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Devastating aftermath of State’s intrusion

by John Waters, Irish Times 28th May 2010

A DNA test confirmed everything. When the report came back positive, James felt numb.

Had they not had a child, they would have said nothing. But this is too real, too raw, to be left lie

"JAMES” MET “Maura” seven years ago, when he moved to the town where she worked. They started going out and Maura introduced James to her parents and brother. Two years later, they had a son, “Mark”.

What I’m describing here involves real people, though I have given them invented names so that I may tell their story.

James had been estranged from his mother for several years before meeting Maura. His childhood had not been happy. “Vincent”, whose surname James bears, the man he believed was his father, had come and gone in their family home. They didn’t get on. When James was 12, Vincent left for good.

Last Christmas, James visited his mother. The encounter was initially cordial, until James started talking about Maura and Mark. When he mentioned Maura’s surname, his mother became edgy. She questioned him closely. Where was Maura from? What was her father’s name? When James gave the answers she went into hysterics, ran upstairs and locked herself into her bedroom. She shouted out to James to stay away from this woman. She wouldn’t say why. James could not get her to come out, and after a while he left. Days later, she phoned and said that Maura’s father, “Tom”, was his own, James’s, father also.

James told Maura, and together they went to see their father. Tom told them that, nearly 30 years before, he had had a brief relationship with “Carmel”, James’s mother. Several years later, he heard she had a son, and suspected the child was his. By this time Carmel was in a relationship with Vincent, who was named on James’s birth certificate as the father. Tom, now married, went to see Carmel and came to the conclusion that James was indeed his son. He went to court seeking guardianship and access.

Dismissing Tom’s application, the judge congratulated Vincent on “standing by” Carmel. A child psychologist told the court that it might “upset” James if his father got access. The psychologist did not interview Tom.

James has a clear memory, at age five, of attending several meetings with the psychologist – with his mother, with his mother and stepfather, and once alone. He remembers a rather odd man who kept asking whether he knew who his father was. He couldn’t understand. James remembers the psychologist staring at him “with a long fake smile”, saying “point to your father”.

Though Carmel acknowledged in court that Tom was James’s father, nobody seemed to mind that the birth certificate was illegal, because Vincent had never adopted James. The court was content to overlook this and dispose of Tom without regard for his or his son’s rights, or any potential consequences for them or others. Tom notified the general registrar’s office about the birth cert issue but was told it could not be changed without Carmel’s and Vincent’s say so. Recently, James and Maura contacted the court to ask for details of their father’s case, to be told such matters are “private”.

A DNA test confirmed everything. When the report came back positive, James felt numb. He went to a movie to hide away. He had always felt there was something odd about the idea that Vincent was his father. Bizarrely, even all that was now happening made more sense.

Sometimes now, James meets Tom, his father, alone and they have a good, if confused, relationship. They don’t speak of the past. James calls him “Tom”, but when Tom isn’t listening he speaks of “our dad”. Maura’s mother has been good about it all, and this has made it easier.

James says that he doesn’t look at Maura as his sister. It hasn’t changed their relationship. At the beginning, they felt strange, but now they think that maybe the fact that they are half-siblings explains why they get along so well. Splitting up was never an option. They need each other and Mark needs them both.

Mark is slightly deaf in one ear, and has a tendency to catch colds, but they never thought much about it until all this descended upon them. Now, everything seems significant. Recently, Mark had a reaction to the MMR vaccine, and immediately they started thinking . . .

What they want now is to warn others. James says that, when you consider statistics for fatherless children, the likelihood is that their situation is far from unique. Had they not had a child, they would have said nothing. But this is too real, too raw, to be left lie.

Incest is a criminal offence incurring a maximum sentence on conviction of life imprisonment for males and seven years for females. If laws are to be regarded as more than arbitrary impositions, what has happened here, therefore, equates, somewhere deep in the story, to a serious crime. But the perpetrator is neither James nor Maura, who are innocent victims, nor Tom, who did everything in his power to do the right thing. Neither can the entire blame be laid at the door of the mother, Carmel, and her then boyfriend, Vincent, who were also bound by what the court decided.

The real criminal, then, is the Irish State, which colluded in creating the conditions whereby, one way or another, one of its own most solemn principles came to be breached.

(c) Irish Times

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“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 





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