Finding Fathers; Dangerous world

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by KateF, 28 October 2006 Social URL.

  1. KateF

    KateF Silver Member

    Introductory Note;
    The story of me tracking down my real father was beginning to creep into my weight loss diary. I've decided to start it in this section because it'll give me more freedom to write it properly. Also, the blog format should help me do something I'm trying to see if it works; that is, to intersperse the story of how I tracked him down fifteen years ago, with what it's like to relive that story now as the anniversaries and father issues crop back up. I tend to write alot of comedy- but as you can imagine, this probably won't always be funny! I hope it'll be readable though, and a good thing to be able to share it on this site and keep going with. Thanks to Mini especially for encouraging me to do that. It starts off sounding like fiction but is all true, and gets more normal as it goes along I think. Honest feedback v welcome, this is a bit of a writing experiment!


    I don't know how this conversation started but he's about to tell the story that will make me fall in love with him.

    He was working as a clown years ago, he says. "Sinister" I say. "Can't imagine you as a cheerful clown". He agrees. They can be a bit marmite can clowns, people either love them or hate them. He went to clown school and everything he adds, and we both laugh. Yes, clown school. You get a diploma in juggling and unicycling and- not riding bikes with square wheels though. Anyway, he was working with his mate at this children's party. Facepainting and juggling and stuff. One kid comes up to him for his face painting and he asks his name. The boy says his first name and his surname, like you do when you're twelve and you'll tell a grown up who asks one question everything about you, even a grown up who's got a white face and huge painted-on red smile.

    And K realises that the boy is his son.

    The son he'd not seen since his first wife said that she was marrying someone else and didn't want to confuse the lad because he was only two. The son who he'd send birthday and Christmas presents to every year for the first few years, even when they were returned unopened.

    The boy's talking about his Dad and his Mum and his brothers and sisters and school. And K's painting his face, dipping his sponge in the water bowl in between and carefully smudging in the colours. Taking ages and ages, til his mate comes over, looking at him oddly, says there's a queue building up. "And I couldn't say anything to the boy could I? How could I?". K leaves the party as soon as he can, and after that, he says, he never put the clown costume or the face on again.

    He sort of laughs, conscious of the weird irony of him being a literal example of the tears of the clown, but his eyes are sad. Mine have filled up and we hold each other's gaze for a second. "It's odd..." I say, my voice feeling too matter of fact, breaking into the charged atmosphere of the story; "I seem to always be drawn into conversations with sons who've lost fathers but you're the first father I've spoken to who's lost a son". Apart from my own, I add in my head. I wonder whether to tell him my story, or whether it would sound too "me too". All night we've seemed to echo each other's thoughts. At the party earlier, someone watching us from across the room had said "I should take a photo of you two. Your gestures, how you're talking, you're identical". We'd both frozen our hands midair and laughed.

    We're sat in the living room of my shared house now with it's tatty light green three piece suite, deflated balloons from some previous party still laying around the fireplace and no windows thanks to the bad design decision of a stingy landlord.

    K's still wearing his grey overcoat, because the heating's off as it's five on a February morning. I've put a black jumper on over my glittery gig t shirt, and almost guiltily brushed my teeth when I went upstairs. I hope he can't smell the mint.

    "I found out the man I thought was my Dad wasn't when I was sixteen" I say. "And I tracked down the man who was just before he died when I was seventeen".

    K registers this but, I still don't know what I'll eventually find out about him. He's not very good at drawing other people out, or hearing their stories. And I still needed to be asked for my story then, instead of realising I had a right to tell it.

    But in that room, that morning, his stories make me recognise someone who could understand the feelings threaded through my own. And that means that soon when we walk on the windy beach while it's still dark and he takes my hands in his as we watch the avalanche crested waves, I'll fall a bit deeper. When we're thawing out in the lounge room of the posh hotel on the front and I slide a numb hand down the chasm between settee cushions for warmth, and he slides one of his down after mine and clasps it, I'll fall even deeper.

    I won't even realise yet that handholding is so charged for me because one of the only times I felt safe with my Stepfather was when he'd take my hand while we walked. And that taking my hand across a pub table while I told the story of how I found him was the first time my real father touched me, and was the way he told me he was accepting me. Accepting my story.

