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Perhaps thirty years late, I have decided to take the surname of my foster-family and have now received certified copies to send to a long list of organisations that support my often chaotic life.
It’s been quite a journey from Sean ‘Bentley’ throughout my school years, to Sean ‘Ferrer’ in my late teens. My first surname change was a robust rejection of my biological father’s. He contributed mostly through acts of omission that enabled the full spectrum of abuse I endured from my grandfather and, until I was thrown into care, by his partner, masquerading as his wife.
I can’t understand how an unrelated woman signed me into care without any check by social workers as to her legal right to do so. Nonetheless, given that going into care felt, after years of abuse, better than a lottery win, had I have known of this legal anomaly I certainly wouldn’t have quibbled it.
After a traumatic time in a Nottinghamshire children’s home, where I was abused by other boys but silenced by fear of my violent key worker, I was unable to protect myself, so it was an enormous relief to go to live with a very settled family and have a final shot at a carefree childhood.
Fostering doesn’t mean smothering abused kids with love.
In this new family was my foster-dad, a tall (and wide) imposing man named Grant, my foster-mum Belinda, and foster-brothers Steven, a few years older than me, and Mark, aged eight.
Love in my new family was abundant and expressed through attention to routine, unspoken household rules, genuine interest in my academic development, and long conversations with my foster-dad that I enjoyed and still miss very much.
For me, this was a perfect situation. Had I been placed with a family that were ‘huggy’ and ‘kissy’, I’d have fled within weeks. Having never been shown love, or told I was loved by anyone before, such affectionate gestures would have suffocated me with embarrassment.
Nonetheless, the embarrassing ‘love thing’ found a way to hit me broadside about 18 months after joining the Parry family. At tea-time one evening, a daily ritual that drew immense disapproval from Grant should the telephone ring during it, out of the blue, my foster-dad set down his cutlery, and said to me: ‘You know Sean, I just want you to know that you are as much a part of this family as everyone else sat around the table.’
Crimson with self-consciousness, I desperately wished the floor would open and swallow me into an emotionless pit where I would have felt much more at home. I quietly mumbled: ‘oh, err, thanks’ whilst staring hard at my plate and feeling like I was going to be sick.
‘Foster’ family. What’s in a word?
That was 1989, twelve years before Grant suddenly passed away, a heart attack caused by hereditary disease, unknown to us all at the time. Belinda (who I now call Mum) asked if I would like to give a reading at Grant’s funeral. For the only man in my life who had been a true father-figure, there could be no greater privilege, and I accepted the honour.
Shortly after I turned 40, twenty-seven years after my arrival from the children’s home, I asked Belinda if I could call her Mum. It was a poignant moment. She smiled and gently reminded me that only I had ever used the prefix, ‘foster’. Perhaps fear of rejection held me back from assuming full family membership, and looking back that’s not difficult to understand.
It took a couple of years to get used to calling my foster-mum, Belinda, ‘Mum’, but this year it began to trip off the tongue in a natural, less self-conscious way. Recently, as a nod of respect towards my late foster-dad, Grant, and to remove a need to explain to our ‘next generation’ why Uncle Sean has a different surname to his brothers, I decided to take my foster-family’s surname.
On my birthday this December, my post-dated change of name deed poll takes legal effect. At 43, I may be halfway through my life, but becoming a ‘Parry’ feels like an overdue loose end now tied up and that, at last, I belong.