It Wasn’t Rod Stewart

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Dezra and Irene

I always knew I was adopted. My mother told me every three years, so I always knew it. I remember looking out the front window of our Kingston, Ontario house, hearing my mother say, “You know you were adopted, Scott?”

I replied, “Yes, I do, so what’s for dinner?

Being adopted was never a big deal.

I imagined that my birth father was Rod Stewart. I loved music, had spiky hair, and he is Scottish, and the dates worked, so why not? Fantasizing about your father being famous is probably pretty normal; however, the reality is that he looked like him. My father was not Rod. Instead, it was Sandy Dingwall of Inverness, Scotland, or so I thought.

I made two visits to the Edinburgh registrar to see my adoption records. My first visit was with my friend Jeff Danna. I was brought to a room with my adoption papers on an old wooden table. Jeff was not allowed into the room. Instead, I was instructed to go into the room, look at the documents and leave. From this visit, I discovered my mother’s name, Irene Elizabeth Calder, my grandfather’s name, Benjamin MacKenzie and their last posted address.

Approximately twenty years later, I returned to Edinburgh for a second visit. This time, I was given more documents to look through. The personnel at the registrar photocopied everything so I could analyze it later. I found a letter my mom wrote to the adoption agency asking about me and wondering how I was doing. This brought a tear to my eye.

I returned to Scotland years later with my brother Craig and his wife, Tracy. We were in Inverness, so after going to the Inverness Archive Building, we decided to track down the house where my mom had lived. We had to do detective work because the street’s name had changed. However, we did manage to find the home as it stood in its original place. It was a modest white townhome in an older subdivision. It was fun to imagine what my life would have been like if I lived in this house, in this neighbourhood. Inverness is a seaport town. It may have been a rough place to grow up in the ’60s. With a name like Marti Dingwall, I would have had to run to avoid the wedgie warriors.

These are the two houses where Irene lived as a child.

So far, I knew my mother’s and grandfather’s names, where my mother grew up, and that my mother was a canteen assistant. However, I was still curious and wanted more information, so I decided to try my luck with Ancestry. I did a DNA test through Ancestry to see if my DNA would match someone in the database. I heard from Debra Grant, who lives in Australia and is my second cousin on my father’s side. Debra has a cousin named Dezra, who would be my cousin. Dezra lives in Inverness and knows my mom’s family.

My grandfather Benji, his new wife and grand-kids

Debra’s dad is my grandfather’s sister Mary’s son, Debra’s grandmother. Mary left Debra’s dad on the doorstep and didn’t raise him. She immigrated to Australia. Debra’s dad went to Australia to meet his mother and half-siblings. It didn’t go well for Debra’s dad, as no one wanted anything to do with him. This is how Debra ended up in Australia.

I was contacted by my birth mother’s cousin, Dezra. Dezra was able to fill in a lot of information about my birth mother and adoption. I was told that my mother didn’t want to give me up but was forced to by her father and stepmother. Irene never had any other children because of the trauma of giving me up. I was hoping to meet my mother, but unfortunately, she had just passed away from complications of Dementia. The ironic thing was she was living in Minnesota.  She did marry twice and lived in Ireland for a short time. Neither marriage worked out.

I know my birth mother’s name is Irene Elizabeth Calder from Inverness. My birth father was Sandy Alex Dingwall, or so I thought. My name would have been Alexander Martin Dingwall or Calder. Irene didn’t want to give me up; however, her father had just remarried and was not interested in allowing Irene to have a child. Benji, Irene’s father’s mother, died. He later remarried. Irene was not married to Sandy. I believe Irene’s father, my grandfather, was an alcoholic and mean man. He had his three daughters taken away from him because he neglected them. Irene travelled to Dundee to a Salvation Army Hostile for Unwed Women. These were set up around Scotland for women who had children out of wedlock. My birth mother married twice and never had children. This was the information I had gathered so far. I set up to meet Dezra and her husband, John, when I returned to Scotland with my wife, Heather, in June of 2022. This meeting would change everything.

