The family ties that bind

by Steven Allison

Leo Tolstoy once said “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.

If all happy families resemble each other, does that therefore mean that a happy family is a normal family? When I apply the word ‘normal’ here, I refer to the concept of the nuclear family, which Merriam-Webster states dates back to the 40s.

ozzieharriet1The nuclear family is one that comprises of a father, a mother, and their children. More so today than ever, the notion of the nuclear family is becoming less commonplace. This can be attributed to various influences, such as the ever soaring rate of divorce, the greater acceptance of having children out with the confinements of marriage, and the tolerance towards same sex couples adopting.

The majority of people who find themselves a member of a nuclear family have parents who are seemingly happily married, and siblings who get on like a house on fire with each other and their parental unit, give or take the occasional anomaly. Even the Queen once said that “like all the best families we have our share of eccentricities, of impetuous and wayward youngsters and of family disagreements”.

But surely these people can’t believe that this state of family bliss will remain constant for the rest of their lives? Well as a member of a former nuclear family, I can vouch for the fact that yes, it is possible to be so deluded as to have faith in the fact that this rose spectacle tinted view of family life will continue until the end of time.

Until the summer of 2000, I was under the impression that my family were completely normal. We were all staying with my grandparents in Ardersier, a village between Nairn and Inverness, and bored one afternoon, my brother and I were looking at old family photographs. There was one on the wall of my grandparents’ bedroom, which I’m sure I had seen before, but I don’t ever remember being curious as to who the two children in it were, probably assuming that they were my dad and aunt when they were younger. As my brother looked at it, my gran walked in the room and my brother asked “Gran, who are the boy and girl in this?”. My gran looked at the floor, said “You’d better ask your dad that question”, and then walked out of the room. My brother and I looked at each other and laughed, thinking there must be some joke at our expense. There was some muttering next door and then my dad walked in, had us sit down on the bed, and then proceeded to tell us a story, which went something like this…

When he met my mother he was already married, but separated from his wife. He met my mum whilst she was working for him in a factory in Glasgow, fell in love and 9 months later, the wonderful little being that is me popped out of nowhere…possibly one of the best products of an ‘affair’ that I can imagine, obviously. By that time his now ex wife had met somebody else, a Canadian, and had moved to Canada with him, agreed by my dad on the condition that she provide him with details of their whereabouts and come to some arrangement regarding visitation. This promise was broken and they disappeared. For years my dad tried in vain to track them down, but regrettably this never happened.

Apparently he and my mum had always agreed that myself and my brother who was born 4 years later, would be told when “the time was right”. The time, it seemed, was never right, until the very day when an explosive question was asked that had to be given a truthful answer. My brother didn’t take it well and refuses to this day to discuss it, but my dad has always said to me that if I ever need to know anything more about it then I was more than welcome to ask. Caring for my dad too much, I have always been relectant to do this as I know how much it must hurt a human being to be reminded of such a loss.

I will never look for my half siblings and they will probably never search for my dad, as it is more than likely that they have been brought up believing that the man that brought them up is their father. If this is the case then they will definitely not know about my brother or I seeing as they were long gone by the time we were born.

So, this was the first time in my life, where my seemingly normal family morphed into the sort of dysfunctional family that are the content of a gritty storyline in a soap opera. My family was no longer part of the 2.4 children crowd.

Some time later in 2005, the family that continued as normal after the revelation of secret siblings that were unspoken of, was completely blown apart by an affair. My mum had been seeing a friend of my dad’s for some time, and after almost a year of them living together knowing that the love for him she once had was gone, she finally revealed the truth…on Mother’s Day. Needless to say, the phonecall of apology I was making for her card being late, became the last thing on my mind. it has taken us 3 years for us to get to a

stage where we can have a short phone call with her minus tension or anger from my side. At the age of 24 I know fully that I should have given up the ghost on this one, but I just can’t. Her actions led to a seemingly normal family to explode into obscurity, and to so much upheaval, pain and upset. Hearing the man that has always been the rock and the voice of reason of my family crying on the other end of a phone, tore me apart and that will never leave my mind.


My story, I think, reinforces that idea posed at the outset of this article: that a normal family is a happy family, and that I am sure each unaverage family has something very different to be upset about.