I have recently started to take an interest in my family’s history, and an elderly great aunt gave me a huge box of old photographs.
There were a few shots of my dad when he was a teenager, with a pal who looked familiar but who I didn’t recognise; when I asked my aunt, she said it was my dad’s brother – my uncle.
Dad has never mentioned his brother, so I was really taken aback; I thought he was an only child. She said there had been a falling out years ago and that his brother had moved away. She couldn’t remember what the fall-out was about but knew it was pretty bad. I want to see if I can find my uncle, but I mentioned this to Dad and he got very upset and said he wouldn’t talk to me if I did try to find him. I don’t think I have ever seen him so angry. He wouldn’t say what the row had been about.
Families often have secrets and old rows that can continue through the generations only to pop up later. If you hadn’t been interested in the family history and talked to your great aunt then you may never have known about your absent uncle. The sad thing is that often people can’t remember what the original cause of the falling out was about; people do remember, though, how they felt and it’s this that has come back for your dad.
Whatever happened within the family all those years ago might have been something big or it might have been trivial. You have mentioned it to your dad and he has made it clear he doesn’t want you to pursue it. The problem for you now is whether to respect your dad or ignore his wishes and try to satisfy your curiosity. You have to think carefully – is finding out what happened worth the upset you might cause?
A few months ago, you didn’t know about your lost uncle; will it add enough to your life experience to find him now? It will impact on you if your dad stops talking to you.
Sometimes we just have to let old secrets and family disagreements stay in the past, no matter how interesting they might seem to us now.
I was adopted at five months old, over 60 years ago. I have always known I was adopted and was lucky in that my mum and dad, who sadly have both died in the past couple of years, were fantastic. Although they were older, we got on great and I have always appreciated the life they gave me. But there is always a tiny part of me that wonders about my life before I came to them. When I was clearing their things, I found a battered old photo of myself as a baby with my first mum, and she looks so happy with me. All I know about her is that she was very young and unmarried. It upsets me when I think that maybe she gave me away when she didn’t want to. I know it’s too late now and I don’t really want to search for her, but I find myself thinking about what we might have done in those first few months.
When your parents were alive, they were the focus of your life. Now it feels like there may be space for you to look those early few months without feeling that it might upset them. It’s difficult when there are gaps in any life, questions that cannot be answered.
What’s sad here is that there are no answers, as your first mum is the only one who knows what happened to her and you in those first few months. When you were born all those years ago, a young girl with no partner had no real option but to give her baby up for adoption; your first mum might not have wanted to have you adopted.
You say she looked happy in the photo; maybe it was a happy moment you both shared, maybe she held that as a memory across the years to help her with losing you. Sometimes we have to hold on to to the small memories that show we matter to each other, even for a short time.
Finding that photo gave you a piece of your life you felt was lost; now you might find it helpful to talk to a counsellor about how you are feeling and find a space for your first mum in your history.
• Anne Chilton is joint head of professional practice at Relationships Scotland
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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