Discovering My Brothers Had a Different Dad
I had my first existential crisis at age 6.
My mother had two sons from her first marriage. I came along years later after she married my father. I was 6 years old when I figured out we had different dads.
Before that day, it never once crossed my mind that my brothers had a different father. And why would it? We all called dad…well, dad.
It was never a discussion in the family.
My parents never sat my sister and me down to explain the situation. That my mother had been married to John, and out of that marriage came my brothers. That my mother and John then divorced, after some time, she met my dad, and they got married. My father, at 26, found himself the step-dad to 8- and 10-year-old boys.
Uncle John visited us.
Before I started school (grade 1), the only memory I have of ever meeting my brother's father was when a man came to our house one afternoon. My mom introduced him as Uncle John. Every adult, whether they were really my aunt or uncle were called aunt or uncle. I didn't think twice about it and went on with whatever I was doing. I don't recall my brother's calling him dad.
After that visit, when my dad came home and asked where John was, my mom, almost boasting, said she was convinced he was terrified of my dad. He had made some excuse to not be able to stay for dinner.
We all had the same initials.
Sometime before I went to school, I had learned along the way that my initials were O.H, my little sister T.H, and my brothers were D.H and E.H. Which made sense. Since we were all the same family.
Soon after starting school I learned how to read and write. One day I was sitting next to my brother at the dining table. We were both doing our homework while my little sister was drawing. In particular, I was writing my name. That’s when it happened. I glanced over at my brother’s school book. It was covered in brown paper and had a label on the front with his name. But instead of his surname saying Hendriks, like mine, it said Haines.
I stared at that label for quite some time before I asked my brother, who was in grade 7, why his name was different from mine, and he answered, “because I have a different daddy.”
I sat there for a while. Trying to understand what this meant. When I finally asked him who his father was, he said, "You remember Uncle John?" He quickly explained how mom and his dad were married, and then they weren’t anymore. Without skipping a beat, he went back to homework. After some time, he slammed his books shut and ran outside to play cricket.
I had my first existential crisis at 6 years old.
I don't remember asking any other questions. Or telling anyone my world was spiraling out of control around me. That I was questioning life. I didn't have the means to express this. I internalized everything. Besides, everyone else acted like this was normal.
This was the first time in my life I truly felt like an outsider, I was the one looking in on my family, a family which now looked and felt different.
My little world - which consisted of my mother, father, sister, brothers and my school down the road, now had a rip in it. A rip I didn't understand. I didn’t understand how I could have brothers who had a different father. I didn’t understand how my mother could have been married before my father. I didn’t understand why we didn’t see Uncle John more often. And most of all, I didn’t understand why my brothers called my father “dad” when he wasn’t their father.
The world around me started to make less sense. So I put my head down and carried on living. As I grew older I put together the pieces of how our family worked.