    Later I'll get totally caught up in K and his story, without realising it's because I want to hear his in the way that I need mine to be heard.

    I'll carry on forgetting that mine remains untold too, because in a way, the day that I discovered my parents marriage certificate had thrown not only my right to speak into question, but also, my right to exist...
    Last edited: 30 October 2006
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  3. KateF

    KateF Silver Member

    Or is that a bit melodramatic?

    Probably. Ah, but remember what it was like when you were sixteen and hormones were racing and Bryan Adams' "Everything I do, I Do It for You" had been in the charts for sixteen weeks that long, hot summer of 1991.

    You didn't want anything to do with your family. Especially not your Dad who spent his days shouting at people over nothing and telling you you were fat and to leave the room when adults came in, and your Mum who spent her days sunbathing topless in the garden, unless she was sitting topless in the kitchen while a parade of people, from your slow fifteen year old neighbour from up the road getting his biology lessons in the flesh, to slightly bemused members of the Ex-pat community, pretend unsuccessfully not to notice.

    My parents had always had a separate living room from their three children, and things that weren't for children's ears. When you grow up in a house of secrets, then that's what you think is normal.

    How do you overturn that?

    You need someone who likes to break secrets apart. To dig underneath what's hidden, to explode it, reveal it. Not because they want to save the world, a family or themselves, because then they'd be too invested in what they might uncover, but someone who'll do it just for the hell of it. Someone who likes to shatter what's whole, make order into chaos, turn things inside out, just because they can.

    Oops. Melodrama again. But sometimes, situations that are so deeply repressed and held in, which trap lost feelings and facts underneath them like layers of earth gradually grinding matter into coal, or diamonds, have a way of attracting powerful forces to release them.

    Catalysts. Earthmovers, Chaos merchants.

    Enter J. A 46 year old self- described "ageing adventurer". His father had been a professional gambler, so he knew a thing or two about how to try and control chance and chaos, and how the house always wins in the end, but that needn't stop you enjoying the game.

    He sounds like a character in a book. But, I was sixteen and loved books more than life, so someone who sounded like he should be in one, was definitely going to get my vote and move my earth.

    How we ended up in my parents bedroom on the 9th of August 1991, looking for "things that might explain some of their secrets" is another story. But there we are.

    Picture us there in the sparsely furnished, stone walled, French farmhouse bedroom. Me, wearing shorts and t shirt, tanned, shoulder length brown hair, no idea at all that I'm actually quite an attractive teenager. J, all firm lines and strength and definition, though his cropped black hair and beard, and beige t shirt and shorts don't disguise his 46 years. We're opening drawers and cupboards and J's saying "Do you know your Dad's got a secret camera system wired up in your house in England?" and I'm saying I thought it was just an intercom put in between his office and their bedroom for a joke, when I open a maroon suitcase with metal buckles and see a pair of handcuffs and lots of little dictaphone tapes with writing on, and photographs with some confusing arrangements of limbs on, and I shut the case and stare at J. He matter of factly comes back over and reopens it. Says, very nonchalantly "Your Mum and Dad have advertised in the English language newspaper you know for men to sleep with your Mum. I wonder if they're blackmailing them".

    Picture me now. Unfortunately I'm not having a dramatically visible reaction though. I probably look just the same as I did two minutes earlier, but my eyes are a bit blanker. I've honed the art of the non-reaction by being the calm one in my parents epic rows. The calm centre of the storm that my brother and sister would shelter near. And I suddenly remember a row when I was maybe seven or eight. My Mum saying over and over again, "Shall I tell them?...Shall I tell them what we're arguing about?". In the same way she might say "Shall I throw your pudding away if you don't want your dinner?" and you knew the answer was meant to be "no." But Dad had said he wasn't bothered, she could tell us, and my Mum had choked out "Your Dad wants me to sleep with other men while he watches", and somehow we'd all then entered a collective family amnesia about it for the next eight years or so. And now the pill had worn off, I was like one of those patients in that film about people who'd been asleep for thirty years and suddenly woke up. Or is that a simile too far? Especially since I was looking more dazed than anything. "You look like a bubble's burst" said J, and that was before I'd even found their marriage certificate...
    Last edited: 30 October 2006
  4. KateF

