“Sorry…I’m really sorry…I didn’t mean to do that,” I stammered apologies through my tears, appalled by my own actions.
He let go off my wrist and turning on his heel left the room without a word. I collapsed on the floor, kneeling in my own mess and sobbing as if my heart were breaking. I hurt all over, inside and out, and let me tell you that the worst pain by far was the pain inside. I’d brought most of it on myself, but at the time I couldn’t see that. All I knew was that I felt utterly rejected by everyone. I crouched there on the floor, worn out with it all. I had tried every which way to make my mother and Don’s life miserable since they announced their intention to marry, and while I’d probably succeeded in part, I was the one that was truly miserable.
One thing was starkly evident. I was no longer in control of the situation. Don had said it and Don had proven it. The shock of suddenly encountering retribution for bad behaviour that had become normal for me was very hard to deal with. As Don regretfully said, in hindsight, a lot of the misery of those days could have been avoided if mum, and then him, had been stricter sooner. The softly-softly approach just made things worse and heightened my sense of my own power. It didn’t do any of us any favours.
“Stand up, Michael,” Don suddenly reappeared, his face grim, “I’ve run a bath for you, get up.”
“No, I don’t want to, just leave me alone.”
“You are, without doubt,” tucking a hand under my oxter he heaved me to my feet, “the most stubborn child I have ever encountered.” I found myself being steered along the landing, back towards the bathroom. He shoved me over the threshold and without ceremony dragged my t-shirt off over my head. “Get those off,” he flicked a hand at my urine soaked pyjamas. I turned my back as I struggled to get the clinging wet material down over my hips, using only one hand. He wasn’t in the mood for waiting and with a click of his tongue he hooked his thumbs in the waistband and quickly tugged them down for me. I protested, modestly covering my genitals with my hand.
“Stop your whining!” He glared at me fiercely, “I’ve seen more of your backside this weekend than is good for my digestion, and as for the other, well you haven’t got anything out of the ordinary. Just get in the bath.”
I climbed into the bath he had run for me, giving a small cry as my sore little bottom made contact with the warm water.
He soaped a sponge and thrust it into my right hand. “Wash yourself while I see to that mess in the bedroom, and don’t get that cast wet.” He swept out leaving me alone. I made a half hearted attempt to wash myself, them sat there in the water, too scared to get out, in case it gave Don the signal to come in and wreak further vengeance on my posterior for spitting at him. I still couldn’t believe I’d done it. I had never spat at anyone in my life, let alone a six foot two physical fitness trainer who already had a downer on me. I wondered why he hadn’t trounced me there and then. The water was fast cooling and my flesh began to goose pimple. I clambered out, trying to dry myself.
“Give it to me,” Don reappeared and roughly took the towel from my hand, “or you’ll be there all night dabbing at yourself.” He briskly dried my right arm, back and legs, pushing the towel at me to dry my personal accoutrements, as he put it. After helping me into dry pyjamas, he pulled the covers back on my bed. “Get in,” he ordered.
I got in and lay there, staring up at him in trepidation, waiting for the sky, or his hand to fall somewhere about my small person. He dropped the blankets over me, and then suddenly hunkered down by the bed. I stiffened. This was it. He was going to blast me. His index finger presented itself to the end of my nose, “I know you were upset and hysterical, but if you ever, ever, spit at me again, or anyone else for that matter,” he said, speaking slowly and carefully, “regardless of the circumstances, you won’t be able to sit down for a month. Do you understand?”
I nodded vehemently, tears bubbling to the surface again.
“Good.” He unexpectedly stroked my hair back from my forehead, “we’ll get this mess cut tomorrow. It’s getting in your eyes, I’m sure it must contribute to your bad temper.”
It was oddly comforting the way he said it; it meant that he’d noticed me as a person and not just a source of annoyance. For once, I didn’t contradict him. I wanted comfort, I was sick of conflict. For some absurd reason I wanted to put my arms around his neck. I wanted him to rub my back, the way I’d seen him rub the tiny back of his baby son at the hospital, as he lay draped against his shoulder. Only, it wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t a tiny baby. I wasn’t his son. I was no one, certainly the last person in the world he’d want to cuddle after the way I’d behaved. He pulled out a hanky and wiped my eyes and nose.
“Michael, that letter I sent you before I married Cathy, did you actually ever read it?”
For a week before the wedding, Don had been away on some sort of business trip. He had phoned mum every day, asking each time to speak with me. I had refused point blank, so he had written me a letter to read in my own time. “No, I told mum that I had, but I hadn’t. I tore it up,” I sniffed.
