August 31, 2009

The Day My Mother Told Me

The day my mother told me: 'Your father is not your real father'
29th August 2009

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

She decided to tell 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.

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
‘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.

I continued to see David over the following 20 years. 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.
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.

Miranda’s latest novel, Meanwhile Street (£6.99, Transworld), will be
published on 10 September. To order a copy with free P&P, call the YOU
Bookshop on 0845 155 0711 or visit

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