Last Thursday my father waited until the rest of the house had retired to bed then approached me and ushered me away into a room. He closed the door and started talking in his solemn voice. I didn't know what to think. I suspected I was in deep shit about any one of many things, something bad had happened which was none of my business, or he was about to attempt one of his caring-father lectures like when he found my pr0n. The last time he used that tone was when he told me in secret that my uncle used to suffer from alcoholism.
"What do you think" he started, "about families with separated parents? What do you know about what it's like to have divorced parents and step-children and the like? How would you feel if your life was like that?" I immediately jumped to my conclusion. But mum and dad hadn't been arguing much recently. In fact, especially now Caroline is home, this has been a particularly good period. What could have happened that I don't know about? I'd always had a dreadful fear that my parents would split up and maybe I'd have to choose between them.
He went on: "What would you say if mum had had other children before we married?" I wasn't sure where this was going. I wasn't sure if I wanted to know. I don't think what he had said had even taken effect on me. Anyway, how would I not have known about it? Wouldn't she have been rather young? Immediately, he pressed on before the last piece of information had begun to be digested. "Actually, it's not her. It's me. I have three other children with an ex-wife."
He then went on to explain how he had two girls and a boy with a girl he met just after returning from the Antarctic. They were just not suited to each other. She was generally quite bad (use your imagination) and after some years she became unbearable. Apparently, she even took out her anger on their children. The divorce came through when the eldest child was about seven. Or maybe it was nine – I don't remember the details. He fought for custody but only got access to his three children. He went on to tell me how his ex-wife never let him see his kids; she was always out or had some other excuse. His protests resulted in nothing. He went off by himself sailing across the world on his own. He intended never to return. It was during this time that he met my mother. Inexplicably, over the years, contact was gradually lost with his family, and he ended up convincing himself that it was better that he let the situation remain as it was. For some reason, he then went and explained about how he had to get his first marriage annulled so that he could have a church marriage with mum.
The circumstances now are that the three children grew up with their mother who apparently blackens my father's name at every opportunity. She has written offensive letters to my mother and made unpleasant 'phone calls to this house. He said that the youngest two children are very much under her influence and demonise their father. Still, Jen who is the oldest in her late twenties, recently managed to contact dad through 192.com. They have talked and been to meet a couple of times. He's very keen to catch up with her and see his daughter again. She is a single mother with a young son named Kalum. My dad is a grandfather.
Anyway, I struggled to assimilate all this shocking information. I didn't know what to think. I still don't. I've tried to reason what I feel about it, but like so many other things, I'm not sure what I think. I don't know what I should think or feel. The thing is, immediately after I found out, I felt surprisingly little. I was emotionally blank, devoid of feeling.
I don't know whether to hate my father for keeping this from Caroline and I all these years. Should I scream and shout and demand to know why my parents never told me any of this? I think back to all those time when he'd lied about this without thinking about it. I thought that I wasn't the first person he taught to ride a bike. That all the experiences I had with my father were unique, only for me. He'd already brought up three different children I know nothing about other than their names. They share some of my genes. I wasn't the first, hell I wasn't even the second or third. It's not just me and Caroline; son and daughter. Years before I was conceived my father was taking other children to the park, driving them for their first day at school and putting them to bed with lullabies. I thought about crying - I was his son. Not some other guy I'll probably never meet. But then, I can see why he did as he did. Even though it was wrong not to tell me until he was compelled to now, it was an understandable and human thing to do. I can't hate him for it.
Perhaps what I most don't want to face up to is that I can't be special any more. When he's told me I'm his favourite son, how much did he mean that? And now he's not my father, devoted just to this family. He the father of three other children. I don't want to share him with other children. I don't want to share him.
I still don't know what to think about him. There's lots about the story I don't understand. Why did they split up exactly? How could he live all these years knowing he had other children but knowing nothing about them. Not even where they lived or whether they were still alive. I don't have any experience, but if I had created life, I couldn't forget about it just like that. What sort of father was he? What was his relationship with them like?
I'm sure to meet Jen someday. I'm not entirely sure if I want to, but he seems keen on it. I have no real reason not to. But when the inevitable encounter occurs, how will I react? The problem is, I still don't know how I now feel about my parents, my half-siblings and the whole situation in general.
When he'd finished talking, he came over to hug me. I hugged him back though, right then, I didn't want to. I still loved him, though I felt I knew him less then ever then. I needed time to contemplate my feelings before I could hug him meaningfully again. I was expecting something to happen. I thought the feeling in this house would change. But it's all exactly the same as before.
I needed time.