“Thought so, you awkward little fiend.” He gazed at me, “you’ve got some serious corner time to do tomorrow, after which you and I are going to have a good long talk and get a few things sorted out. Go to sleep, there’s a good lad.” He switched my light off and went out closing the door behind him.
I tried to go to sleep, I was tired, but I couldn’t. While my bottom had almost stopped throbbing, my wrist and all the joints of my left hand, were aching like mad. My mind was also whirring, as it struggled to come to terms with wanting a man I had steadfastly hated for months, to cuddle me. I wanted to sit on the knee I had now been put across on four occasions for punishment, and be cuddled. It was ridiculous. I was too old for cuddles anyway. Certainly mum had not been as affectionate and had cuddled me less since meeting Don. Of course, I now see that was down to me, not her. I withdrew my affection from her, punishing her for showing an interest in someone other than me. I felt that she had abandoned me, just as my father had done.
Don, mum and the new baby were a family now, and I had no place. I began thinking about my father, wondering what he was like. A boy needs male influences, someone to look up to, a role model. I had no memory of him at all. Mum never talked about that part of her life, discouraging me from asking questions. I began to fantasise about him, picturing him as a hero. For the first time in my life I thought seriously about finding him. I sighed; I didn’t even know where he lived. I wouldn’t know where to start looking. I got up, going in search of the painkillers that Don had removed from my room. Just as I reached the top stair, the phone in the hall rang and he answered it.
“Dad! When did you get back, was it a good holiday?”
He launched straight into telling his father that he was a grandfather at last. I listened as he described how beautiful his son was. I had never met Don’s father, he lived in Kent and had not been able to travel up to the North East for the wedding because he was unwell at the time. Don spoke to him regularly on the telephone.
“Oh, he’s much the same as usual…”
I knew at once from the change of tone that he was referring to me. I pricked my ears up.
“…a thorough little pest intent on making our lives a misery. On the bright side, Cathy has finally seen sense and given me a free hand with him. Anyway, dad, you’ll have to come and see the baby. I wish mum were alive to see him, she’d be thrilled…”
I crept back to bed, my hurting wrist forgotten as other hurts came to the fore once again. The baby not only had a father, it had a grandfather too.
I slept fitfully, waking in the early hours of the morning. My arm was really bothering me, and I had the beginnings of a sore throat. All was quiet as I made my way downstairs in search of my painkillers. They were on the kitchen dresser, along with something else. Next to the little bottle of tablets lay the birth certificate that proved I was an outsider. I stared at it. Jonathan Michael Hurst, it read, born to Donald and Catherine Hurst. They were a neat little family group. Before I knew it I had torn the certificate. I almost gave up control of my bladder again, as I stared in horror at the pieces. Don would surely kill me. I panicked, opening the drawer and stuffing the fragments right to the back. My hand brushed something, an address book. I recognised it as being my mothers. Hope surged through me. Perhaps my father’s address would be in there? I began flicking through it. Palmer, the name leapt out at me. It was the only Palmer in the book and my heart sank as I realised it wasn’t my father’s address, but his parents address, Ayrshire, Scotland. Still, a plan began to formulate, if anyone knew where to find him surely his own parents would.
There was no telephone number, just an address. The book was an old one and it never occurred to me that they might have died, or moved on. I carefully tore the page out and stuffed the book back in the drawer. Mum’s handbag was on the dresser and I didn’t hesitate in locating her purse and removing all the cash from it. I would need money for the fare. I had made up my mind. I was going to find my father, anything than be in the vicinity when Don discovered what I had done to his son’s birth certificate.
Creeping back to my room I began to quietly dress, it was a long haul with only one good hand. I stuffed a few things into a haversack, including my old teddy (okay, okay, I was a big baby, but I’d had that teddy all my life, it meant something.) and, after a moment’s hesitation, a small, framed photograph of me with my mother in the days before Don. By half past five in the morning I was on the dark streets heading for the railway station in town.
The clerk in the ticket office looked at me suspiciously as I asked him about trains to Scotland. He wanted to know whether my parents knew I was out alone at such an early hour. To my annoyance he refused to accept that I was out with their blessing and insisted that I give him my phone number so he could check that it was alright for me to be travelling alone. I told him we didn’t have a phone. In that case I’m not selling you a ticket, he had said firmly, you come back with an adult and I’ll reconsider. I called him a few choice names, which served only to harden his attitude. I wised up, realising that, as someone who was only twelve, and who looked about nine, on account of my small stature, I was bound to attract suspicion.