My adoptive parents, Bill and Isabel Graham, emigrated to Canada from Perth, Scotland, in 1958. They tried to have children for a few years but could not conceive. Then, they heard about a woman in Dundee giving up a child through the youth pastor. The adoption was arranged, and my adoptive mother went to adopt me. Isabel Graham had to keep me in Scotland for six months as the birth mom could change her mind. She didn’t!

Isabel Graham took me back to Canada just before my first birthday to meet my adoptive dad, Bill Graham. After my adoption, my two brothers and sister were born. My dad, Bill Graham, said I almost didn’t make it back to Canada because of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The day before we were to leave for our June 2022 trip to Scotland, I received an email from Carolyn Elson, who informed me that I might be her half-brother. I was to send my DNA from Ancestry to My Heritage. If it was a match, and it was, we would be related. Carolyn informed me that I also had three other half-sisters and a half-brother. We arranged to meet up in Aviemore. This new information brought a contemporary twist. If Carolyn and her siblings were my half-siblings, I was not related to Sandy Dingwall. My birth father would have been Ronnie Elson. So, how did Irene meet up with Ronnie?

Irene must have hooked up with Ronnie. She would have never told anyone about Ronnie. Ronnie probably didn’t know I existed.

I travelled up to Aviemore with my wife and cousins for a family holiday and to meet Dezra and John, my half-sister Carolyn, her brother Ronnie and my birthfather’s sister, Yvonne. I was nervous but excited to meet Dezra, John and my half-siblings.

I had breakfast with my adopted cousins and was off with my wife to wait outside for the arrival of Dezra and John. My half-sibling meeting would be the following day.

We waited an hour, and we thought they would arrive later. Instead, my cousins all offered me words of encouragement and support. I was beginning to feel a sense of abandonment.

Dezra and John

Every time a car came into view, I hoped it was Dezra and John. So I went into the hotel reception to leave my phone number in case they did show up. After that, I would go with my cousins to an estate they would visit.

I went outside to wait five more minutes when a small car pulled up. It was Dezra and John. They got lost and asked locals where the Boats of Garten Hotel was. There were a lot of “Boat” places in Aviemore.

Heather and I stuffed ourselves into their pint-sized car and were off to learn more about my birth mother, Irene.

John and Dezra showed us my mom’s house, and we were off to have lunch. We arrived at a lovely Kingsmill Hotel in Inverness. We talked about my mom’s sense of humour and how she would have loved to have met me. Irene carried a letter with her for years to give me if we ever met.

Dezra, Myself and John outside the Kingsmill Hotel in Inverness, Scotland

In her last few years of life, my birth mother suffered from Dementia. She had phoned Dezra from Minnesota, where she lived, to tell Dezra how the police were coming to get her. This was a reflection of her Dementia. The police were not coming.

While I was in the washroom, Dezra asked Heather how strong she thought I was. Dezra had some information she wanted to share with me that would take a lot of work to hear. Heather said I was in Scotland to gather as much information as possible, so she encouraged Dezra to share what she knew.

When I returned to the table, I was told the following:

Irene told her father, Benji and stepmother about being pregnant. In the 60s, it was considered a disgrace to the family for a girl to be pregnant out of wedlock. There was a lot of influence from the Presbyterian Church, and Inverness would have been relatively small. Irene’s birth mom had died, and her dad had remarried. Ben, Irene’s dad, was also an alcoholic and unsuitable father. The woman he married was all about perceptions. She cared too much about her reputation in the community and what people would think. Neither one wanted anything to do with me or the idea of Irene giving birth.

So…Irene’s father and stepmother put Irene in a bathtub and poured boiling water on her, followed by ice cold water as they made her drink a bottle of vodka. Then, they tried to abort, kill, and murder Irene’s baby: that would be me. This would explain why I hate vodka.

The abortion did not work, so Irene was ordered to go to Dundee, Scotland, to give birth and return to Inverness. The pregnancy would never be talked about again. If Irene had not chosen to travel to Dundee, she would have been in the streets. She had no choice.

Irene and Isabel saw each other at the time of my adoption. They both claimed to see each other from a distance.

