“My mother used to tell anyone who would listen was that I was the first artificial insemination baby. The reason she gave was quite strange: she said that in her many years of marriage to my father, she had never once slept with him. The marriage was unconsummated.”
They had been living in Papua New Guinea, and travelled back to Australia for the procedure, done in the old-fashioned way with a turkey baster. Returning back to Papua New Guinea, his mother was pregnant, and still a virgin. “You can call me Jesus if you want to,” Richard says.
Richard Glover tells us about his parents: “Two indifferent, narcissistic people who were quite indifferent to me.” As a teenager living back in Australia, his mother ran away with his English teacher – she met him at parent-teacher night. “Somehow that makes it worse,” Richard says. His father was heartbroken. “Despite the unconsummated marriage, or perhaps because of it, he was obsessed with her,” he says. Richard’s father decided to leave as well, back to England.
For a while, as a fourteen-year-old boy, Richard was alone in his house in Canberra: no mother, no father and no English teacher. People used to joke that he never really left home, home left him.
Richard decided when he was a bit older to go and see the mother country. He asked his father for contacts on his side, but when he asked his mother about her family’s details, she refused to give them to him. She saw the sad details of her life, including her loveless marriage, as a result of her parents who sent her, an only child, to a posh boarding school and never loved her.
However, when he visited his father’s family in the South of England, his aunt gave him another side of the story. She had a picture of his mother – and her sisters. They were not posh, she wasn’t an only child, and she was so embarrassed about her working class background that she didn’t even invite them to her wedding.
Richard went back to Australia and had his own family, and although his mother was quite distant, he tried to involve her in his life. One day he asked her to hold his baby, and she refused. “Come on mum,” he said, “You must have held me.”
She shook her head. “No, I never did. The natives did it.” Richard tells us about his Papua New Guinean nanny Darnota, a beautiful woman with a handsome, warrior husband. In photos, they are standing proudly, holding their mystifyingly white baby between them.
Another story he tells us is about how his parents’ dog, incredibly jealous, tried to maul him when he was one year old. He wondered why it didn’t attack him sooner. When he asked his mother, she said that Darnota had never put him down on the ground until then. He was raised by someone who practiced a very close bond between mother and child. How lucky he is, Richard says, that he had this perfect mother, despite his own mother’s distance.
One day Richard decided to look up his family tree. He showed it to his son, Joe, who seemed to be a little better at standing up to Richard’s mother. Richard had always told his family the truth about his mother’s background, although they hadn’t told her that they knew. Joe wanted to print out the family tree, laminate it, and use it as the setting for Christmas lunch.
Richard says that about 40% of people feel that they didn’t get the love they wanted from their parents, but humans are incredibly resilient. “They find the love elsewhere.” Maybe you had one bad parent but one good parent, two bad parents but excellent children. A horrible boss but a wonderful partner.
This is what his book is about: being resilient and finding love where you can. He asks us to be sympathetic with any grammatical errors in the book: “After all, if his mother hadn’t run off with his English teacher…”
Richard Glover, top-rating drivetime host, 702 ABC Sydney, weekly columnist with The Sydney Morning Herald, and bestselling author of Flesh Wounds presented this at Happiness & Its Causes 2016.