Why you should care
We all have mothers.
“Come here for a minute, I have something to show you.”
Even at the age of 11, I knew that when I heard the constant clinking of ice cubes and Kenny Rogers playing in the lounge room, Mum was in one of those late-night moods. The family accordion folder was open and there were two pieces of paper on the dining room table. My birth certificate. Her birth certificate.
Mum pushed them toward me. “Read it for me and see if you notice anything.”
Date of birth checked out. My name was there too. So was hers. Then it jumped out at me. Under FATHER was a name I had never seen before. A name completely different from that of the man who had been in my life for as long as I could remember. I looked at Mum and she stared back at me, waiting for me to read her birth certificate too. I felt lost and confused. That night I found out my mother was a child of adoption, never knowing her biological parents or family and I had a father out there somewhere in the world who didn’t want anything to do with me.
My mother and I were basket cases in a way that I’ve never gotten used to. I share only memories and affection with both sides of my family, having no other blood relatives, besides my half-sister, to speak of. I remember having so many things to say but so few words were leaving my mouth.
If the father in the story could stand up for his son, even in such dire circumstance, how could my father run away before I was even born?
I left the table, walked down the hallway and locked myself in the bathroom, where I sat and cried until I grew too tired to cry anymore. The weight of it all, even then, seemed too much to bear. The very next day, all was forgotten on her end, and we didn’t speak of that night for 16 years.
Birthdays from then on never tasted the same, and the rest of my childhood and teenage years resulted in complicated relationships with father figures. Equally seeking their approval and attention, while at the same time I denounced any advice or criticism given. My role models and father figures became strong and damaged characters from movies, tortured musicians and artists, all of whom were overcoming their own downfalls to create something lasting — to find meaning in their existence.
I remember when I was around 13 years old, my uncle and I watched Taxi Driver. I was completely swept up by Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle. Or Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront. Men who saw injustice and stood up for what they thought was right. I wanted my own piece of that too. I was starving for it.
But I knew my issues were becoming a hazard to my health when I watched the film of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and I blubbered through the whole thing. The story involves a father and son trekking through a post-apocalyptic world, the father all the while holding up the flame to what he deems to be the path of the good in an environment filled with thieves, cannibals and the long-forgotten dead. I was struggling with the fact that if the father in the story could stand up for his son, even in such dire circumstance, how could my father run away before I was even born?
So two years ago, I typed the name of my father into Facebook. I sent a brief message explaining that I was not after anything from him, but with my mother’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, I was looking for basic family history for ancestry and medical purposes.
“ … YEARS AGO YOUR MOTHER AND I WORKED WITH A PERSON WHO TOOK ADVANTAGE OF YOUR MOTHER WHILE SHE WAS IN A STATE. HE CLAIMED THAT HE WAS THE FATHER WHEN I RAN INTO HIM YEARS LATER. ASK YOUR MOTHER ABOUT THIS PERSON AND SHE MIGHT BE ABLE TO FILL YOU IN … YOUR MOTHER IS A GOOD WOMAN AND HAS BEEN IN MY THOUGHTS FOR YEARS. THIS PRICK TOOK ADVANTAGE OF HER WHILE SHE WAS DRUNK … HE TORED [sic] MY WORLD APART. TELL STEVEN I SAY HELLO AND IM [sic] THINKING OF HIM.”
I called my mother and told her I had been in contact with Darren.
“Well, you better come on over then and we can discuss it,” she said.
When I told her how Darren mentioned that a ”Steven” was possibly my father, my mother looked confused. “We worked together, sure, but I don’t remember doing anything like that with him. But it was a very strange time for me being so young when I had you … There are a lot of things that happened to me that I’m not proud of.”
She shifted uncomfortably, and I felt like I was 11 again, waiting for the ice cubes to clink.
“There was one night … I snuck into a club, underage, and got way too drunk. This man saw me at the end of the bar and we got to talking. He showed me some pictures of his pets. One of his dogs had some puppies and he asked if I was interested in buying one. Next thing I know I am back at his house and there are no puppies, no dogs, no pets. Nothing. He pulls out a knife and says for me to give him exactly what he wants or he will kill me. He rapes me and then drops me off back outside the club and I never see him again. I am so ashamed to say all of this to you because it’s not fair. But I can’t be completely sure of who your father is.”
I tell this to my wife later, running through every possibility. “I mean … if it took her this long to tell me about that, maybe she is lying about everything else too? What if Darren heard about the rape and assumed Mum was fucking around behind his back? She was 17 when she had me after all … What if he is lying and just doesn’t want to cop to the fact that he ran away and has now been reeled back in 28 years later?”
It was, and is still, unclear whether Steven and the rapist in the bar are the same person or two different ones. I emailed Darren the day after my 30th birthday and pushed for more info.
His reply: HERE’S MY NUMBER – CALL ME IF YOU WANT
We spoke for 40 minutes about my mother, their relationship and the reasons he never bothered to follow up on any of this.
“When I heard from friends at work that your mum and Steven had done this, I had my doubts right away … But he had let me know how proud he was that he had a son, telling me exactly what he did to your mum. I fuckin’ hate the guy’s guts. He was a predator, and from all reports your mum wasn’t the only one he did this to.”
I asked him whether he knew where Steven had previously worked or his whereabouts. All he could offer was that he had worked in the government sector as part of the legislative assembly. I cannot find anyone with that name in that sector. No Facebook. No LinkedIn. Nothing.
The next step? Checking public records for criminal convictions or incarcerations. Darren said he’d take a DNA test to rule himself out, and also would help in any other way.
I don’t know exactly where I stand on all of this now, but it feels like a story that’s going to get worse before it gets better. I have orchestrated what I’d do to him if we ever met, but until that day, I’ll have to keep searching.