My approach at the bus station was more successful. I headed for a motherly looking woman behind the enquiries desk, gave her a winning, wide-eyed smile and regaled her with a tale of how I was doing a school project that involved me having to work out how to reach a distant destination using public transport. In no time I knew what number buses to get, where to change, how long it would take and how much it would cost. She wrote everything down and I thanked her profusely. She even tied my shoelaces properly, which I hadn’t been able to do on account of my arm. By nine o clock I was on the first stage of my journey. I was excited. I was going to find my dad and everything would be fine.
By the time I disembarked, at eight that night, in an Ayrshire bus station, I was hungry, thirsty and tired. Before I got off, I showed the conductor my grandparent’s address and asked if he could give me directions. To my tearful dismay, he informed me in a heavy Scottish accent, that it was a small village about fourteen miles away and that I’d missed the last bus long ago. There wouldn’t be another one until ten the next morning. His suspicions were obviously aroused and I moved off quickly before he could start asking awkward questions. There I was, totally alone in a strange town, in a strange country with nowhere to stay. I wandered around, discovering that Ayr was a coastal town, a holiday destination with a wide sea front. I walked along the beach watching the moon silver the horizon, enjoying the sea air and the sense of adventure. There were still quite a few people about, late holidaymakers, and no one bothered me. I bought myself a drink and something to eat from a fish and chip shop and felt a bit better. My fear returned as the hours passed and the streets emptied. I was exhausted, my throat felt raw and I was developing a headache.
I needed to find somewhere to spend the night. I could hardly book into a hotel, so I ended up crouching behind the bins of the fish and chip shop where I had bought my supper. I was cold and the local stray moggies made sure I didn’t sleep much as they prowled around the bins in search of scraps. Hugging my teddy bear I pushed aside thoughts of my mother and comforted myself with visions of the welcome I would get from my long lost grandparents. I pictured them pulling me into their arms, hugging me. I would have grandparents that loved me and who would tell me how to find my father. He, in his turn, would be thrilled to see me and consumed with guilt, would do everything in his power to make up for the years we’d been apart. It was a happy thought and I managed to fall asleep on it.
I woke up with arm and throat hurting more than ever. I had abandoned the sling, thinking I would be less obvious if I kept the cast concealed in my coat sleeve. The subsequent movement had not done it any good and I felt decidedly out of sorts. Heaving myself to my feet, I peed as discreetly as I could against the bins and then headed back to the bus depot.
The bus carried me away from the busy town into the Scottish countryside. It was very pretty with its soft green hills and fields dotted with sheep and cows. Some of them had longish shaggy brown coats, much more interesting than the boring black and whites I was used to. I embarrassed myself by pointing excitedly out of the window at them, exclaiming aloud like a small child, much to the amusement of the few other passengers. A light drizzle was falling when I got off the bus. The place I had come to was shabby and run down, an eyesore on what was otherwise a pleasant landscape. I later learned that it was a mining community that had seen better days. I felt stirrings of nervousness as I gazed around me. It was so quiet and lifeless, the grey houses giving no hint of welcome or warmth. I wandered around looking for my grandparents address, asking a woman, the first human I had seen since getting off the bus, for directions. She stared at me in astonishment, obviously English accents were not common around these parts, but she gave me directions.
I stood outside 39 Dundas Drive with my heart thudding uncomfortably in my chest. The house looked almost derelict, the tiny garden a mass of weeds and rubbish, the front door all but devoid of paint. Swallowing my anxiety and disappointment, I raised the tarnished knocker and let it fall. Perhaps it would be nicer inside. I waited and waited and was on the verge of walking away when the door opened and a harsh voice asked me what I wanted. I stared at the man who had answered the door. He was small, with a whippet thin, unshaven face and shabby looking clothes. Too young to be my grandfather, I realised. He smelt sour, and his eyes were strangely glazed. He was drunk.
“I’m looking for a Mr and Mrs Palmer,” my voice croaked, “do you know them?”
“Aye,” the door opened wider and he stared harder at me as if trying to bring me into focus. “They did live here, they’re both dead. I’m Alan Palmer. Who are you?”
Alan Palmer! My mind reeled. Alan was my father’s name. I blurted out, “I think you’re my dad. I’m Michael, Michael Palmer.”
I gave a gasp as he reached out a skinny paw and dragged me inside the house. The door opened straight into a small room that was littered with empty bottles, cans and newspapers. I wrinkled my nose, almost gagging on the smell that assaulted my nostrils.
