‘I’m going on a business trip tomorrow,’ was a phrase my brother and I knew by heart growing up. My dad worked as an engineer*, and he was away for work a lot.

Because of that, we never had a good or bad relationship – I just didn’t really know him.

But his marriage with my mum had always been strained, and I couldn’t help but wonder why they got together.

My mum is the most loving person I know, and she doesn’t deserve to be treated the way he has treated her for the last 25 years.

In fact, nobody deserves to go through what she’s been through: the pain, ignorance and acceptance that comes with finding out your spouse has a second family.

The night of 1 January 2013 will always be etched into my memory. I was 13 and I could hear my parents clearly rowing loudly in their bedroom.

I’ve never been one of those children perturbed by her parents arguing. Maybe because, as my dad was never there, I didn’t really get to experience them getting along either.

But that night, their argument was at such a high volume that my brother and I couldn’t sleep.

‘Why are they being so loud?’ my younger six-year-old brother asked me, and I wished I knew what to tell him.

I moved closer to their room, trying to hear what they were arguing about. I don’t remember a lot about that night, but I do know that the words ‘abortion’ and ‘get rid of it’ clung to my memory.

‘Why would he want her to get an abortion?’ I wondered. I hadn’t even known she was pregnant, and before I could get comfortable with the idea of another sibling, their fate had already been decided.

In the days and weeks following the argument, I watched my mother closely, wondering how she was feeling. She might not have told me about it, but I knew in my heart that she didn’t want an abortion.

I suspect I was trying to convince myself that he was actually away on business

When it comes to my mum’s personal feelings, she’s very secretive – she didn’t give any indication of what was going on. But one afternoon, I remember her coming home with my dad; wordlessly, she went straight to the kitchen and cooked for hours.

It was almost as if she wasn’t in the house that day. I think that was the day she ended the pregnancy – after that, she doted on my brother and me so much that it was a bit scary.

Later that year, when our neighbour Sheila* got pregnant, I thought it was God’s way of replacing my parents’ child, the one that had been forced to leave this world.

It wasn’t as if I even knew much about her – she lived three doors down, and I knew she was an engineer*. She kept to herself, but I do recall noticing that my dad always acted uncomfortable around her, while he was friendly and chatty with other neighbours.

Still, I was looking forward to having a new baby in the neighbourhood. But, the moment she gave birth, Sheila was nowhere to be found. And neither was my dad.

He was already barely home, but after this point we only saw him for a couple of weeks a year, in the two years that followed. This broke my mum. She was forced to raise two kids alone, and it was heartbreaking.

My dad was supposedly out of the country, and while he was ‘away’ he usually kept his car at a garage close to his workplace. But over that two-year period, there were times when I could’ve sworn I saw his car around our neighbourhood.

I told myself that I must have made a mistake, or that maybe one of the security men took it out for a little drive.

Deep down, I suspect I was trying to convince myself that he was actually away on business; that nothing was wrong with my family and everything would be great once he got back.

To add to my ever-increasing worries, it became hard to ignore the whispers of people saying that Sheila’s two-year-old kid looked a lot like my dad, or that my dad was actually in the country, with Sheila. One of our neighbours even asked me how I felt about having a new sibling.

I felt completely suffocated by the rumours, the foul stench of an impending family scandal followed me everywhere I went.

Between my mum and brother, we never talked about it openly – it seemed like something we all knew, something we believed, but we were too scared to say because it would make it true.

I still don’t know what went wrong in my parents’ marriage, or why he resorted to infidelity

On the rare occasion when my dad was home, things felt forced. Dad was indifferent and uninterested, as if coming home was just an obligation to him. Regardless, all three of us would circle around him like hungry dogs, desperate for a scrap of attention.

I guess we believed that somehow it was our fault, we were not enough for him. We just wanted to please him in the hope that he wouldn’t leave. He continued to always be away.

In 2018, I finally left to go to university in another country and felt relieved to be able to put all the drama from home behind me. However, that feeling didn’t last.

Two weeks into my new life on campus, my mum called. She sounded terrible.

We suspected that my dad might be having an affair, but we didn’t fully realise the full extent of things. She said she’d got a call from her sister, who told her that my dad was out of the country ‘playing house’ with a woman. My aunt had taken a picture, which she sent to my mum. The picture revealed that the woman was Sheila.

I still don’t know what went wrong in my parents’ marriage, or why he resorted to infidelity.

My heart bled when I heard the pain, regret and utter frustration in her voice. I tried my best to console her but being 5,000 miles away from someone you love makes it really hard.

