I realised the other day that my life changed massively when I was LP’s age. Ten seems to be quite a big age for any girl. On the cusp of puberty, starting to really build your own interests and with the transition to secondary school looming.
But for me there was so much more than that. I remember around that time getting my first crop tops, getting a second pillow on my bed and then, finding out my Dad was actually my Step Dad and not my biological father at all.
Now, looking back, I wonder how a child can get to ten and not realise that their Dad wasn’t actually their Dad. You see, my Dad had only been in my life since I was two. There were no baby pictures of him and me. I had never seen my birth certificate, we had different surnames and really, there were just so many questions I had never even thought to ask.
Children take things at face value. I always presumed the man I called Dad was biologically my Dad. I had no reason to think otherwise.
My older brothers had different dads to me but they appreciated that the man I called Dad was Dad to me. They never corrected me or burst that bubble out of spite. They went along with it and even now, thirty odd years later, I’m pleased that they helped to give me a typical 2.4 childhood in that sense. I had my brothers and a Mum and Dad. It was normal to me and so different to our family from their perspectives with their biological dads living elsewhere and a step dad at home.
But all that changed when I was ten years old. I came home from school one day and my parents said they wanted to talk to me. So we went in the living room and I remember them sitting on the sofa and me sitting on the floor with my back against the radiator. My favourite place to sit.
They explained that my Dad was my Step Dad. That my real father had left when I was baby and that when I was little they’d gone to court to stop him contacting me. They didn’t want to confuse me by having too many people in my life and felt it easier for everyone if my Step Dad was my Dad from that point on.
I was given a little packet of photos and I recognised them instantly from our family photo albums. But these were slightly different. There was the same garden, the same back fence. There was our sofa and there were my brothers.
But in these photos was a man I had never seen before, holding baby me in his arms. He who looked so familiar and had such a friendly face. He was much older than my Mum and I looked so small in his hands. He was a really big man. Tall and broad, dressed in 80s fashion and with a gold chain around his neck.
This man was holding me and smiling at me. He clearly adored me and yet, he was a stranger to me. As far as I knew I had never met him. Yet these photos told a different story. It was so confusing.
I also found out that the nice lady I’d waved at each week in town, through the bakery window, since I was a toddler was my auntie and that I had other family members I had never known about. But no other half siblings, as far as anyone knew. Just the two brothers I had grown up with.
My Dad sat with my Mum on the sofa and promised me that he was still my Dad. He still loved me and thought of me as his own. After all, he was the one that helped me with homework, taught me to ride a bike and played computer games with me. He was my Dad.
But that point in my life was pivotal. Everything I knew and trusted seemed to have changed and I felt like I didn’t know who I was anymore. But, I was only ten. I was so little and so I did the only thing I felt I could really do – and I put the photos in the back of a drawer and ignored them for as long as I could.
I carried on as normal. My Dad carried on being my Dad – and even to this day he is Dad to me. A Dad is so much more than biology. Anyone can father a child but it takes real commitment and sacrifice to be a Dad. You have to put your children first, teach them, guide them and help them. Not just create them.
I didn’t give my biological Dad much thought after that until my teenage years. I had an anger inside me that I’m sure came with being a teenager but was stoked with the thought of being lied to for years. And if you ask my parents they’ll say they never lied. But, you can lie by omission, something that has happened so many times in my life.
So as a teen I felt angry and hurt. I also wanted to know where I came from and I wanted to complete that jigsaw puzzle of me without feeling like there was always a piece missing. When the doctor asks if you have any hereditary issues I wanted to know the answer for myself. I wanted to know where I came from.
I had so many questions in my head. I wanted to know why my birth father had left. I wanted to know whether he ever thought about me and I wanted to know whether my parents had omitted to tell me anything else. More than that though, I wanted to know if I was like him. Did we look alike now I’d grown into my features and did we have similar mannerisms? How much of me had come from him.
But I also didn’t want to upset my Dad. The man who had always read my bedtime stories and spoke to the school each time I was picked on. The man who I spoke to about my dreams and aspirations, who watched sci-fi with me, who had always been such a pillar in my life.
