I was born in Dundee on 3 April 1951, of a mother who was not meant to bear more children and a father who had long before disappeared. The two never married, even though the man was my mother’s one affair of the heart. She was crazy about my father, so crazy that she named me after him: Henry John Reid.
I never met my father, but I would dream of him: he was my hero, my myth, my everything, and I was sure that one day he’d return to me, disproving all the terrible things that were said about him. My mother would tell me endlessly how he had broken her arm, how he’d given her black eye after black eye, how he gambled away the housekeeping, how he sold anything for the price of a drink or a bet. My mother was always telling me that Henry John Reid, my father, my real father, was no good.
According to my mother, she should never have met him. I should never have been born. I was an accident, a mistake. My mother’s other children–and there were four, all of them much older–never failed to remind me that I was an accident, a mistake. I was the step-brother: never fully a brother, never fully a member of the family. I was not allowed to use their name–O’Donnell. I had to be reminded that my father, a Reid, was different, and that I, also a Reid, didn’t belong.