“What are you sneering at, you wee bastard?”
I let out a squawk as the back of his hand struck me hard across the mouth. My fantasies crumbled to dust in a split second. This was not the action of a father glad to be reunited with his long lost son. Terrified, I tried to pull away, but he had me in a vice like grip.
“Have you brought my money? Where is it?”
His hand slapped me hard across the face and I shouted at him to get off me, I didn’t have any money. He hit me again, a sickening blow to the side of my head that made me feel dizzy. I tried desperately to free myself, but he was too strong. I began to cry.
His mean little eyes gleamed menacingly, “a wailing wee Nancy, is that what she’s brought you up to be?”
He dealt me another savage back hander and I tasted blood as it drove my lip against my teeth. He let go of my coat sleeve and I lunged for the door, but he grabbed me by the hair, swinging me back towards him. My eyes spurted tears of pain. He was totally deranged, roughly searching my pockets, shouting abuse and threats, finding the little money I had left from mum’s purse.
“Is this it?” He pulled my hair even harder, “what have you done with the rest of it?” He began to rant, tipping the contents of my bag out onto the dirty floor with his free hand. Finding the photograph of me with my mother, he hurled it savagely at the wall. “A thousand, a fucking thousand! Peanuts to her now and she sends you with less than five fucking quid. Where is it you little runt?” He all but lifted me off the floor by my hair, shaking me. “Why didn’t they just send it, why send you?”
I sobbed that I didn’t know what he was talking about. He released his painful grip on my hair, his hands going to the waist of his trousers and unbuckling his belt. It slithered from the loops with an ominous sound and I knew he intended to beat me with it. He was standing between the door and me. I backed away from him as he began to swing the strap so that the buckle end would hit me. The first lash caught me on the left arm, making me shriek as it cracked against my cast and jarred my wrist. The second whipped me across the lower legs and I shouted with pain as the buckle made itself felt even through the thick denim of my jeans. It struck my ribs next, and then my shoulder as he lashed it wildly at me. I was more afraid than I had ever been in my life, in fact I was afraid for my life. He seemed intent on causing me real harm. The belt lashed again, making aim for my face. I managed to deflect it with my arm. God finally decided to give me a break. My father fell over one of the bottles, his drunken state making him unable to recover his balance. He sprawled forwards.
I took my chance. Snatching my teddy up from the floor, I wrenched the door open and ran wildly, heading away from the village, intent on putting a good distance between him and me. I should have stuck to the road, but I wasn’t thinking and I was soon lost in unfamiliar countryside.
I eventually stopped to rest, conscious of an uncomfortable tightness in my throat and chest and a hot ache between my shoulder blades. I hadn’t seen a soul for hours and I knew I was in real trouble. All the dreams I had built around my father had turned out to be delusions. He had no feelings for me at all. I was devastated. How could my mother let me have a father like that? I curled up under a hedge and went to sleep clutching my teddy, too exhausted to even cry.
When I woke up it was dark and I mean totally black. I lay there, damp and cold, staring up at the night sky. I had never seen the stars so clearly. I felt almost as if I could reach up and touch them. They were beautiful, their clarity enhanced by an early autumn frost. I stared entranced. A breeze rustled through the hedge and I felt strangely detached from my body, more a part of the world around me. I didn’t attempt to move, I couldn’t have mustered the energy. The last thing I remember clearly before waking up in hospital was seeing dozens of rabbits venturing out into the pale dawn light, then my senses fell away and I slipped into darkness.
I learned later that an astonished farmer, out early to shoot a few rabbits and alerted by his dog, found me lying in the field. He carried me back to the farmhouse and called the doctor and the police. I had a severe chest infection and was suffering from mild hypothermia. As a result, I was completely out of it for two days. If the farmer hadn’t found me, I probably would have died in that field. When I came round, I found I was an object of considerable interest. No one in the area had reported a child missing and the local police were keen to interview me and find out how I came to be lying unconscious in a field with only a teddy bear for company.
I said nothing, afraid that they would hand me over to my father. The very thought made me shake with fear. In my mind I had no other family, so I stayed silent. Not even the threat of being put into a children’s home when I was well could persuade me to talk.
I was still very poorly and slept a lot of the time. One afternoon I was dreaming about my mother, I missed her dreadfully. It didn’t occur to me that she would be missing me just as much. In my dream she was stroking my face and hands the way she always did when I was sick. Someone was standing by the bed. I could sense them, even in my sleep. I was lying curled up on my side and when I opened my eyes, I found myself staring at a pair of oddly familiar denim clad knees. I gulped, quickly closed my eyes and feigned sleep again.
