder he never tried to get in touch with me. No wonder he was angry five years ago, when I asked to borrow £500 to get me out of a difficult situation at University. At that time, I had started seeing him every now and then off my own back as an adult, and in my head everything was going great between us, but it wasn’t really. As soon as I asked for money, thinking he owed it to me after all the years of cruel neglect, he was reminded of the time my mum took him to court for money. Money – the root of all ills!
After M had told me all of this, I was understandably in a bit of shock. I was on the verge of tears for several hours. Now, all of a sudden, everything made sense. Why my father has been so cold towards me all my life, why I had to get in touch with him at the age of 19 after waiting for so long. He had no idea what he was getting himself into with my mother – and according to M, he has paid for it ever since, emotionally as well as financially. She says that it ruined his life, and I can understand perfectly now. He was just 22, three years younger than I am now. I seriously doubt I could have coped with such events at that age. I have nothing but sympathy for him, and I can no longer be angry with him.
As for my mother, I can’t be angry with her either. Anyone who doesn’t know her might think: what a wicked woman, taking that poor man for a ride. Well, knowing my mother as well as I do, I’m sure she wasn’t a well person when she made those decisions all those years ago. In fact, M is pretty sure that my mother wasn’t to blame for everything that happened. She knows my mother can be a little unhinged sometimes – and she knows that my mother has paid for it ever since as much as my father has. Of course my mother must regret what she did in 1983. If she’d never taken my father to court, he would have been a permanent part of our lives. We wouldn’t have ended up on our own, in this horrible council flat with no money. Who knows, my dad might even have ended up growing to love me.
She took my dad to court because she wanted to hurt him. I can understand that, because I’ve wanted to hurt people before. I’ve wanted to hurt him many times. She had this fantasy of getting married and living happily ever after, but of course it didn’t work out like that because she had fallen for someone far too quickly, before really getting to know him. I can’t blame her for doing that – I’m just like her, in many ways. After the humiliation of being dragged into court, my father decided never to attempt contact again, and I can’t blame him for doing that, because I’m just like him, too. I am exactly like both of my parents, and it all fits together now.
SO – what happens next? M thinks that my mother could make a good start by apologising to my father. Even though it all happened a long time ago, she thinks my father can’t heal as a person until an amends has been made. It seems that my father is stuck in the past as much as my mother clearly is. I’ve known that my mother is stuck for a very long time. She doesn’t really have a life, apart from me. Things have changed over the years, of course – she’s got a great full time job now, doing what she loves. But when she’s not at work, she rarely goes out. She spends all her spare time here, watching the television, just like I used to before I left home at age 18.
M is as sympathetic to my mother as I am. She has a strong feeling that deep down, my mother regrets the past. I just wish I could have a conversation with my mother about this! But I can’t, because she never speaks about anything. She gets upset as soon as I mention anything serious. I remember the first time I ever brought the subject of my father up, when I was about twelve, she burst into tears and screamed the place down. I learned to keep quiet about it there and then. She’s not at a place where she can handle the truth – she never has been, and she might never be.
Unfortunately, this might mean that things never change. My father might always hate her, and therefore might always resent me. I feel personally guilty in a way because the last time I spoke to him, about three years ago, I sent a very emotional and angry e-mail, rebuking him for his continuous shirking of responsibility. I felt at the time that I needed to be honest about my feelings. It helped me to let off some steam – but I’ve never heard from him since. God, if only I’d known the truth! What a family! This issue, this problem right here is the major theme in my life story, it’s at the heart of all my emotional trauma, and it’s never been resolved because the two people who caused it can’t be honest. Here I am, with my program of recovery, in my ivory tower of knowledge, which is all well and good, but what about my parents? How on earth do I begin to get them to open up?!
M shares my concern, and by the end of our long lunch yesterday we had agreed that the best way forward must be gentle baby steps. She’s going to meet my father next weekend, by a coincidence, and she has agreed to ask him if it would be OK for me to establish contact with my three half brothers. I’ve only met them a couple of times, and until recently they weren’t very important to me. Since being in recovery, I seem to have realised that all family is important, and I feel like I want some kind of relationship with them. They’re still young, so it might be very difficult to progress from here. But I have to try. I don’t know what else my higher power would want me to do.
I said goodbye to M more grateful to her than I had been to anyone in my life. I am so, so lucky to have a relative who actually talks to me about things. My dad has five brothers and sisters – M is the only one who’s ever been able to see me regularly. All the others are living abroad now, or too ill to maintain a relationship with. If I didn’t have this relationship with M, then I wouldn’t know anything that I know now. Although I’m in a bit of an awkward position right now, knowing that my mother did some underhanded things, I can’t help thinking of the phrase ‘knowledge is power’. I am empowered by this new knowledge, because it means I no longer have to hate my father. I suppose I stopped being angry a while ago, but that disappointment would always have remained. Today, knowing what could have been, I have a bit more hope.
After leaving M it was with a mixture of sadness and excitement that I made my way across London to my friend S’s flat for the barbecue that he had organised. In the end he did get in touch with me about it – I was still welcome, of course. How I could ever think that I wouldn’t be welcome, is beyond me now. Actually, it’s not beyond me – I know the illness too well now to know that it would tell me anything to make me isolate myself.
I wish I could have gone to the barbecue feeling a bit more normal, but life is never normal for me. Armed with my new knowledge about the past, I felt like a different person, quite strange in fact. I wasn’t sure if I could handle a whole evening of socialising. I wondered if I was being affected in more ways than expected by the Prozac. It wasn’t quite anxiety that I was feeling at that point. For a moment, I think I felt like nothing was real. Luckily, when I got to S’s flat I was instantly greeted by him and my other close friend in recovery, D. I helped them set up the barbecue on the roof terrace, which had a nice view of North London. Soon other friends were arriving, and it was a relief to discover that I knew all of them. It seemed like S had made a decision to host an entirely sober barbecue.
For some reason my appetite had disappeared, and in the end I could only manage one burger while everyone else stuffed themselves. I chatted with friends about University and my plans for the future; I decided not to mention what I’d learnt about my family, mainly because it would have taken too long to explain! It was a nice evening, as I felt completely at ease with a bunch of recovering alcoholics, all of whom had their own difficult pasts and stories. Alcohol didn’t cross anyone’s mind all night. For the first time in my life, I think I fully enjoyed a social occasion.
Later on S and a couple of others wanted to go clubbing in town. I decided to go as I liked the place they were going to. I thought since it had been such a nice day so far, it couldn’t go wrong. The club we ended up in I’ve been to a few times in sobriety, and I’ve always really liked it there, so it was nice to get there and start dancing to my favourite cheesy pop music with friends. But pretty soon it had become overcrowded and overheated, as all gay nightclubs do after a while in London. We only stayed til 1am, by which time we were all thoroughly shattered. Before saying goodbye we went for a quick coffee in one of the late night places in town again. There we talked about our shared disappointment at not finding the man of our dreams. I’d never before realised that both S and D are as romantically inclined as me! I thought I was the only one who dreamed of being swept off my feet, but apparently I’m not. I’m so fond of S and D now – they were the first people I spoke to in the fellowship. Last night was another great bonding experience, with people who I hope I end up knowing forever.