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Saturday, 29 August 2009

The day my mother told me: 'Your father (to whom I am currently married) is not your real father'

The story presented below is the Testimony of a 'Brood parasite' baby, a child conceived in another marriage (by an illicit relationship).

Read earlier blog-postings.

The day my mother told me: 'Your father is not your real father'
29th August 2009
From an early age writer Miranda Glover felt different from her sisters. Then, when she turned 16, her mother told her the truth, and opened the door to a whole new family

Miranda Glover's life changed dramatically when the secret identity of her father was revealed
It’s early June this year, and I’m standing in a beautiful garden at Hay-on-Wye. It’s the book festival’s 21st birthday party. Lots of people I know are here, but the two most significant are my 25-year-old half-sister Daisy and her mother, the writer and broadcaster Rosie Boycott. We are bonded in an extraordinary way, by a secret that was only unleashed when I was 16.
Until then I didn’t know that Daisy and I shared a natural father, the war correspondent David Leitch. He has clearly passed us both his genes: we share his Danish blue eyes, his slight frame – and his passion for books.
1968, the year I was born, was a time of radical social change. So why would a mother feel the need to keep her love child a secret? Perhaps because most British families continued to live by the 1950s model where parents married, worked hard, and where love children spelt shame. My mum was like that: a young wife with two daughters and Mike, a respectable businessman husband. She had one chink in her domestic armour – her first love; the attractive, flawed and incredibly clever Cambridge graduate David Leitch.
David had spent the past decade abroad covering world affairs for The Sunday Times. They kept in touch, via the odd letter or lunch. He was about to head to Vietnam to cover the war, but something made him call her. They had lunch and then, rather inconveniently, they made me. He went to Vietnam, she went home. When she realised she was pregnant with his child she told no one, not even David, who was by now out of reach.


At first Mum determined to go to a clinic to resolve the problem before it became apparent, but at the last moment she couldn’t go through with it. Instead, she told her husband the truth. Extraordinarily, he agreed to raise the baby as his own, so long as she kept the secret firmly to herself. And so she had me within her marriage, put a brave face on it, and carried on.
When I was seven, my mother got divorced and remarried. The original pact no longer seemed relevant. She told her new husband – and David – the truth about me. David was ecstatic. He had just had a son, and now he had a daughter. Being adopted himself, connections with his genetic offspring felt significantly important. Even so, my mother refused to let him into my life. She said that one change was enough to manage at such a tender age. She inherited four stepchildren, so now we numbered seven kids most weekends.
My sisters and I still saw our father, Mike, every other weekend. It was a busy, lively childhood, a melting pot where, paradoxically, it was the many differences, not similarities between us that bound us together as a family.
David Leitch was irregularly mentioned only if his voice came on to Radio 4 or when one of his latest collections of journalism hit the shelves (we had them lined up in the sitting room, always inscribed to my mum). I met him a few times over the years. Once he brought this little sandy haired boy Luke to lunch. I thought little more than that I admired what he did. Coincidentally, I knew from an early age that I, too, wanted to write.

‘Essentially I loved David from the start, felt a true and instinctive connection’
I was aware of being different from my sisters – they were tall and dark, I was small and blond. I was quite academic as a teenager – I wanted to read Baudelaire whereas they were disinterested in studying, keen to get out into the world. They had left home by the time I found out my true identity; the day my mother and stepfather whisked me away for a weekend to a remote cottage, to let me in on this very big secret.
‘Your father is not your real father,’ my mother stated, a little too steadily as we curled up in front of the fire. How often must she have rehearsed that line? And how hard must it have been to get those words out? I sat still, trying to absorb the shock, then glanced expectantly at my stepfather, sitting uneasily next to her. ‘No, your stepfather is not your natural father either,’ she added, almost by way of apology. I loved him, but the fact was a strange relief. I knew who he was to me, and didn’t want that to change.
My mother handed me an envelope as she told me my father’s name. She looked worried, expectant. Inside was a letter in strangely familiar handwriting, handwriting I almost share. And photographs, one of a woman, Rosie, holding a small baby, Daisy, aged six months, another of David, my new father, and a third of his son, the handsome nine-year-old Luke, from an earlier marriage.
David’s letter eloquently introduced this other family to me. It had been written as part of the plan, I was now told, made by my parents with Rosie and David over dinner a week before. My natural father was keen to know me. My mother had agreed that perhaps it was time.

