My biological father’s last name is Isherwood. I was born David Isherwood. My biological father left my mother and me 10 days after my birth (the divorce court, I am told, had ordered him to stay 10 days after I was born and he stayed exactly 10 days to the minute). Not a moment longer. Not a month in the basement to help out my mother and their new son. Nothing. He was gone and in the arms of another woman so he could start a new family with her. My biological father went on to father three more children with his second wife. They divorced a few years ago.
Coming to Terms
How do you come to terms with an absent biological father who has had no interest in staying in touch and who has destroyed two separate families he created during the process of his lifetime? I can tell you it’s difficult, but doable.
I’m writing this article to bring my experience on the record in the court of public opinion. I also hope this article will help those who share my station feel less alone. I always told myself growing up I was lucky my biological father left when I was 10 days old because I never knew life with a committed father figure. How can you miss what you never had? I felt it would’ve been more devastating if my biological father had left when I was five years old, but I may just be kidding myself…
My biological father would visit me on weekends when I was very young and he always had a gift for me and that gift was usually a truck. I cherished those moments alone with him but once his new children with his second wife were born and then got older, I was suddenly melded into his “new family” during my visits with him and I found that loss of privacy to be devastating.
Not only did I lose one on one time with my biological father, I became a babysitter for my two little half-brothers and half-sister as we “went out” and did things as a “family” when I would visit him on weekends. I also heard every day from those kids how much my biological father didn’t love my mother any longer but that he still loved me. Well, repeatedly hearing that hard and ugly truth at a young age was a painful and hateful experience. I would look into their wet, young, eyes and poke them blind in my mind.
If I was born an Isherwood, how did I become a “Boles?” When I was five my mother re-married a man named Boles and that name kind of stuck to me by default. In the Mid-West you are made to “fit in” and if the man in your house is married to your mother, you take his name in order to get along.
At 14 my last name was legally changed to “Boles” (even though my mother had divorced Boles when I was seven) because it was easier for me to use the name I’d been using in my burgeoning theatrical, radio and television career (yes, it’s possible to be a Big Fish in the small pond of Lincoln, Nebraska as a pre-teen). The judge asked me if I would know my biological father if he stepped into the courtroom to contest the name change (as was his right as a biological parent)?
I had to think about that one.
After a long moment of contemplation on the witness stand, I told the judge “No, I wouldn’t recognize my biological father because I really have no clear memory of his face. I only remember him from black and white photos in my baby book taken when I was an infant.”
The judge granted the name change to “Boles” and the deed was done. I have no emotional, historical, intellectual or familial connection to “Boles” but I didn’t have a connection to “Isherwood” either, other than it was the last name of the man who abandoned me and my mother when I was 10 days old.
The name change, however, has messed up my family tree something awful, but that’s the end result you live with forever when you make life decisions at age 14.
All my diplomas and other legal documents are named under “David Boles” so even if I chose to revert to “David Isherwood” or “David Isherwood-Boles” for the sake of genealogy tracking – it would be difficult to explain without looking like I was trying to pull a fast one by living off the lean reputation of “David Boles.”
(The fact that there are something like five people named “David Boles” in the United States alone — two (yes TWO) of them within a mile of me here in New York City, no less — reminds me what a small and ordinary place the world can be.)
I guess I should have changed my name to something like “Boog Kennedy-Rockefeller” to really give me a memorable moniker — surely that would’ve opened some doors on a curiosity factor alone!
The Isherwood Illusion
Actually, If I were more cunning and less practical, I would use “David Isherwood” as my “professional” name in New York and Los Angeles since I’m in the media and entertainment business. Those professions tend to be shallow, and name glitter is given greater gravity than talent. My historical connection to the Isherwood name would’ve opened doors not crackable by “Boles.”
In fact, many industry bigwigs still suggest I should exploit my Isherwood birth name now to gain a greater advantage in the marketplace — a marketplace that they tell me, is more often than not, run on rumor, luck and familiarity.
I am related to the writer Christopher Isherwood and his success would’ve helped pave my way. At least that’s what I’m told. I also know that 97% of what I’m told in New York and Los Angeles by agent types turns out not to be true. Being Boles has worked fine for me so far… but still… one wonders… “What If?”
