Wales

A story of sexual abuse: 'My grandfather was my father'

Image copyright Getty Images

Seventy-year-old Michael* always suspected his family held a secret. Then he found out - his grandfather was in fact his father.

Here, as the NSPCC calls for more to be done to tackle sexual abuse within families, he explains how learning he was born after his mother was raped affected his life.

My main memory of growing up in Cardiff's Butetown in the sixties was of the different cultures.

There were Spanish and Malaysian people, Portuguese and Africans, all with their different foods and music.

The docks were always full of merchant seamen transporting goods across the oceans.

Post World War Two, I remember seeing fruit for the first time - bananas and oranges, and also coconuts and wooden wind-up toys from Germany.

I lived with my mother and siblings, grandfather, uncles and lodgers in a large Victorian boarding house close to the waterfront.

My family were of west African heritage and had settled in Cardiff in the early 1900s.

I had freedom to wander as I wished and it was an exciting time, but growing up, I was aware I didn't know who my father was.

It seemed to be a big secret, and whenever I heard anyone asking my mother who it was, it was clear to me she was making up a name.

Perhaps that's why I suspected someone from my family, although I didn't know who - possibly an uncle.

It didn't matter too much, though - so many men were away at sea, it was common for a child not to have a father present.

'True horror'

My relationship with my mum was strong - she was a clever and skilful woman who excelled at sewing.

Plus, my grandfather was around - a strict man who would use the cane or slipper.

Respected throughout the community, he worked occasionally as a police interpreter and was always well-dressed in a high-waisted zoot suit, made popular by jazz musicians of the time.

I was in my late forties when I found out that he was my father.

My mother, then in her seventies, told my wife, who in turn told me.

My instant reaction was relief - at last I knew who my father was - but then I was stunned.

How was it possible that my grandfather - who had since died - had raped my mother, and I was a product of that?

At that stage, I was too shocked to know what to think of him, but as I spoke more to my mother, the true horror of what she suffered unfolded.

Image caption Michael's family had settled in the area of Cardiff then known as Tiger Bay

It seemed that once my grandfather's own wife - my grandmother - had died, he decided to take my mother instead. He actually said to her: "My wife's gone. I'll have you."

She was just a teenager, but I learnt that he kept her at home while allowing her sister out to dances. And it seemed he groomed her to keep her quiet.

What was worse was that when she became pregnant with me, he sent her to a Catholic convent in London to get her out the way.

It was a huge act of deception on his part and she was treated terribly there.

She was the only black woman and the nuns were racist to her, telling her the devil was inside her.

She was sometimes beaten and forced to do harsh chores so she might lose the baby.

Once she got out, she faced different pressures.

People would talk, say she had gone with a sailor, and it left her with a great shame and sense of responsibility for what happened.

As she finally unburdened herself to me, I could tell she was in terrible emotional pain - all those decades on.

And no matter how many times I told her she was brave and wonderful, she didn't believe me.

It was as if the shame had been stamped into her DNA.

'Called a liar'

As to how the news affected the rest of my life, it was strange.

The fact my grandfather was also my father meant I was an uncle to my younger siblings.

My own uncles were now also brothers, my mother my sister, and the double bind was difficult.

I also struggled with what to think of my grandfather.

I respected him for what he had achieved, but was disgusted by what he had done to my mother.

He was a criminal, but he'd had complete freedom his whole life.

Despite the turmoil the news brought me, I am so grateful I found out. Throughout my mother's life, she had confided in only two people - her husband and her sister.

Yet they both called her a liar.

They couldn't believe a man as distinguished as my grandfather had done that to her.

Her husband accused her of leading her father on - an awful chauvinistic attitude - and it led to the breakdown of her marriage.

So for my mother to finally have the support from both my wife and I brought her massive relief.

Knowing what she went through also brought us much closer together.

But I felt such sadness and bitterness for her.

Up until a month before she died, she still had the feeling that it was her fault.

It wasn't just my grandfather but society that made her feel like this.

It's because of this that I have told my own sons about what happened.

I felt the family secret needed to be opened out and end with me, otherwise it would have continued through the generations.

If you have been affected by child sexual abuse, sexual abuse or violence, help and support is available here.

*Michael's name has been changed to protect his identity.

More on this story