Shona Hendley: What it’s like being the secret child from an affair

The majority of families have their secrets that are covered up, or not spoken about. In my family, for my first seven years of life, I was this secret. To my father and his family, I still am.

I am the child of an affair.

My mother met my father while studying her university degree as a mature age student, he was her tutor. It was here that they began their seven-year long extramarital affair in the 1980s.

I know most people have a strong opinion on affairs, who is to blame, who has done the wrong thing and whose morals are the most questionable. While I too have my own views, my story isn’t about this, it is about the person that is often inadvertently overlooked in these situations, the children born from them.

My story has lots of gaps and pieces of information that I don’t know, especially around my mother and father’s relationship but what I do know is this.

My father and mother had an intimate, romantic and serious relationship for nearly a decade. In this time my father was married to his wife, who he called his “best friend” and who he is still married to today.

About five years into their relationship, my mother shared her desire for a child, my father did too and together they tried for, and conceived me.

I was born in February 1985, less than two weeks later my half-brother, my father’s first child with his wife, was born in another hospital a few suburbs away.

I learnt about my half-brother and the true nature of my mum and dad’s relationship when I was seven. Before this I was told they were married and divorced but after noticing the lack of photos from their wedding, or him at all, I asked questions and I was told the truth.

At seven, being told you are the child of an affair doesn’t really mean a whole lot, it is far too complex to understand the true reality of, even now as an adult it creates more questions than answers.

But what I did understand was that I’d been lied to about my father and I also learnt why he was mostly absent from our lives. This was the reason why there were no photos of him at all, why I did not see him, and all the information that I knew about him was based upon what my mother told me, along with the phone calls he made from a public phone box every school holidays and the birthday cards he sent each year until I was 18.

But in reality, this wasn’t much. Outside of what jobs he held, where he went to school, that he had a son of a similar age and bits of information about him, I knew very little about the man who had been involved in my life for the first two years, until we had moved two hours away and then, I never saw again.

His name is not on my birth certificate, his cards weren’t even signed Dad or even with his name, instead they read, ‘your pal’ but when I was 18 the birthday cards stopped arriving all together, it seemed I was no longer even that.

My mum didn’t say too much about this, but you could tell she was hurt and confused. On the occasions she did say something, it was her wondering that perhaps he had died, because to her, this could be the only plausible explanation as to why he would cease all communication without any warning after over two decades of a relationship.

For years, I pretended not to care, not to be interested in him or why he chose to do the things he did, or to understand why my mother did them either but in my early thirties this changed.

I became a mother myself, and I saw my husband with my two daughters, he was affectionate, caring, and heavily involved as a father, essentially, he was everything mine was not.

It left me wondering why. How, could my father do this? How could any father do this? How he just stop communicating with his own daughter, entirely, without even a goodbye?

But I also wondered about him as a person. He is my father, and I was curious. I felt as if I had a right to know who my dad was, what he looked like, what his personality was like, whether there were bits of me in him, or bits of him in me.

I didn’t know if he was alive, or if what I was doing would ultimately be the right thing for me, but I also knew that I didn’t have forever, so, I began to search.

With no luck online, a situation I suspect was purposefully curated, I typed in my brother’s name into Google and straight away I found him, I saw his face, learnt what he did, and I knew I had a way to find my dad.

Without disclosing the truth to my half-brother, I sent him an email, asking to be put into contact with his dad. It worked and he did.

My father knew who I was before I even told him. He had set up a fake email account to email me from and as soon as I revealed my true identity, it was also obvious that I was still very much a secret from his family, as was the entire affair.

For a couple of months, we exchanged emotionally charged emails. On occasion he would ask a question about me or my mother, but at other times he’d tell me that each time he saw my emails his blood pressure rose. He told me that although it would have been “nice to meet me” that he simply couldn’t because his wife was always with him and that there was no way that she or their son could ever find out the truth and that if they ever did, he would never speak to me again.

After a few months my father did what he did when I was 18 and deleted me from his life, this time by erasing his email account, again without warning. I have never heard from him again.

It has been about four years since my only ever real conversation with my father took place and while the pain is most definitely still palpable, I have learnt not only what sort of person my father is by his actions, but I have learnt about myself too, most importantly, that I will never be a secret again.

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