“Is this your son, Mr Hurst?” I recognised the voice as belonging to the policeman who had been trying to persuade me to talk for the past two days.
“My stepson,” said Don’s voice. “His name is Michael Palmer, he’s twelve years old and his mother and I have been out of our minds with worry. Believe me officer, I am so going to smack this boy’s bottom for the torment he’s caused his mother and I.”
The policeman gave a laugh, “the little buggers put years on you don’t they?”
I opened my eyes, looking straight into a pair of blue lasers. “You knew I was awake,” I said accusingly. “You are so horrible.”
“Yes,” he said quietly, “and so are you when you put your mind to it.”
“Where’s mum,” I started to cry, “and why didn’t she come? She doesn’t want me back does she? She doesn’t want me now she’s got a new baby. No one wants me. They’ll put me in a home.” I became distraught, sobbing and choking. Don suddenly reached for me, lifting me out of bed and into his arms. I struggled as much as my meagre strength allowed.
He gave me a gentle, shake, “behave, Michael. No one is going to put you in a home, you silly, silly boy.” He sat down on the chair next to the bed, holding me on his knee and giving me a determined cuddle, “your mother has been demented with worry. She wanted to come, but she wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital. This whole business has made her ill.”
It felt good, being held. I stopped resisting and clung to him, allowing him to comfort me as I wept.
“I’ll come back later.” the policeman patted my arm and left us alone.
Don nursed me like an infant, until I’d cried myself out and then he said firmly, “now, tell me how the heck you ended up unconscious in the Scottish countryside?”
I told him about what had happened with my father, breaking down in tears again, “don’t let him get me, put me in a home, but don’t let him get me. He was so horrible.” I gazed up at Don, unable to resist saying, “he’s even nastier than you.”
He smiled slightly, “as bad as that eh?”
“You won’t let him take me, will you?”
“No, don’t fret yourself.” He fell silent for a moment or two, and then said sadly, “I’m sorry, Michael, you’ve found out the hard way that your father is a bad lot. Cathy wanted to protect you from the truth of what kind of man he really is. She realised all too quickly what a mistake she had made in marrying him. She said you were the only good outcome of a bad situation. She left him, Michael, for her own and your safety. Then you go and plonk yourself on his doorstep.”
He stroked my hair, a familiar note of sternness creeping into his voice, as he asked, “have you even an inkling of the upset you’ve caused her?”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered miserably. “How did you find out where I was? Did you guess I’d come here?”
Don shook his head. “While I suspected you had gone off to find your father, neither your mother or I imagined you’d headed for Scotland. The last time Cathy heard from your dad was just after we got married, he was still living in England then. We had no idea he had returned here and we never guessed for a moment that you had your grandparent’s address. It was as if you’d disappeared into thin air. Then the police here heard from a woman who had spoken to an English boy and they contacted the English police to see what children where on the missing register. Little boys with plaster casts and one-eyed teddy bears were few and far between, so we knew we’d definitely found you.”
“Has mum missed me? Does she still love me?”
“Of course she does, Michael,” he sounded exasperated, “you’re her son, just as Jonathan is her son.”
“You, mum and the baby are a proper family, you’ve all got the same name. I’ve got no one. I wanted someone to want me.” My eyes hit monsoon season again.
Don glared at me fiercely. “If you had read the letter I gave you, all this might have been avoided. But no,” his voice became sterner still, “you were too busy indulging in a spoilt brat tantrum to want to see anyone else’s point of view.”
I tried to deflect his annoyance. “Tell me what was in the letter then.”
“I told you that I didn’t want to pressure you into accepting me as a father, but that I was more than happy to be viewed in that light, if that’s what you wanted. I left it to you to make your intentions known at your own pace, as I was aware that you needed time to adjust to the situation. I told you to ask me anything you wanted, to let me know what you liked to do, and that I’d show you the leisure complex if you were interested and that we could do things together. All you had to do was ask. Most importantly, with there being a baby on the way, the letter told you that Cathy and I were in process of making adoption enquiries, so that you could legally change your surname to mine, and feel a complete part of the family.”
“I didn’t realise.” I blinked back yet more tears.
Don gave me his hanky and continued, “of course the only thing you let me know was how obnoxious you could be, and how much you resented me. Your mum felt guilty and stopped me from pulling you up, thinking you’d eventually accept the situation. I can see that was a mistake now. All it did was give you permission to behave even more objectionably. We credited you with a greater maturity than you obviously have. You’re a child for heavens sake. I should have lain down strong guidelines from the very start.”
