For me life as a child was not an easy one. I was born in England during World War II at a time when my father was away at the war. I was raised alone by my mother and grandmother until he returned to the family. My Mum and Grandma often talked of standing at each end of my cot with a sheet over it to protect me from falling debris during the German bombing raids of London. My mother and grandmother ran a shop and during that time I became the golden haired boy to them and many of the shop’s regular customers.
When my father returned from the war everything changed. We never really bonded and when my brother came along, with whom my father bonded closely, I always felt the one out.
I never really quite fitted the image that my father had of what a son of his would be like.
Consequently, much of my early years were spent with my father saying “Bill, don’t be this, be that”. I feel my mother had to make a choice between myself and my father and my father won.
My family migrated to Australia when I was 3 years of age. As I grew a succession of schools followed, because my father’s employment meant my family was quite itinerant. I remember standing in school playground after playground thinking to myself “I have to make friends, all over again”.
At one of the schools I was severely bullied which effectively destroyed my whole self-confidence.
When my younger brother was killed in a car smash, my instant reaction was to think “It should have been me who was killed” because I felt my father and consequently my family would not have been so devastated.
When I found the Wayside Chapel in 1970 I literally felt I had come home. I had found a family that accepted me for who I was and as I was. I began working there as a volunteer and ultimately left my job as a research engineer to work there.
It makes sense that I would begin working with lost and abandoned children. In those early days most of the children I was working with had run away from abusive institutions and were looking for their “birth parents”. I discovered many of these children had been born out of wedlock, had been taken at birth without their mother’s permission, put into institutions and usually adopted out. With many of the kids I had met, the adoption had failed and the children were back in the very institutions that had instrumental in adopting them out. Although now, a lot of water had flowed under the bridge meaning the children had become labelled “out of control” and exposed to moral danger.
I would come across child after child who really needed help rather than institutionalisation. They would be scared of being dragged back to those institutions and angry at being rejected by the very people who had adopted them. Each and every one of them needed enormous emotional care and the result of this lack of care led to outbursts of violence. At that very same time I was being contacted by mainly mothers, looking for the children who had been literally ripped out of their arms.
This affected me so much, I established the first ever program in Australia to reunite adoptees and birth parents. We called it “Reunion Register”. I had one book of parents (usually mothers) looking for their children and another for children looking for their parents. What we would try to do was match the stories up.
Although this began over forty years ago I still have the original letters and many of them are heart breaking. One day I hope to publish them all in honour of those who suffered so much and see what lessons today can be learned in this age of surrogacy and IVF.
Many of the children I worked with had suffered sexual and other abuses. I will go to my grave with some of their stories because they have died along the way or never been able to overcome the damage that was done.
My working with lost kids has extended through projects I have been doing over the years in the Northern Territory in Australia and Asia. I have spent time with abandoned Aboriginal children in the most dire of circumstances as I have with kids in Asia. We have centres for these kids in Darwin, Bangkok, Hong Kong and I work extensively with trafficked children in Cambodia. Working with these kids in the most dire of circumstances, all abused, neglected, traumatised and often trafficked as well, often leaves me with PTSD. I find myself at time in meetings, feeling like crying and thinking “What am I doing here when I should be on the front line?” However, without attending all these meetings the work would not get done any way.
So I uncomfortably live with that tension.
I now realise much of the work I was and am doing was actually externalising internal feelings I had with regard to my own feelings of displacement and lostness as a child. In fact, in looking for these children’s parents I now realise I was really looking for myself.
As the years have gone by I have worked very hard on myself. For over thirty years I have been undergoing psychotherapy. And over that time much of who I am has come together, although I feel there is still quite a way to go.
I have learned to live as open, transparent and honest life as possible. In telling my story over and over I overcome the shame I feel about parts of myself. Often telling my story is emotionally hard and I can at times, after sharing it, leave feeling I want to walk in all directions at once.
Forward now to August 2015…
On my Facebook page I received the following message.
“Hello my name is Amanda*. If you could call me it would be great. I have a few questions I need to ask and I believe you can answer. It’s regarding my grandma and my future. So if you can plz find it in your heart to call.”
“I think that phone number is American”, my secretary Jayne said. Nevertheless I decided to ring it back. Over the next few days I left several messages and I never seemed to be able to get Amanda* on the phone. I noticed though, in her recorded message a southern United States drawl. I kept leaving messages to say I would keep ringing.
The next happening for me was that I was extensively interviewed on radio about myself. I left that interview feeling, as usual, quite lost as I had talked extensively about my early childhood. All my sense of lostness and longing for belonging was to the fore. I was feeling exactly like that when I received the following Facebook message from Amanda.
“Hi this is Amanda, sorry I missed your call. The reason I was trying to get a hold of you is because I believe you could be my grandpa. Someone with your name is on my mom’s birth certificate.
The man was 22 when my mom was born in 1972. He worked for the railroad and he was an only child. My grandma past away 8 years ago my mom has been looking for her dad since she was a teenager.
My grandma had told my mom that my grandpa died in 1972 in a car accident but me and my little sis wanted to look into it. By any chance were you ever with a woman by the name of Barbara in or around the 1970s?
Please contact me. Every girl needs a dad and it would be wonderful for me and my sisters to have a grandpa. It breaks my heart to know my mom dosent know who her dad is.”
Basically she was saying “I’m looking for Bill Crews”. I immediately thought “So am I, and it’s serious”!
I rang her. She answered the phone. I said to her how I could not possibly be her grandfather, but we, in a magical way connected and I promised to meet her and her family in America in January.
I have friends in America’s media who, I am sure, will respond to this human interest story. The story of a man looking for himself and all the work he has done with kids like Amanda and the fact that now, uncompromisingly, the spotlight has been shone on him. I am sure the American media will help me in my quest to look for Amanda’s father and Amanda’s grandfather. I promised to do all I can to help them find or at least what happened to him but I do know now they are locked in my heart forever.
There is a post-script to this story too. I emailed this blog to the family to get their permission to tell you about it. This was their response:-
“I love the fact that you want to help that would be really great , yes you may post the story. Hopefully we can find out more about him. I just talk from the heart, my heart is empty not knowing all these years who my father was. Thank you so much for all your help, this is a very emotional for me. I just want to fill this void in my heart and know who my dad is and why he didn’t want to know who I was and know his grandchildren.”
* Not her real name.