20th January 2022 This week I’d like to talk to you about half-siblings. In these days of ‘quickie’ divorces and living together instead of marrying, the extended family is very common. It’s no less hard for children when their parents forego their partnerships, but the question of access is certainly now less skewed than it used to be, and people are encouraged to put their differences aside when it comes to forming ongoing relationships with children with whom they no longer share a home. In all, the situation has improved vastly, although I know that many unfortunate children are still used as bargaining tools; the primary carer withholding visiting rights until they get what they want from their ex-partner.
No so back in the not-so-good old days. In my situation, my parents split up when I was just a few weeks old and I don’t remember my natural father at all. I won’t go into huge detail here or lay any blame – I’m sure both sides contributed to the breakdown of the marriage – but the upshot was that my father moved away to Scotland. I can remember meeting him only once. I think I was about 3 or 4 years old, and a nice man came to see us. He brought presents – mine was a Denys Fisher toy radio that when wound up, played ‘Ten Little Indians’ and showed colourful drawings that rotated in a little window. Sadly, I remember the toy more clearly than the man.
My mother stayed in Barrow with my older brother and me. Eventually our parents both remarried and went on to have (I hope) happier lives apart. They also both had more children.
I am the proud relation of one half-sister on my mother’s side, with whom I grew up, and three half siblings on my father’s side that I have yet to meet, although at least we are now in contact. I only found out in very recent years, there is another half-sister out there somewhere who is the result of a brief relationship of my mother’s, and was given up for adoption a couple of weeks after her birth.
The circumstances of this adoption are heavily mired in the past; I have no information about her except that she has my mother’s name on her birth certificate and was born in 1960. But I would dearly love to know her. As far as we can work out, Mum had a relationship with a man who was in Barrow on board a ship which I assume was either being built or refurbished in Vickers’ Shipyard. The story goes that this chap was out walking with Mum one day when he suddenly collapsed and died, right there in the street.
How much of this is true, I don’t know – I’ve just pieced it together from what Mum told me, but she was in the throes of Alzheimer’s at the time and given to making things up if she couldn’t remember the right answers to questions. As an example, when she was in a care home, before she came to live with me, the home’s manager asked me on one visit why I was the only member of the family to visit Mum. The answer was that I was closest – my sister lived in Scotland, and my brother lived in Lancashire and didn’t drive. This response confused the woman – Mum had told her that she had four children – apparently, I had three older brothers!
Anyway, to get back to the adopted child – we assume that after her boyfriend’s sudden demise, Mum must have found out she was pregnant. Bearing in mind this was 1960, Mum’s situation was a shameful thing; firstly, she was a newly divorced single mum bringing up two children by herself already. To fall pregnant again – out of wedlock too! – she would be tarred as some sort of loose woman, never to be respected again. Not only that, but money was tight anyway – how would she manage another child, let alone one from whom she could expect no financial help from the father. It must have been horrendous for her; I can’t imagine how I would have felt in her position. I’m sure it must have seemed there was no alternative but to give up the new baby for adoption.
The only reason I know any of this was because I was contacted on Ancestry.com by someone who was researching a friend’s family tree, and a couple of names she had unearthed matched my birth father and his father, although at the time the researcher, Fallon, did not know how closely these two were related to me. It was when Fallon explained her friend’s story I found out that I had a half-sister.
I didn’t believe it! My mother wasn’t the sort of person to sleep around, she was always so prim and proper and even prudish beyond belief sometimes! So, I asked my aunt (my mother’s sister), if she knew anything about it. She confirmed it was true – Mum had given birth and had the baby adopted, but that was all she knew and everyone around at the time had been sworn to secrecy. The only reason Auntie was saying anything now was because I’d asked her – otherwise, she said, she would only have told me after my mother had died, because the promise would then be null. Unfortunately, Auntie didn’t know any more than that, she had never known who the father was, so couldn’t give me any more information. In those days too, adoption wasn’t the above-board process it is now. In Mum’s case, the adoption had been arranged by our family doctor (also no longer alive) so there were no official records to follow.
The person who Fallon was researching for was my half-sister, trying to find out if my birth father was also her father. He wasn’t, as far as I was able to confirm, but could give her no further information about her father as no-one knows. The only person who could possibly have helped her was in the last reaches of Alzheimer’s at the time, and is now passed on, so we’ll never know now. I expressed to Fallon an interest in meeting with my half-sister (I’ll call her Janice, since that’s the name that’s on her birth certificate, but not the name she grew up with), but apparently, she was not interested. Fallon told me that Janice had traced my mother back in the 1980s, and had come to Barrow to meet her. The meeting was not successful and Mum had said she could not reveal to her family (us) what had happened in the past. Poor Janice must have been crushed. I cannot imagine how it must feel to be twice rejected by the woman who gave birth to you – so I guess that my request to meet her fell on deaf ears and that is perfectly understandable. By the way, Janice – if by some miracle you might read this blog someday, the offer still stands! I would love to get to know you and try to make some sort of reparation to you for the way our mother treated you. I’m truly sorry.
