(pa­ter­nal)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Peter James Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

Some­times I left the light on all night for him. He knew where I lived, and it was not far from his home. I imag­ined he might turn up, need­ing help or some­thing. He’d see the light and know I was there. It was a pipe dream. It was ridicu­lous. I had only laid eyes on him once, and that was briefly, a few hours af­ter he was born. By the time my ridicu­lous fan­tasy fully emerged he was 30 years old. I had never received a re­ply to my let­ters. I had never spo­ken to him. Ac­cord­ing to the adop­tion agency, he was will­ing to meet me, but in no hurry to do so.

The adop­tion agency and his birth mother told me a few things about him: his height, the school and univer­sity he went to, the course he stud­ied, his per­son­al­ity, his foot­ball team. It seemed his life had been good so far.

I was hap­pily mar­ried and had three other chil­dren. Was it cu­rios­ity or re­morse that com­pelled me to seek con­tact with him? I kept try­ing. Even­tu­ally his wife wrote to me. She was keen to have us meet, and had received a nod of sorts from him. She told me as much as she knew about his life. Both his adop­tive par­ents were dead. She sent me photos of him, and of her and their two chil­dren. She sent me Christ­mas cards.

One Christ­mas she sent me a won­der­ful video slide-show, made for his 40th birth­day, with images of him grow­ing up with his late par­ents and his sis­ter; images of him trav­el­ling; and images of him par­ty­ing. But his wife said he was hes­i­tant about mak­ing di­rect con­tact.

An­other year or two passed. Then one day it hap­pened.

It was an email, headed “It’s about time”. He wrote: “I’ve been telling my­self that I only have one dad and that he is dead. I’ve been telling my­self that get­ting in touch with you is to dis­hon­our him. I have been telling my­self that I’m not bit­ter, but that can’t be true.

“At the same time I am say­ing to my­self that you gave up the right to get to know me 45 years ago.”

I was over­joyed, but ap­pre­hen­sive. We spoke on the phone and then met face to face at a pub for din­ner and a drink. We got on well. Thank­fully, lit­tle was said about the ele­phant in the room.

Be­fore long we met up for a pre-Christ­mas break­fast. He brought along his wife and their beau­ti­ful kids. “What’s it like hav­ing grand­chil­dren?” his wife asked.

And then one day, in my home, his fam­ily and mine came to­gether. We were drink­ing, eat­ing, chat­ting and laugh­ing. The lights were on. He had turned up.

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