My spirit shook with the shock of it. Slowly, the truth unfolded. I felt no anger. My initial feeling was one of sadness for my mother, for having held on to this weighty secret for so long. But I loved her and I trusted her instincts in all things, even this.
I went to bed and reread the letter, looked at the photographs over and over. The next morning I felt disembodied. I had walked into that cottage in one skin and I was walking out in another.
Collectively, we told my sisters – their shock was understandable, but they were generous in their response. Even so, I sensed a wariness in them, a subtle distancing from me. Over time, that sense of separateness has diminished again. When I told my friends, they looked at me with incredulity and I felt a bit of a freak. But I was excited, too, about meeting David, knowing this other genetic part of me.
We agreed that he would phone me. When the call came I felt so anxious I needed the loo and told him so. He laughed and said so did he. We both hung up, then rang back once we’d been. Now the ice had been broken and we chatted. His voice was familiar and he put me at ease. We met for lunch the following weekend. I felt immediately comfortable around him, he was good at drawing me out, was interested in me, and we shared similar loves, of art, books, French literature.
The first time I went to stay with David, I took a train to Paddington and was met by Rosie with Daisy in her arms. The bond with them began then and has grown steadily. Rosie drove me to their home, a rambling, book-filled Georgian flat overlooking the canal in Little Venice. I liked the smell of it – library-like, familiar. Luke was loitering at the top of the stairs. ‘Hello,’ he said, ‘you must be my sister.’

‘When I had my son, Fen, David would delight in his time with him. When Fen was four he patiently taught him to play chess’
David appeared later, hugged me tightly and talked too much and too quickly, kept moving from place to place. Even though he couldn’t contain his excitement, I could sense that my presence made him anxious. It was a time for adjustment for us all.
Fundamental differences between my first and second families fast became evident. I was a state-educated parochial girl; my father was a known London bon viveur, a serious drinker, an intellectual with children in the best private schools. He had a boho lifestyle, indulged in complicated relationships and had a renowned feminist wife. Luke came and went between his parents.
Often I hung out with Rosie and Daisy. They became a safety net for me within David’s chaotic world. At one party David’s Cambridge friends and Luke’s mum came. They were fascinated by this secret daughter about whom they had all known for years. I felt uneasy. Strangely foreign inside my own skin.


I felt I was trying my new personality out for size. In some ways I felt more confident about my ambitions as a writer, in other ways it made me feel diminished, as if, against such a literary, successful family, I was just pretending to be something I was not. With hindsight I think I tried too hard to make all the pieces of the jigsaw fit, believing that I could be cohesive again. Since marrying and having my own children I believe that we are who we were always going to be, all along.
It didn’t help that David was an erratic character with whom to have a relationship. When his marriage to Rosie ended, his drinking increased and in later years became a constant battle. I continued to see him over the following 20 years – often in A&E after particularly heavy binges. Even so, our meetings were wonderfully enthusiastic, and engaged in the subjects we both loved: story-making and the characters who lived in our midst. I ended up living only a few streets away from David for the last few years of his life.
When I had my son, Fen, he would delight in his time with him. When Fen was four David patiently taught him to play chess. Essentially, I loved David from the start, felt a true and instinctive connection.
David died four and a half years ago, at home in his bed, aged 67. I had seen him the day before, with my daughter, Jessie-May, then two and a half. He had become prematurely infirm.
A veteran war correspondent with a serious drink problem was never going to live into later life. The death certificate stated that he died of fatigue. I miss his friendship and his input into my work. I had my first novel published just months after he died. He used to read my manuscripts, encourage me in my writing, and helped me edit the first draft.
I never discussed my knowledge of David with Mike. He knew I knew but he chose not to talk of it. He had been kind to me, treated me as his daughter. I don’t think the subject would have been easy to address. When I was 22 Mike died, suddenly, of a stroke. He took my secret to his grave.
I wonder, if the truth had never been let out of its box, would I still be standing here, at Hay-on-Wye with those two people who met me from the train on that life-changing day; Rosie and Daisy, talking and laughing as we gaze towards the dusky village of books that has brought us all here. Scientists agree that nature and nurture affect the paths we follow, shape the people we become. My path, instinctively, has brought me into this book-filled world. In my case, I would vouch that nature has enjoyed the upper hand.

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