The half-sister I did grow up with, I never think of as a half-sibling. She’s my sister, Mel, and I absolutely love the bones of her. I’m so grateful that her father treated me as his daughter as much as her, and let me call him ‘Dad’ from almost as soon as he came into our lives. Of course, Mel and I hated each other when we were young – as sisters with a five-year age gap, we shared a room (which she would deliberately mess up because she knew that I would be the one to get grounded by Mum, and miss my one night out to the disco each week). Mum, who made our clothes, dressed us alike, which was cute when we were five and ten, not so cute at ten and fifteen; it did absolutely nothing for my teenage street-cred! Mel and our older brother Rob, would join forces and gang up on me as the middle child. I swear, it’s not just that I suffer from middle-child syndrome (though I do!), it’s absolutely true. When playing games of hide and seek, they would lock me in the wardrobe, or in the cupboard under the stairs. It’s no wonder I suffer from both arachnophobia and claustrophobia. Mel, the little darling, once even hit me over the head with a rusty garden rake – prongs down! It’s a wonder I’m still here to tell the tale. (Which I do, frequently!)
I left home when I was seventeen due to the difficult relationship I had with my mum, and boy, did it kick in then for Mel, not having her big sister at home to take the blame for everything! By that time, my brother had also left home, so Mel was literally the only child then. It was at that time that she started to appreciate what she’d had and we became friends as well as sisters. Ever since, we’ve been close and seen each other through both the best and the worst times. She’s the one person I know I can depend on. She now lives in Fuerteventura with her husband, Steve, who is just the best bloke! We ‘WhatsApp’ two or three times a week and remain close. She’s even coming over to stay for a couple of weeks in April so she can be here for the publication and launch of Monday is Washing Day. And she’s been a fabulous reader of my work – I know I can rely on her to tell me the truth about whether what I write is good enough.
In amongst all this talk about brothers and sisters, I should also mention my brother Robert. Of all my siblings he is the only ‘true’ brother I have, in that we share the same mother and father. We’ve had our ups and downs through the years. When I was very small and there was only Mum, me and Rob, he took a lot of care of me, even though he is only three years older. When our parents’ marriage broke down it was obviously very hard on him – he had a three-year relationship with our dad, which I hadn’t had. But I was told the stories of how when Mum left us at the school gates at Barrow Island Nursery and Infants Schools, Rob would take me into my little classroom and hang up my coat and make sure I was ok before leaving to take himself off to his infants’ class (he was only 5 or 6!), then would collect me again before taking me outside to meet our grandparents who looked after us until Mum got home.
He never stopped being that ‘big brother’ and was, in fact, very Orwellian in his need to control my life, which was very irritating when I was a teenager. In fact, even in my late 20’s when I took my then boyfriend, who was soon to be my second husband, home to meet the folks, Rob felt the need to ‘vet’ poor Trevor to see if he was suitable! We later lost touch for a long while, but I’m glad to say the family has reunited in the last few years and we’re probably now closer than we have been for a long time. He still treats me as a younger sister who knows nothing and irritates the life out of me, but I’m glad he’s my big brother all the same.
Which brings us now to my other half-siblings, the children of my birth father, Jim. Before my mother died, I had always wanted to find out more about Jim, but it felt like I was being disloyal to my mother to have done anything about it, so I didn’t. I’d been brought up with all the bad stories about the breakdown of their marriage. To hear Mum, you’d have thought he was the devil incarnate, but there are two sides to every story and I also knew from personal experience that my mother was a very difficult person to live with. After her death in early 2018 I decided I could now find out more about my ‘real’ father. I told my brother that I had made contact with our half siblings but he got very upset and said he wanted nothing to do with the whole situation. He too had been brainwashed from a very early age; only he insists that he remembers all the arguing and the fights. I’m of the opinion that he thinks he remembers it, but he was only just three years old when they finally split. I don’t know about you, but I’m hard pressed to remember anything from before I was about five years old, but maybe that’s just me.
I knew there was no chance of getting in personal contact with Jim as he had been killed in an accident at work in 1973 on his 41st birthday. It must have been very difficult for his three children, growing up without a dad. I remember Mum telling me when she heard about it; I couldn’t understand why she cried. She’d spent my whole life denigrating this man that she was now shedding tears over. Maybe it hadn’t been all bad, after all. I became curious about him then, and remained so until my mother’s death. Then I decided I wanted to know more about him – what sort of man had he been? More importantly, what sort of Dad had he been? Judging from his son’s Facebook posts every year on 27th April, his birthday and the anniversary of his death, he was a good man, and is sorely missed. He would have been 90 this year.
His children all live in Scotland, Glasgow I think, where my father moved when he split up with Mum. As previously mentioned, we haven’t yet met in person, but I’m in contact with the two younger ones via social media. The oldest, Vivienne, doesn’t do Facebook, so I don’t have any contact with her, but I hope when we finally meet face-to-face, she’ll be there too. The others, Caroline and Nicky, keep in contact and are very supportive, following my posts about my books and the other nonsense I write. Weirdly, Caroline and I share a birthday, albeit several years apart! Nick is the youngest and is football mad and very patriotically Scottish. I love when he posts comments against my threads and includes the word ‘sis’! Is that silly of me? Probably, but I don’t care. We sort of made tentative plans a couple of years ago that I would travel to Scotland to meet them, but then Covid and lockdown happened so that our plans never materialised. And until things settle down properly, I don’t suppose they will – I do not want to meet my family through face-masks and sanitiser and 2 metre social distancing. I want to be able to hug them, shake their hands and see their faces for real. I want long discussions and reminiscing over several glasses of Scotland’s best whisky, not brief hellos and goodbyes.
However, it’s good to know that there is family out there in the world. Now I’m on my own relationship-wise, I find it very comforting to know there is a wide network of people around with whom I have a familial connection. It’s all in the genes you know…
I’d love to hear your view on my words, or for you to share your own experiences – please feel free to do so in the box below.
Till next week,