Brisbane, 14 April 1982
I know this will come
as a surprise after such a long time but I feel I must write to you and ask for
You will recall that
after you left to go to Queensland, I had a son, Paul. He was raised as the
legitimate son of my parents and has no knowledge of your existence or our
history. Well, he is grown up now and wants to get married. He needs to know
your medical history before he has children.
I am married with a
family and do not wish to disturb my relationship, or upset anyone. Will you
write to him directly at the address below and let him know your medical
background and how this situation came about.
* * *
How on earth do I respond?
I reeled back in shock and sat down heavily in my armchair. It seemed my
youthful exuberance was finally catching up with me. I was aware of this boy’s
existence – actually, he was now quite clearly a man – but my earlier efforts to
find out more about him, and perhaps to make contact, had all come to nothing.
He certainly had the right to know about my extensive medical problems, because
these could affect his family prospects; although, by the time I received this
letter, I had overcome most of them and lived with what I couldn’t change.
I suppose the content of Jane’s letter was not a complete surprise. A few
years previously I had obtained a copy of Paul’s birth certificate, hoping it
would give me more information, so I knew our son was registered as the natural
offspring of Jane’s mother and father. Jane was the oldest of six children, so
it probably didn’t seem out of place. I had also found out his name – Paul –
something I hadn’t known until then. At that stage, I gave up trying to discover
more. Too many years had gone by and Jane and I had gone our separate ways. I
was now happily married with a family of my own.
Even as recently as 1982, social mores were very different to what they
are now. What did L P Hartley say? ‘The past is a foreign country: they do
things differently there.’ I was most definitely middle-class, completely
respectable, and a counsellor in the Family Court of Queensland. I really would
have trouble justifying this to my friends and colleagues!
There was my other child to consider as well, my young son. How would I
explain the situation to Sean? Oh, hell! What about my wife? How would Libby
take this news? Fortunately, Libby is a calm, easygoing person, not given to
torrid flare-ups, but still …
By now my mind was racing. Fortunately, I had told Libby about this
indiscretion before we got married, but I had no idea that this episode from my
past would loom large on my personal horizon anymore. Mentally, I had swept it
out of my consciousness long ago. Honestly, I was less concerned about her
reaction than about my ability to cope with writing such an awkward letter. Who
knows what repercussions it might have?
And, of course, there was Paul – the innocent party in all this. What was
his situation now? How would his soon-to-be wife feel? Should I answer the
letter at all?
I looked around my comfortably furnished living room, recalling the years
of effort it had taken to get to this stage in our lives. We lived in Ninth
Avenue, St Lucia, just a hop, skip and a jump from The University of Queensland,
in a four-bed, post-war timber home – the reward for my struggle to establish
myself in a legitimate professional career. It didn’t seem that long ago when I
could only dream of such a home, with its polished wooden floors, beautifully
furnished, and with cream drapes around the windows. We were, indeed, fortunate.
Yes, I did feel satisfied with my achievements. As a family we had always
given things a go, seizing, and making our own opportunities. We led a very busy
but fulfilling life; I was in a secure government job with a slightly
above-average wage; and Libby’s schoolteacher salary allowed us to send Sean to
a private school and indulge in occasional travel. In our backyard sat a trailer
sailer for weekend outings. Our four-year-old son was settling into
kindergarten, and my parents had come over from Perth and were now living close
by in a house we had helped them purchase in Chelmer. Everything was ordered,
calm, settled. How would I explain this development to them?
I called out to Libby who was in the kitchen making morning tea.
‘Libby! Take a look at this!’
Our white toy poodle, sensing my mood, bounded over and leapt onto my lap.
Libby walked into the living room, dusting some flour off her skirt, and
with a quizzical expression on her face. I handed her the letter, worrying how
she would react. She studied the page, showing no surprise at its contents.
‘Hmm … Well, you’ll have to reply to it. She’s aware you had some serious
illnesses when you were young, and he deserves to know. It could affect his life
and possibly his children’s lives, if they’re going to have any.’
I heaved a sigh of relief; unflappable Libby – she always gave sound,
I had spent many years regretting the past and wishing I could undo my
actions. In my heart was guilt: guilt because I hadn’t married Jane when she
told me she was pregnant. And the guilt had reached down through a lifetime,
resulting in years of tortured celibacy. It also allowed me to be tricked into
a marriage that was so obviously a mistake right from the start.
Now I had to write the most difficult letter of my life. I know I was
being selfish, but I couldn’t let this endanger my family’s lifestyle. My
response would require tact and diplomacy. Did I really want to start a
relationship with an adult illegitimate son who knew nothing about me? Would he
want to know me?
How the hell would I explain how immature and helpless I felt back then?
My mind was in turmoil as I began to go over the early years.