When I went home to see her, two months later, it was like she was a walking zombie. She did the same things every day: wake up, make coffee, sit on the porch, and stare at Sheila’s house for hours.

She’d come back in, check on her garden, cook and clean in the kitchen, before more porch-watching before bed. She was obsessed and she would talk only about one thing: how she wanted to see Sheila’s kids – as by this point, she’d now had two children with my dad.

Sometimes I’d go sit with her on the porch, that was when she was most vulnerable, and I could actually get her to talk.

She thought it was strange that Sheila barely let her kids out of the house often, and one day she admitted that she was upset that she seemed to disappear at the same time my father was out of town.

Mum told me that it was upsetting that my dad had never taken her with him on a business trip, like other businessmen do. She told me how much she loved him and how she abandoned her job to be with him.

What could I do about it?

It was the first time she’d opened up to me about how she’d felt for all these years. I felt relieved that someone was finally saying something.

Then finally, she opened up about the abortion. On the night of the big argument, my dad hit my mum to make her agree to terminate the pregnancy.

He hadn’t given any reason for wanting the abortion, he simply told her that he didn’t want another child. And when she refused, he put his hands on her.

It hurt for her to talk about it, but it also hurt to listen.

Hatred wasn’t something that has ever lived in my heart, but for the first time, I hated someone. I hated him.

But what could I do about it? I could tell her to leave him, but she wouldn’t listen to me. With my wounded heart, I packed my bags and went back to college.

By 2019, my mum seemed to be doing better – she smiled a smile that reached her eyes, had new friends and had started a catering business.

I didn’t know why she was so joyful, but if she was happy, then I was happy. My dad was still away – possibly on business trips, possibly doing other things – so much so, that we didn’t see him at all. He was gone so much that we barely remembered that he actually existed, but the fact that being alone didn’t hurt her so much put a smile on my face.

However, the following year was tougher, because of the pandemic. I was still away, studying, while my brother was living with our aunt, so she was alone. Mum had to close down her business, and neither of her children could travel to visit – and who knows where her husband was?

But one bonus to come out of it all was that Sheila couldn’t travel, either – Mum could keep an eye on her from the porch as much as she wanted.

Eventually, my mum laid her eyes on Sheila’s kids – she’d successfully kept them hidden for seven years. But one afternoon, when I was able to come back home, we ran into them as they were about to go into Sheila’s flat.

The resemblance was startling – I could clearly see that this was my half-brother, and if she was being honest with herself, so could my mum.

I don’t think I can ever forgive my dad. He hurt us deeply for many, many years

But still, she told me how she hoped that her suspicions, the rumours, and our visual proof of Sheila having kids with my dad were untrue.

I know it sounds strange, but I couldn’t help but share in her refusal to believe the facts, too.

Even though we never had any sort of relationship, I couldn’t believe that my dad had a second family; that the man with whom I shared DNA would be the kind to have children outside his marriage, and abandon the ones before.

It was awkward to have Sheila and my dad’s infidelity as a constant topic, we accepted it, but hardly ever spoke about it, except for talking about the kids, and the uncanny resemblance to my dad.

My brother doesn’t know about any of this – I don’t have it in me to tell him. He idolised my father so much, and the news would break him. Though I used to try to convince him to ignore the rumours, he’s 13 and probably knows better by now.

Watching my dad treat my mum this way has damaged my love life: I just don’t know how I could ever trust a man. I wouldn’t want to let him out of my sight because, if my dad could have an affair right under my mum’s nose, then what’s to say a man wouldn’t do it to me too?

I don’t think I can ever forgive my dad. He hurt us deeply for many, many years.

My strategy right now is to avoid everything and try not to be bothered about it, I hope it works. I don’t hold any grudges, or hatred for Sheila’s children – they did nothing wrong. In fact, if given the chance to know them I’d be a sister to them.

I have no idea where my dad is now, and I have no interest in speaking about this with him – I’d rather be spared the disgusting details of how he broke our family apart.

The only person I’ve spoken to is my mum, and she’s not logical about the situation.

She thinks my father has just ‘lost his way’. But, the way I see it, someone doesn’t ‘lose their way’ for nearly a decade; that is a choice, a conscious decision. It hurts me that he has damaged her so much that she believes only she deserves him, and that nothing else is better for her.

I hope to get help someday, but right now, I’m trying to get my mum to a happy place.

Best case scenario is moving on from this, I’d love to forget it all, live my life like it never happened, trust people, love someone, be happy. I don’t see that happening if I don’t move on from this, so I need to start somewhere.

I’m hoping coming out with this story will help me come to terms with what’s been going on, and help me heal from it all.

*Names and occupations have been changed.

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