    KateF Silver Member

    The marriage certificate. I'm leaving that dangling at the end of two sections. Do I think I'm an episode of Eastenders ending with the "Dum dum dums"? In itself it wasn't very earthshattering. My parent's names, the date of their wedding anniversary...and the year. Not 1973, as they'd always said, two years before me and my twin brother were born. A nice, respectable leeway suggesting a planned family with time to make a home and embark on their new life.

    No, not that year, but 1978. Three years after we were born. Maybe if it had been a year out, I'd have thought it was a simple mistake. But a whole five years? I knew instantly that my parents hadn't even met when me and my twin brother were born. Which meant that "Dad" wasn't my Dad.

    It's amazing how quickly brains can work. Flicking through mine at this point are some pictures and memories. Freeze frame, flashbulb, stop motion moments;

    Me and my brother in pyjamas, tentatively making our way down the stairs in the terraced house, knowing we weren't allowed down, somehow having bypassed the baby-gate. Being surprised that Mum beckoned us down, Dad being sat at the table. Him being there, a surprise somehow.

    (Click; First meeting)

    A visit to a flat that smelled of Dad's aftershave and had an avocado bathroom suite like the one in the new house we were about to move into.

    (Click; Moving in as a family)

    Being sat in a room that was all wood panelled, facing a row of men in suits.

    (Click; The adoption hearing)

    And now, thirteen years later, stood here, in my parent's bedroom, realising that a big part of their epic rows over the years was about the power battle they were having over their sex lives, played out in the photos I'd just shut back in the suitcase, and that a big part of the air of unsaid things that permeated our lives was that so much that we'd been told was a lie.


    That day, I'm still the Queen of the non-reaction.
    Dad's not my Dad anymore? Good. I'm glad I'm not related to him.
    Everything's a lie. Good, I don't feel as bad about the lies I'm telling by having a relationship with J.

    Oops. Layer upon layer, the other illusions that I'm building up to separate me from painful reality, are being smeared across the mirror that might eventually tell me who I am.

    Our parents are often our earliest mirror. I'd always known that what they reflected back to me was distorted. Now I was going to smash that glass altogether-

    but an "ageing adventurer" who would eventually tell me that I was cold and reserved and "of the same soul" as him, wasn't going to be a very accurate replacement mirror. But he was the only one I had.

    When we haven't got mirrors, we have to rely on how we feel inside.
    Inside? If you asked me then what I was feeling, I'd have given you a thought not a feeling every time. Except hunger. I could usually identify that one...

    However...the mirror smashing is another story. Time to jump cut now to 1992. I'm seventeen and living on my own in a one room bedsit in Yorkshire. I'm doing A-levels at the same school I've been at for five years, and surviving on income support. Neither J, nor my parents are in my life. I still don't know who my real Dad is. But I've found some things out, and I start trying to track him down.

    Everyone needs a mirror.
    Everyone needs to belong somewhere...


    Anyone reading, don't feel you're interrupting if you give some honest feedback-even if it's "lose the clowns and weirdoes, get on with it!" or "What are you on about?, Get to the point!". I suppose I'm very self-indulgently using Minimins as a Virtual writer's circle.
  5. Mini

    Mini Administrator Staff Member

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    Hi Kate,

    It feels like a sacrilege to interrupt the flow of your wonderful fascinating story.

    You write to well I am there with you holding my breath to see what happens next...

    Love Mini xxx
  6. KittyB

    KittyB Gold Member

    Don't really know what to say hun, but ((((((hugs)))))))

    You write well

    Kitty xxxx
  7. Petal01

    Petal01 Still Climbing That Hill!

