Family Matters

My head is reeling.

My dad’s been in Scotland this week with his girlfriend, and yesterday I met them in my mum’s home town, which is a small town on the east coast – small now and even smaller 60 years ago, one of those towns where everybody knew everybody and everybody’s business. We went to see one of my aunts and her husband. She’s my mum’s little sister, but they’ve stayed friendly with my dad since my parents split up. A couple who they are friends with were also there – my parents know them well and I’ve met them loads of times before.

My aunt & uncle and their friends had been on the wine before we got there, and once we arrived the talk turned to family matters, reminiscences and the gossip/criticism that happens in all big families (my mum is the 4th of 6 children). Anyway, what came out today is that a few years ago a man my aunt knows informed her that they were half-brother and sister. My grandparents had separated, my grandmother had had an affair with a married neighbour, and got pregnant with my aunt. My grandmother had always said to the adult relatives she wanted my aunt to be told the truth when she was old enough to understand, but died when my aunt was about 7 and my mum was 11 or 12, so wasn’t able to tell her herself. My aunt’s biological dad died and when his wife, who knew, was dying, she explained to her sons that they had to tell my aunt the truth. So, my aunt was told and well, as she said, she thought she had five siblings, but it turns out she has eight half-siblings!

But the thing that really has me reeling is the other thing she told me. After my grandmother died, my grandad returned to the family home and brought up the kids. All of them except my aunt had eventually left home, and when she was 15, she discovered that my grandad was drilling holes through the bedroom and bathroom walls to spy on her. She told her friend, and the friend’s parents came straight round to the house, packed up all her belongings in an army blanket, and took her to live with them, and she stayed with them until she got married.

I didn’t know my maternal grandad very well, and he died when I was about 11, but I loved him very much. As an adult, from what my family have told me it’s clear that he was terribly racist, and his parenting disciplinary techniques would today be described as abusive, but I can accept that he was a product of his time and many people held the same abhorrent views and thought beating their kids was ok. I don’t like that he was like that, but I was a kid, he was my grandad, and I loved him. But this, this is really hard to get my head round, and the fact my aunt wasn’t his natural daughter doesn’t make it any better. I’m so shocked, I was shaking for most of last night. I am hoping that maybe his experiences in the war (India, Italy, Burma) affected him in ways nobody realised and that his spying was from a need to know what my aunt was doing rather than a sexual thing, but there’s no way to find out without asking intrusive questions. I knew he wasn’t perfect, and I knew there were reasons that his children had so little contact with him, but I assumed it was because of the beatings and the children idolising their dead mum so much they resented their dad. But now, things make more sense and it’s awful.

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