It’s a question that has haunted me over the years because, I thought, my adoptive mother’s love for me hung in the balance of the answer. I was 7 or so and we’d been having one of our spectacular rows again. As I fell down the stairs, I wondered… did I fall or was I pushed?
My father came out of the living room to discover me, crumpled in a heap at the bottom of the stairs.
‘I think she pushed me’ I said uncertainly.
He bounded up the stairs in what seemed like one leap and I heard a scream from the bedroom. I picked myself up and ran. My father had pinned my mother down on the floor and was about to hit her… but stopped himself just in time. He got up, walked out and slammed the door on us both. She just looked at me and said
‘How could you. How could you have lied. I didn’t push you, only let you go, because otherwise I would have fallen myself.’
I felt like the worst person in the world. It was all my fault.
But after 20 years of berating myself I asked a different question. Why didn’t she come downstairs? If she’d just ‘let me go’, surely she would have been worried. Instead she just walked away.
I write when I love. I write when I discover something new. I write when I’m in pain. As I write, I process, my mind building new ways to look at old information. And so, dear diary… I’m hoping you can help. I asked for years about my mother. But there’s a question I never asked.
In over 300 published articles which chronicle my thoughts, I have mentioned my adoptive father precisely three times. And only then in passing.
Today, on the day after my adoptive father has decided he cannot be in contact with me I found another question I never asked. There’s been no argument. Just a steady decline of contact over the years as we move on with our lives in our separate corners of the globe. In truth, his one line unemotional emails gave me little reason to contact him. His lack of investment in my adulthood has been, well, similar to that in my childhood. Financially abundant, but emotionally absent. And if I’m being honest, this last turn of events is rather a relief. I’ve forced his hand you see, in asking whether he didn’t want to resume more contact. And he replied honestly. No.
It’s a big ask to claim parentage of me. I’m outspoken about my mistakes and theirs. About the way I live my life. I’m highly critical of adoption. Resuming more contact would mean facing up to truths, dealing with emotions he prefers to let slide. But if there is one thing about adoption that I can see now, it is that it gives you the option of being a parent or not. Adoption is apparently not for life. It is only enforced by the willingness of the participants to accept the contract.
So now, I’m looking back over our relationship that’s lasted almost 40 years and wondering where it all went wrong.
I’m lucky to have two children with an amazing partner, lucky to experience the joy and pain of motherhood myself. Lucky that my partner loves our children in the way I think a father should. And so when I told him this story, asking the same old question… why didn’t she come downstairs? He looked aghast and said.
‘Never mind that. Why didn’t your father stop to look after you? His child had just fallen down the stairs, who cares if you fell or were pushed. Why was his first priority to go and beat up your mother?’
And at that I stopped short. Because this question, I had never asked.
When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. – Sherlock Holmes
I knew that my father had tried to divorce my mother a year before they adopted me. I knew that I was ‘her project’. I knew that he was never around. I knew that he despised her. But as I looked once more on my childhood self, crumpled at the bottom of the stairs I finally knew the answer… when I asked the right question.
Why didn’t you pick me up Dad?
Because if you’ve agreed to spend your life with someone you hate just so that they can adopt a child, and the actions of that person suggest that the reason you live in misery is now invalid, it must make you very angry. So angry, that you might just leap to the top of the stairs in one bound and pin them to the ground. Not caring about the child who is broken and crying on the floor. It’s not yours. Your life is a lie. All your sacrifice is worthless. You are trapped with a wife you hate and child you never even wanted.