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    Some good writing there Kate.
  8. nadhak


    lighter life maintaining and occasional re-starting
    ooh - more more more!
    Mini likes this.
  9. KD

    KD Gone fishing

    Was Cambridge, now maintaining
    Excellent writing :cool:

    Goodness! What a thing to have to go through [​IMG]
  10. Isobel1965

    Isobel1965 Gold Member

    Hmmm - you're pushing some buttons with me there, lady! Are you sure we're not sisters? lol

    Keep going, hun - it's very therapeutic writing it all down!
  11. Geri

    Geri Gold Member

    Hiya Kate,
    I've only just come across this thread!

    You write soo well, am gonna ask a really stupid question but will ask anyway - there's lots of 'clicks' in the last post - is something meant to happen when I click - or were they just pointers for you to write about???
  12. Dom1979

    Dom1979 Gold Member

    I'd forgotten about this thread! Write some more would'ya please?!!!
  13. Rachels

    Rachels Member


    You have me hooked, please write some more!!:p
  14. KateF

    KateF Silver Member

    I got derailed. These explain why. Apologies for non-lovers of modern poetry!

    Late. 1

    As if each page on a calendar
    is the entrance to a time machine,
    I waited exactly a year
    to write about you for the first time.

    It took fourteen years before I was ready
    to conjure my father up through the portal
    of reunion’s anniversary.
    But you arrived again that day too,
    like a misdirected delivery from the florist.
    The question I can never ask in person is
    how do you feel about me?

    The following Tuesday you squeezed my foot,
    then kissed me breathless.
    In a parallel world
    my father reached for my hand across a pub table,
    our first touch.

    In the here and now of Tetley tea, dipped flakes,
    cinema tickets, I asked you to break the spell
    by doing me a favour and not dying
    before the twenty fourth of January.

    You didn’t need a calendar to open
    the door to your father.
    Over the lintel a timer is ticking down the years
    until you and he meet over the threshold of fifty.
    Turning forty nine, you offered me a calendar full of days;
    a reprieve, a pardoning.
    Until you took them straight back.
    Better now than later you said,
    I’m on death row

    We’d made it to the twenty third.

    Leaving your house I heard a sound
    like one of the wailing women on TV
    at the aftermath of massacres in hot countries,
    it was me.

    Late. 2

    All emotion is melodrama
    you had said after we brought the New Year
    in with fireworks, champagne,
    you shining a torch over the threshold.

    But I was a ghost at my father’s funeral,
    effaced from the eulogy,
    nosebleeding quietly into a borrowed white hanky
    and this feels like reality to me,
    as I cry myself back into being.

    Repeat after me
    Repeat after me

    I took my father daffodils and tulips
    for the first time, sitting on a crematorium bench
    in January afternoon sun
    telling myself, as an incantation to bring more tears,
    the story of the plate I’d bought him
    for his birthday,
    the one with a fox cub on it
    my little fox
    which he didn’t live to see

    Four days later you were summoning me
    to witness you alive,
    reborn with a baptism of lager and Merlot,
    stroking your stigmata.
    I wanted to give you my metaphorical death early
    Empty tomb behind you
    Do not hold on to me

    I had been trying to learn to love a man.

    Metaphorically speaking,
    a metaphor is both a lock and a key.

    I would be ready to grieve you properly now
    I didn’t say,
    hoping you don’t choose the day,
    hoping the present isn’t too late for you as well.

    Why couldn’t I do this before?
    The calendar doors have closed now
    I don’t need them anymore.
    Mini likes this.
  15. Mini

    Mini Administrator Staff Member

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    Kate that is powerfull.

    Love Mini xxx
  16. KateF

    KateF Silver Member

    Okay, I've been living it, done some long overdue grieving for my real father via the medium of losing K whose meeting I started this thread off with. Time to start writing it again. Thanks for messages of encouragement months ago everyone. I'm sure you're all long gone, but I'm going to start where I left off. Cutting to 1992. Me in a bedsit, doing my A-levels, about to track my father down;

    Finding Fathers; Continued. April 1992;

    Everyone needs a mirror.
    Everyone needs to belong somewhere.

    Maybe it's a coincidence but in my single room bedsit I don't have a mirror. I do have a Salvador Dali poster on my wall. The one where a man is kneeling in front of a pool of water, "The Metamorphosis of Narcissus". The bloke so vain he fell in love with his own reflection.