My paternal, divorced, grandmother called me a year ago to confront me about not staying in communication with her and my biological father. I was a bit taken aback by the boldness of her attack — especially since I hadn’t heard from her since 1987 when she gave me a card upon my graduation from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln — but I was willing to re-open the lines of paternity since I had some specific questions I wanted my biological father to answer. The blame for this severance was being put on my mother! I corrected my grandmother of her misconception immediately: My mother never bad-mouthed any Isherwood in my presence. In fact, my mother never really mentioned my biological father at all in either negative or positive terms!
A few days later, after nearly 25 years of no contact, my biological father called me from Chandler, Arizona. My grandmother had warned me beforehand that my biological father didn’t remember the date of my birth or how old I was. I found that severely disappointing.
I chatted with my biological father for awhile. I didn’t recognize his voice. 25 cold years yielded no warmth on either end. The conversation was stilted and difficult.
I finally told him, that while it was fine to hear from him, I wasn’t interested in having a reunion.
He told me that was fine.
He was interested that I was into computers and I helped him choose an IBM model for his home business.
He brought me up to date on his medical history (half of me is always missing when I visit a doctor and am asked about my biological father’s health) and he reported that he was in good shape — though is prostate is enlarged — it isn’t yet dangerous. He also told me he was now living with a woman after his second wife divorced him a few years ago. He did not plan to marry this new woman.
I told him I needed to know two things from him after wondering about them for 25 years:
1). What was it about him that led him to destroy two families?
2). Why is he indifferent about question #1?
He had no answer to either question.
I asked him to think about answers to those questions and he said he’d “think about it.”
I then told him I understood how a husband and wife could stop loving each other and not want to live together any longer, but I didn’t understand how a father could abandon a son so completely under any circumstance. He told me that wasn’t his choice or his decision. I asked for clarification. He asked me to be more specific.
8 vs. 33
I asked why he didn’t send a card once-in-a-while as I grew up? Why didn’t he feign interest in my life? Why didn’t he call me once in 25 years?
He said he was told by my mother that it was “too upsetting” for me to be with him and, since he didn’t want to “upset me,” he stayed away and broke off all contact.
I told him that was true when I was little when I had to visit him with his new family, but why did he think that meant forever? I asked him how old I was (eight years old) and how old he was (33 years old) when he was told it upset me to be with him?
He had no idea how old we were and didn’t want to wager a guess.
I told him I was disappointed that a 57 year old man could be so un-self aware of the ramifications of his actions (see questions #1 and #2 above) and I asked him if he planned to work on coming to terms with reverberations of his life in the lives he created?
He said nothing.
I told him that I wasn’t interested in having someone so unaware in my life in any sort of formal or informal role.
He said nothing.
I suggested that we become “associates” and get in touch a couple of times a year to keep the basic lines of communication open. Anything more than that would be phony and unwanted on my end. It was simply too late for a full contact relationship.
A Father’s Right?
It was his turn to be upset and he told me that — no matter what — he was my father and I was his son.
I responded that I was astonished that he still laid claim to that title of my “father” after doing nothing to renew that covenant for over 25 years.
He said nothing.
I calmly informed him he was no sort of father to me and that the judge who granted my name change had called him, as I recall, “nothing more than a sperm donor” in open court. I told him that I accept him as my biological father — for that I could not change or influence — but anything more than that can’t be demonstrated in fact, emotion or in the dedication of time on either end.
He told me I was “upset” and he didn’t want to upset me more, so he was hanging up.
I told him I wasn’t “upset.”
I said I wasn’t about to let him get away with the “you’re upset, so I’ll disappear again” excuse.
I told him I was simply and calmly informing him of the facts of my life as I’ve lived them.
He said nothing.
Then, into a long silence stretching from New York to Arizona, I asked him a final question: “I can’t run from these hard facts, why should you?”
He hung up the phone.
That was a year ago.
I haven’t heard from him, or my paternal grandmother, since.
I don’t expect to hear from either of them again.
This experience with my biological father has taught me that sometimes it’s best to let the past stay buried and that’s why I never tried to contact him before he called me. Unearthing scars back into bloody scabs can do more harm than good. Moving up and on have psychological and emotional advantages as long as you can come to terms with the past — even if that coming to terms means accepting you were unwanted and dismissed from memory.
When I was five, I had no choice but to come to terms with the fatherless void that has now filled my life for 33 years — for if I had not — I would have remained a broken and unfillable vessel forever.
Sometimes the path best taken means a continued road of isolation and severance for the benefit of the spirit, for the path less taken of blood and forgiveness can never begin to soothe the childhood wounds that make men into islands.