I want to piggyback on molly’s adoption posts and write about my own experience as a Stealth Bastard.
What, you are probably asking, is a Stealth Bastard? Well, to get straight to the point: I was conceived as a result of my mother’s secret, illicit affair with someone while she was married to another man. And when I was born, I was passed off as the son of my mother’s husband: as far as I know, he went to his death thinking that I was his biological son. So, I was a bastard, but the only people on earth who knew that I was were my mother and (I hesitate to call him my father) the man who donated his sperm to my DNA. So, I was raised as the son of a man to whom I shared no biological connection, while my actual biological father lurked nearby, never quite totally separating from me (at my christening he was, in fact, my “godfather,” which I can’t help thinking was instigated by my mother as a kind of ironic joke), but never revealing himself for who he actually was.
This needs some background: my mother arrived in the U.S. from Poland (by way of Austria, Italy and England) in the late 1950s, with two young children and a husband she felt nothing but contempt for. To say that theirs was a loveless marriage would be putting it mildly. She had met him in a forced labor camp in Austria during World War II, where the Germans had put numerous Poles and other eastern Europeans to work on farms, after relocating them from their native countries. Of course, this fate was preferable to being sent to Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec; at least they were treated somewhat decently by the Austrian overseers who ran the farms (my “father” always talked about how he had been treated like a family member by the farmer who he worked for, and in fact was sad when the camp was liberated). Still, my mother, who was in her late teens at the time she was taken by German soldiers from her Polish village and transported to Austria had to have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (not long before, her father, who she doted on, had abandoned his family and moved to Canada).
The way she told it, she decided to marry my “father” because he was simple, hard-working, and her best chance out of the dislocation that visited eastern and central Europe at the conclusion of the war. They went to Italy after the Allies liberated Austria, and after a short stint there, went to England, to join a large Polish refugee community. There they had two children, and after some years, decided to take their chances in America.
They arrived in New York, and my mother soon after met the dashing, charming man who would become, however briefly, the love of her life. Her husband’s simple, peasant stolidity, which had seemed such a virtue in the war-torn Europe of her recent past, now seemed to condemn her to a life of horrible unhappiness; her children just anchors to keep her mired in a Sargasso Sea of unfulfillment with a man whose eighth-grade education and lack of social graces would fuel her bitterness at the hand that fate had dealt her.
Into her life came someone who promised her the kind of life she craved: an urbane, cosmopolitan man, from an upper class Polish family, who had his own radio show on a Polish-language radio station in New York. He was handsome, where her husband was plain; sophisticated, where her husband was common. She fell in love.
When she became pregnant, she seduced her husband into the bed they hadn’t shared for years, so that when I was born nine months later, no suspicions would be aroused. I came into the family as the third child, separated by many years from my sister, but seen by my mother’s friends as proof of the possibility of old love being rekindled in middle age. Of course, this was a lie; I was the bastard offspring of two people who let their passions take precedence over their intellects, and who kept that passion secret from everyone else for the next twenty-one years.
As I grew, it should have been obvious to everyone how different I was from my brother and sister, and father. I was tall, where everyone else was short; my hair was thick and curly, while my father’s fine hair had vanished by the time he was twenty-five. Fortunately for my mother, I resembled my maternal uncles in height and curliness of hair, so the differences could be easily explained. But looking now at pictures of my biological father, and how much we resembled each other in our thirties, I am still amazed that no one ever made the connection. He stayed close to our family, as a kind of uncle, all through my childhood, coming to dinner most nights, where he got drunk and made rude comments about the Holy Mother Church and the Virgin Mother. My mother and he battled constantly, while my “father” sat and ate his dinner, chuckling to himself, or reprimanding the man who cuckolded him for his lack of piety. My mother told me that she had considered leaving her husband and other two children, and taking off with me and her paramour, but could never bring herself to do it. She made intimations of some dark secrets and unspeakable behavior, but for all I could tell she she simply did not want to uproot herself from her comfortable if monotonous and unfulfilling life, and take up with a man who she felt was exciting, but reckless: she chose safety over passion.
So I grew up in this family, never feeling quite at home, or connected, and not knowing why. My biological father finally gave up on trying to convince my mother to go away with him, and left when I was around twelve, although our paths hooked up again over the years. It wasn’t until I was 21 that my mother told me the truth about my paternity. I admit, I was surprised, but not shocked: as much as I loved the man who raised me as his son, I had never felt connected to him, and had always felt very distant from my brother and sister. But then, I felt distant and unconnected from everyone I came into contact with; I have never been able to form strong bonds with other human beings. Whether this is due to some inner defect, or to the fact that one half of my biological heritage was always kept from me – close by, but never close enough for me to truly embrace – I don’t know. I do know that when I met molly, the adoptee, I was able to bond with her as I never had before with anyone else. She thinks it’s because my being a Stealth Bastard, and her being adopted, gave us a connection that wasn’t possible with people who grew up in “normal,” uncomplicated families. Perhaps that’s true.
At this point, both my mother and her husband, my “father,” have passed on. My biological father is still alive, but I have been unable to figure out what kind of relationship I want to have with him. In one sense, he abandoned me: when I was grown up and knew about his paternity, we made some attempts at connection, but he would never commit to anything. I followed him out to California; then he left, and moved back east with his wife. Eventually he moved back, but by then I was ambivalent about how I felt about him, and could never decide whether I wanted him in my life or not. The last time I saw him was after my mother died, and molly was sure that he was going to become part of my life in a big way, and wanted to know if I was ready for that to happen. Instead, for the past three years, we have not seen or talked to each other. Hopefully, I’ll be able to figure it out before he, too, passes; I regret that my mother died before I was able to arrive at any sort of closure with her (at this point molly laughs, and says, “Closure! For who? It’s always about you, isn’t it!”).
At any rate, I embrace my Stealth Bastardness. I was the product of passion, like Jewel in Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying,” and I celebrate my special nature and my apartness from the rest of the crowd. I will keep trying to figure out exactly who it is I’m supposed to be, or if there even is any set “me.” Maybe it’s all just flux. And maybe life is defined by how we live it, and not how we conceptualize it. But I will always be fascinated by the fact that I came to be here through a random set of accidents, and decisions made by people who should have known better – but didn’t.
…I would think how words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless, and how terribly doing goes along the earth, clinging to it, so that after a while the two lines are too far apart for the same person to straddle from one to the other; and that sin and love and fear are just sounds that people who never sinned nor loved nor feared have for what they never had and cannot have until they forget the words.