    "Narcissus, in his immobility,
    absorbed by his reflection
    with the digestive slowness of carnivorous plants,
    becomes invisible.

    Salvador Dali.

    I think I liked it because it didn't look like anything I'd ever owned. I got it for a fiver from the bargain book shop where I go every Saturday. I hardly own anything else. I'd left home with a bag of clothes and, bizarrely, my Billy Joel tapes. The week I moved in I got a forty pound "crisis loan" from the DSS and bought a kettle and a radio alarm clock. Friends brought a random collection of things from their houses; a salt and pepper set, a Holly Hobbie bedcover, a teddy bear, a black and white TV set with a wobbly aerial.

    I'm happier here than I ever was at home. I feel safe and no longer confused by an atmosphere of secrets and lies. Half heard rows, sudden moves than made no sense, the uncertainty of whether I'd be able to carry on doing my A-levels. Among several of the odd reversals my parents had managed was the one where I wanted to study and get qualifications and my parents wanted me not to waste money (or their money rather) on something like an education. Some of the upside down things that I still didn't think were strange were my StepDad being the one to buy me and my sister's first tampons and him being the one to hug us, while my mother managed an awkward embrace maybe once a year, which always felt like a shock.

    I was now fully aware though of how my Stepdad's favourite phrase "I never lie" was a spectacularly wrong reversal. Among other things, the small matter of who our biological father was had been hidden for sixteen years.

    Apparently adoptive children often fantasise their real parents are beautiful princesses and handsome filmstars. My Pollyanna-style unbounded optimism could have allowed me to do this but unfortunately the discovery of my parents slightly less glittery fantasy life got in the way. It turned out Mum and Stepdad had constructed a sexual fantasy land in which he filmed her sleeping with other men. The fantasy underlying it I think was;


    "I've lost her, my beautiful wife is with another man!"

    "But I'm the one who arranged this, I'm filming it. Look I can Stop, Fast Forward, Rewind, Play, Pause. I'm directing this film and I get to choose the ending."

    "She's come back to me, she's chosen me, I've won!"


    "He wants me so much, he's prepared to lose me. I'll do whatever he wants. I'm powerless, I give in".

    "I have no power, I'm following his instructions. Therefore I have lots of power, I win!".

    This left me with visions of a father who was some sort of anonymous, sweating, frustrated businessman who'd answered their adverts in the Yorkshire Post (the Yorkshire Post of all papers! To be fair I didn't know at the time that's where they advertised. My sister told me years later. She'd opened some of the ads they'd sent her to the post box with).

    In the absence of any willingness to speak from my ex-parents, I had only one real clue, which had at least broken through my belief of several months that my father could be a sperm donor indistinguishable among many. I'd written to my Godmother who I knew would be shocked at the fact that my ex-parents weren't speaking to me. I wanted to avoid at all costs her probably natural urge to want to step in as a surrogate parent though, so had left it nearly a year since leaving home until writing to her, when I realised there was likely to be no one else who might have any clues about my real father.

    She had replied pretty much by return, saying she was shocked at my parents attitude, was glad I was alright and at school and that my real father was a married man my mother had worked for and who had supported us until she remarried. I had been astounded. The faceless businessman didn't quite have a face yet, but he knew I existed. More, he'd once had some sort of role as father. In further letters my Godmother said she didn't know his name or whereabouts and didn't think I should try track him down.

    Hmm. I'd had enough of not knowing things. I had two very tiny clues and I was determined to expand them. I knew my mother had worked at a particular estate agents around the time I was born. Also, on my birth certificate it said she was secretary to a textile agent. Somewhere at one of these must know something. I'd had the first helpful coincidence when, in talking this through, it turned out that my friend's next door neighbour worked next door to the estate agents which still existed, seventeen years after my mother worked there.

    One April day in 1992 I spoke to her. A few days later, in the sixth form common room, my friend passed me this letter;

    Dear Kate,

    I have enquired discreetly through a close friend and have found out the following;

    If your Mum's first name is J-, then approx 18 years ago, a J- G- worked for D's Estate Agents. She was at one time engaged to someone called "Neil".

