Things My Father Taught Me
I never planned on looking for my ‘other’ dad.
Even on nights when I’d lie awake and think about those first weeks of my life spent in a hospital as a newborn, with no mother to feed and cuddle me, in my mind, Dad was still Dad. He was there for me. He was the guy with the shoulder rides and the one who’d carry me to bed when I pretended to fall asleep in the car after a night out. He did everything a father should do, really.
But when you’re adopted – well, for me, at least – something still feels different, even when you don’t want it to. I knew I had other ‘people’. I wanted to see myself – the way my face looked, the colour of my hair, the shape of my eyes – in someone else. And that wasn’t Mum. And it wasn’t Dad.
I would have come to it eventually – I think a lot of adoptees eventually get tired of looking at family photos and not seeing any resemblance to themselves. But back then, my main motivation for being curious about my birth father was a reaction to the sadness I felt when I finally realised the birth mother I’d been desperate to connect with didn’t want that happy reunion with me – and so I asked her who my father was.
Once I had my birth father’s name, he was easy to find.
He came from small town Tasmania and he was a local councillor. So, I picked up the phone and rang him, and we talked, and I found out a lot of things about him – and myself.
That Dad was bipolar. And around the time I connected with him, he was alive with it – right in the middle of an intensely manic period. I got all the regretful, ‘I wish…’-type conversations. He told me he would have married my mother. He told me he would have kept me. What he was telling me was essentially good – but it wasn’t good for me to hear.
In hindsight, I know I had dodged a bullet.
We exchanged letters and photos and I met him a couple of times – I’ve got the photos to prove it on those occasions when it all seems like a bit of a dream I’ve had. He rang me from a public phone box once at about 7 a.m., because he didn’t want his wife to know he was in touch with me. The call stretched on for way too long and back on the other end of the line in Melbourne I was dealing with a little girl who just wanted her breakfast. Meanwhile, I had this man, who was pretty much a stranger in so many ways, telling me he loved me and that he was just going to keep talking until the money ran out. Eventually it did – and I hung up the receiver and just sobbed.
My third child was a newborn when I got a call from a woman in Tasmania who had barely introduced herself before shouting down the phone to me: ‘Dad died.’ But my dad had died in Adelaide years earlier. It took a few times of her saying it – she was crying – before she took a breath to answer my questions about who she was. My half-sister. Dad had died. Both of them.
The book features interviews with a range of interesting Australians, including George Calombaris, Anthony Callea, Jo Stanley, Danny Katz, Catriona Rowntree, Em Rusciano, Neil Mitchell, David Koch and Ann Peacock – and Claire’s own story about growing up as an adopted person and eventually looking for her birth father.
Things My Father Taught Me is published by Bonnier Publishing. $29.99
More things my father taught me…
Mum and Dad’s relationship had a huge impact on me – massive. They weren’t perfect; they argued, just as Lib and I argue all the time. When the kids were growing up at school they’d say to us, ‘We don’t hear our friends’ parents argue as much as you guys’, but I said to them, ‘It’s who we are.’ We don’t take it personally, we don’t hold grudges, we just believe in being open with each other, and Mum and Dad were very much like that. – David Koch
My relationship with my dad is still a close one. To this day, if Tim and I go out to dinner together, I will often call my parents and say, ‘What are you doing tonight? Do you want to join us?’ We also venture out to bars too. It doesn’t take them much to say ‘yes’. The next question Dad will ask is ‘where?’ Really, I think they socialise more than me. – Anthony Callea
All those years ago, when he and our mum had separated, I remember him coming into the house one night and saying, ‘I want to speak to you girls.’ He took us all into the formal room – the good room. We were very excited because we thought something fantastic was about to happen, but then, unfortunately, it was the opposite. I don’t remember the words, exactly, but he told us that he and Mummy were separating and I remember crying and my sisters crying too. It must have been so hard for him to tell us. – Ann Peacock