So I quietly searched the internet for my biological father’s name on my lunch break at school. I asked my parents questions and collected the answers, trying to put the pieces together without hurting anyone. I really didn’t get very far.
But then, when I was 16 my parents split up. My Dad moved out and six months later, my Mum gave me a choice. Keep seeing my Dad and move out or cut contact with him and stay at home. To her, now that they were separated and he had no obligation to pay for my care, he wasn’t my Dad. Despite being the only Dad I had ever known.
Roll forward a few months and I ended up homeless just after my seventeenth birthday, sleeping on friends’ sofas or in their spare rooms. Flitting from one to another and back to the first, all over again, whilst I tried to juggle college, working out a plan for the future and holding myself together.
It was at this point where I decided to get in contact with my biological father. My family had fallen apart and so it felt like the right time to try and fill in the gaps from my past. I realised finally that finding him was easy – I just had to write to the auntie I’d only ever seen through the bakery window.
I don’t remember what I wrote in my letter. The letter to my auntie was brief – please find enclosed a letter for my dad. Please don’t read it and just pass it on. The letter to my biological father was longer and I’m sure heartfelt, but I don’t remember what I wrote. Those few months after my mother kicked me out were some of the hardest of my life and I have blanked much from memory.
I went to Ireland with my boyfriend of the time for Christmas. The saddest Christmas I have ever known. When we came back, at the end of December, there was a letter waiting for me. My biological dad had enclosed a photo of him and his wife and urged me to ring him.
I remember him being so happy to hear from me. He lived in Somerset, owned a village shop and had a huge family on his wife’s side but had never had any other children. He had very little family himself – just his sister who I saw at the bakery and his elderly mother.
He sent me money to pay a deposit on a room in a houseshare along with my first months rent. It was a lifeline at the time and I’m not sure what I would have done without it. I was 17, unable to get help from the council as I was in 16-18 limbo – too old for social care at the time but not quite an adult. I worked too many hours in my part time job to qualify for benefits and was still trying to keep going with college.
I became a lodger a couple of weeks later, dropped out of college and worked full time to support myself. I ended up trying to go back to college twice in the following years but couldn’t cope with the demands of full time work and trying to do a full time college course in the evenings. But that is another story.
My biological dad and his wife came to meet me one evening after work. We sat in McDonalds, had a hot chocolate and tried to cram 17 years into an hour. It was surreal but nice. I felt like I’d known them both for years.
After that I went to stay with them for a few days in the spring and after that I’d email his wife regularly with little life updates and we’d ring every few weeks. We got to know each other and tried to build a relationship but it wasn’t easy from either side.
Now, nearly 20 years later, his wife is no longer with us and he and I talk once a month or so. My Dad now lives in Scotland and I don’t see either of them very often. They’re a part of my life but mainly from afar and we see each other when we can, mainly sticking to catching up on the phone when we have news or it feels like it’s been too long.
I’ve been estranged from my mother for years now and despite so much water under the bridge, I hold no ill feeling towards her. I just wish things had been done differently. I shouldn’t have been led to believe that someone else was my biological dad for so long.
When all is said and done though, I’ve grown up with people around me who love me. I know that everything has always been done with my best interests at heart and I really do believe that in these situations there is no right answer. You have to do what works for your family at the time.
Now, I have a lot of different parts to my family life. My family tree is all over the place. And I know I’ll never have all the different people in my family in the same room at the same time. But, would I change it? No. All of the people in my life have helped make me who I am.
As I’ve been told so many times before, the things we go through in life are character building and without going through them we wouldn’t be us. And so, if I’d grown up with a stereotypical, biological mum and dad and siblings – with none of the divorces, remarriages, half this or step that then I simply wouldn’t be me.
It’s taken a long time, but I’m pretty happy being me, even with all the baggage that comes with it! Sometimes you have to just accept things, know that everything happens for a reason and get on with life. That’s where I’ve been for quite some time now. Families come in all shapes and sizes – and this one is mine.