    It also transpires that John W (who still works there-he may even be a partner was mad about her too!)

    Does this throw any light on the matter, if so and you have anything you know to add to it (ie dates etc) I may be able to take it a bit further.

    With love

    Now my father had two possible names.
    It was odd. I could imagine a John but not a Neil. No logic for this at all. Except my Stepdad was twenty years older than my Mum and I'd always been used to someone who sounded older, old fashioned even. Neil sounded like the sort of bloke who'd wear jeans and listen to the Eagles (?!) which the father I'd grown up with never did. Strange what you can get used to...

    That's how a few weeks later I came to be sat in a small office at D's Estate Agents, across a desk from John W. It turned out I wasn't the only blast from the past he'd had that month...
    Last edited: 3 June 2007
  17. Mini

    Mini Administrator Staff Member

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    Delighted you have carried on with your story and I await eagerly the next installment:)

    Love Mini xxx
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  19. KateF

    KateF Silver Member

    This man in a small airless office in Bradford might be my father.
    It’s an ordinary estate agent. Photos of houses filling the window. Each representing someone’s ending, someone else’s new beginning.
    I picture my Mum here in the seventies. Tapping away at an Olivetti typewriter, filling pads with her Pitman shorthand.
    Maybe she drove to work each day in Josephine, the battered yellow Mini she and me and my brother would encourage up hills when we strapped in twin car seats in the back; “Come on Josephine!”.
    Maybe she imagined moving into one of the houses in the window. One with a drive and a garden and a bedroom each for us and a master bedroom with double wardrobes for her and-

    -I test John W’s name out in my head again. I didn’t plan what to say. I think you don’t have to plan if you’re being honest. What comes out, as I sit, demurely, crossed ankles on the swivel chair, is that my Mum worked here around the time I was born, I’m trying to track down my father. Does he know where my mother was working in September 1974?

    I say honesty. But I was still working with the version of it my family lived by. Honesty expunged of all feeling and quite a lot of fact. The big, unspoken question, so buried I didn’t even have to ask it in my head while I spoke to him and my pulse rate didn’t betray it by speeding up; Are you my father?

    It’s okay. The white haired man with the grey suit and posh-Yorkshire accent quickly answers the unasked. My mother wasn’t pregnant when she worked there. She left in 1972 or 1973, to work for a textile agent. But it’s odd that I’ve turned up he says. Just a couple of weeks earlier the man my mother used to be engaged to came into the shop with a house to sell. He hadn’t seen him for seventeen years and then, just before Jennifer’s daughter turns up out of the blue, there’s her former fiancée too.

    I loved coincidences then. They connected things together in a world where everything seemed to have got too easily disconnected. It felt like the universe or fate or something was smiling on me. I wondered if it was strange for John W though. Was it painful to see an old rival, remembering what the letter had said about him being “mad about her” too? It’s weird how I wanted these men to still have feelings for my Mum. Didn’t want to see her as an abandoned woman. . I don’t know what I expected. Maybe I hoped he’d lower his voice and look off into the far distance wistfully saying “Did she ever…mention me?”. This bloke didn’t look remotely traumatised by the resurrection of this supposed old rivalry though. Matter of factly he said he had got my Mum’s ex-fiancee’s number. Yes, it was fine to give it to me (these were the days before the Data Protection Act). He wrote it down on the back of one of his own business cards.
    Neil M-.
    The names of two potential fathers (now reduced to one) on one piece of white card.
    He wished me good luck as I left. Through the same door my mother must have done for the last time seventeen years earlier. Both of us heading to an uncertain future…
    wannabeminime likes this.
  20. Isobel1965

    Isobel1965 Gold Member

    Bless you, Kate. I'm there with you, every step of the way!

    Are you ready yet to continue?

    Your audience awaits when it's ok for you to do so.

  21. kandy

    kandy Silver Member

    Ooooh Kate, i have goose bumps, you write wonderfully hope it helps you to write it down !
    love julie XXX
  22. wannabeminime

    wannabeminime Gold Member

    Fascinating story Kate, can't wait for more! Poor you though! Hugs!
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