My Unacknowledged Childhood

Susan Mary Patten and British ambassador Duff Cooper carried on a six-year affair during which she had a son by him, which neither acknowledged.

          Moira Hodgson, review of American Lady by Caroline de Margerie, Wall Street Journal

“Baby?  What baby?”

The other kids think it’s great that my parents don’t acknowledge me, and it’s fun–don’t get me wrong–but sometimes it’s a bother.  I remember in the maternity ward after a particularly difficult forceps delivery the doctor handed me to my mother and I heard her say “I’ve never seen that baby before in my life!” My head still hurt from the cold steel clamps so it wasn’t like I was looking for a big hug or anything, but still–it drew some stares.

On the first day of kindergarden I walked in with my mat for my nap–and try saying that five times fast–after my mother dropped me off at the curb.  “My aren’t you a brave little man to walk in here without your mommy the first day!” the kindly old teacher squealed in a comforting voice.

“Mommy,” I mused, “Mommy, mommy, mommy.  What precisely do you mean by that term?” I asked with a penetrating glare and an upraised eyebrow.  The old biddy started to squirm and ushered me off to the modeling clay table where I contented myself making stegosauruses.

When I reached the age of eligibility for Little League having a father who didn’t acknowledge me was a blessing.  All the other dads would stand behind the backstop in their god-awful sleeveless undershirts and urge their sons on by mindless aphorisms such as “Don’t put your foot in the bucket!”  Mine was nowhere to be found–my father, that is, not my bucket–and if they had found him, he would have denied any knowledge of the Elks Lodge no. 243 B-Leaguers’ schedule.

“I got something–and you didn’t!”

Christmas was always uncomfortable, to say the least.  My step-siblings would come running down the stairs as soon as they woke only to see me, and shout “Are you one of Santa’s elves?”

“No, no, not at all–please, go on about your business as if I’m not even here,” I’d say as I’d stand to one side, looking wistfully at the gaudy gifts they unwrapped.  Finally I’d shame one of them into giving me a present to open.  I’ve still got the Chatty Cathy Doll my half-sister gave me when she felt sorry for the poor, unidentified orphan waif who just happened to be in her living room every year at this time.

Being an unacknowledged child doesn’t mean my mom wasn’t strict with me, no sir.  In high school she insisted I be home at 10 on weekends.  She didn’t care whose home I was in as long as the house belonged to a good family.

Of course my parents attended my college graduation and I’ve never seen them so proud.  Dad pulled out his camera and snapped pictures of all the other guys and gals–he didn’t want people to get suspicious by singling me out for particular attention.

No, I don’t think I missed anything by having a mom who would pass me on the street without looking me in the eye, and a dad who couldn’t even bring himself to claim me as a deduction on his tax return.  It turned out for the best–really it did.

I mean, when you’re calling home every Sunday, I’m taking a nap.

Con Chapman

I’m a Boston-area writer, author of two novels (most recently “Making Partner”), a baseball book about the Red Sox and the Yankees (“The Year of the Gerbil”), ten published plays and 45 books of humor available in print and Kindle formats on My latest book “Scooter & Skipper Blow Things Up!” was released by HumorOutcasts Press last year. My humor has appeared in The Atlantic, The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe and Barron’s, and I am working on a biography of Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington’s long-time alto sax player for Oxford University Press .

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