I looked up at him, “is that why you were so angry when I said I had seen dad, because you wanted me for your own son?”
He gave a big smile. “In all honesty, my dear Michael, after the way you’ve behaved over the past few months, I wouldn’t want you for a distant relative, never mind a son.”
“Oh,” my face fell.
He patted my face gently, “we’ll have to rectify that situation, won’t we. I was angry, Michael, because, pest though you are, I was concerned for your safety. You see when we finally made contact with Alan through a solicitor, about whether he was willing to sign adoption papers, he got in touch with Cathy himself. He wanted money for signing them, a thousand pounds in cash. There was no way we were giving in to that kind of blackmail. Besides the adoption could still go ahead, it would just take a lot longer. He made some very ugly threats against us all. So when you said you’d seen him, on top of all your other shenanigans, I was pretty upset. Cathy and I had no idea where he was living, he’d been evicted from his last known address and there you were casually saying you’d visited him. I was furious.”
I tapped into my seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of tears again. “All he wanted was money, he wasn’t a bit interested in me. I thought parents were supposed to love their children. Why doesn’t my father love me? What’s wrong with me?”
“There’s nothing wrong with you, Michael, nothing that a bit of discipline won’t sort out anyway. It’s him, he’s a sadly defective human being and he’s not worth a single one of your tears. You’ve got a mother who loves you, and now you’ve got me.” He gave me a little wink, “you lucky, lucky boy.”
I couldn’t help smiling at him. He dried my eyes and we sat quietly for a while, then the strict Don resurfaced. “We’ll talk more at home when we’re all altogether again. Don’t think for a moment that just because you’re poorly you’re going to get away with anything. Stealing money from your mother, scaring her half to death, running away and endangering yourself. These are all issues pending discussion.” He gave me a certain look, “and we’ll also be discussing your destructive propensities with regard to certificates, young man.”
Despite these ominous words I fell asleep feeling happier and more secure than I had for a very long time.
I was allowed to travel home with him next day on the strict understanding that I completed my course of antibiotics and had plenty of bed rest. Don told the doctor that bed rest definitely wouldn’t be a problem, as he planned to send me to bed early, very early, for the rest of my childhood, possibly even longer, on account of my escapade. The doctor laughed and I scowled, especially when Don whispered something in my ear about a corner waiting for an occupant who fitted my description. He took the sting out of his words and made me smile by then prodding a finger at my teddy and saying, “the same goes for you too, one-eye.”
In a moment of spontaneity, I flung my arms around his waist and hugged him, “I’m sorry about the birth certificate, and,” those damn tears welled up again, “and I didn’t mean it when I said I hoped Jonathan would die...”
“Hush, I know,” he returned the hug, “come on,” he took hold of my hand, “lets get you home to your mother, little boy, before she breaks the restraints I had to put on her to prevent her coming up here herself.”
I won’t pretend that Don and I had a perfect relationship after that, because we didn’t. I liked my own way too much and I was on the cusp of the teenage years, made worse by my emerging sexuality, awkward times for all. I also suffered from jealousy where my baby brother was concerned, which frequently manifested in what Don called attention seeking, bad behaviour. I ended up over his knee getting a good spanking on more than one occasion. He was a strict disciplinarian, no doubt about it. He believed that kids needed boundaries and he didn’t hesitate to issue consequences in the event that those boundaries were breached. He didn’t take any nonsense from me, or Jonathan, come to that. That damn corner saw a lot of me as well over the years, but all in all I was happy to call Don my dad, and proud to call myself Michael Hurst. He gave me stability and taught me self-respect as well as respect for others and I grew to love and trust him. Both he and my mother were brilliant when I finally plucked up courage to tell them that I was gay. They simply hugged me and he said, “Michael, your sexuality is of no importance to anyone but yourself. Your mother and I love you. You’re our son, being gay doesn’t suddenly change who you intrinsically are.” His eyes twinkled, and he added, “a right boil on the neck, most of the time.”
Him and mum are still going strong, I’m very glad to say. They’re still there for my brother and I. My partner, James, is as accepted and welcome within the family as Lea, my brother’s new wife. James has one thing in common with Don, he isn’t afraid to let me know when he thinks I’m getting out of line, and you know, I’m happy about that, because even as a grown man, I have the type of personality that requires boundaries.
Copyright Ester Phillips/ Cat 2009 / 2015