I took in the information without much emotion. After that, we returned to Dezra and John’s house, where they gave Heather and me a book about Scotland and a silver spoon keepsake. They then drove us back to The Boat of Garten, where I would meet my cousins for a drink.

My cousins all wanted her to hear about the adventure. I told them about what I had learned about my mother, and then I said, “There was this one thing.”

At this moment, all the emotion attached to this news became overwhelming. I could barely talk as the tears began flooding my eyes. Heather had to tell my cousins the story of the abortion attempt. I am okay with talking about it now; however, it was overwhelming.

At dinner that night, my cousin Lindsay broke the ice by dropping a bottle of vodka before me. We all burst out laughing. Although what happened was horrible, it was in the past. The fact that my mother chose to have been and not abort me proves that she did love me and I was wanted, by at least her.

The meeting with Dezra and John was fantastic. It was great to meet someone who knew and loved Irene. I learned that she was funny, sensitive, and caring. However, she was also nervous and didn’t like flying, something I struggled with in my younger years. I would have hit off very well with my mother.

Dezra was adamant that my birth dad was Sandy (Alexander) Dingwall. The issue is that DNA doesn’t lie. My DNA is connected to my half-sister Carolyn, her brother Ronnie Elson, and their dad, Ronnie Elson, senior. I would find out more the next day after breakfast with Carolyn, Ronnie and Ronnie Senior’s sister, Yvonne.

I waited anxiously in the front foyer of the Boat of Garten’s in Aviemore for the arrival of my new siblings. Instead, I saw a BMW arrive in the parking lot. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and when Carolyn exited her car, I saw a well-dressed, confident woman emerge. Her brother and aunt followed.

When I first saw Carolyn

The conversations were filled with questions and laughter and quite comfortable. I learned my father was charismatic, handsome, and the life of the party, but he was not interested in settling down or being responsible for a family. He turned the heads of many women. He was a roofer and a merchant marine. Knowing that he visited many ports, I wonder how many other siblings I may have.

He had a disease called hemochromatosis, which occurs when the body stores up too much iron. This would have given him tanned skin, which would have been attractive in Scotland, as there weren’t many tanned men. Ironically, before I went to Scotland in June, I had a blood test that indicated too much iron. This is good information to have. I can now watch this, so it doesn’t get out of hand.

It was great to meet Carolyn, Ronnie, and Yvonne. From this meeting, I found out that I had three other half-sisters: Jodie, Zoey, and Shanie. Jodie and Zoey were full sisters, Ronnie and Carolyn were full brothers and sisters, and Shanie was like me, adopted out and having Ronnie as a father. Ronnie and Carolyn live in Inverness, Zoey and Jody live near Aberdeen, and Shanie is in Derby, England. I will learn more about them on my next visit to Scotland in October.

Yvonne, Me, Ronnie, Carolyn outside the Boat of Garten in Aviemore, Scotland

Heather and I travelled back to Scotland in October 2022. This time, I would meet my half-sisters Jody and Zoey, their boys and their husbands and revisit with Carolyn and Ronnie. Unfortunately, Shanie wasn’t able to come. I offered to perform at Jody’s son’s school in Kintore, south of Aberdeen. She thought it might be best if her son Joshua met me before the presentation. We set up a meeting at Thainstone House, where we were staying, for dinner the night before the school presentation.

We met in the hotel lobby. It was like we had known each other forever. Jody, her husband Jordan, and her son Joshua were easy to speak with and were a joy to be around.

Jody, Me, Joshua, Jordan

The next day, I presented at Kintore Primary School for the entire school, using Joshua in my presentation. I then visited Joshua’s P2 class, where I played guitar and sang songs. Joshua was all smiles. I like Joshua. He is a shy, sensitive boy with a great sense of humour. He reminds me of how I was when I was his age.

Me and Joshua at Kintore Primary School in Kintore, Scotland

Jody and Jordan offered to pick us up for a family reunion dinner. So we were off to a restaurant called Fennel in Inverurie, just outside Aberdeen.

When we arrived, we went to the restaurant’s second floor, where my sister Zoey, her husband Seve, son Oliver, Carolyn and Ronnie were already seated.

Me, Ronnie, Carolyn and Zoe – Jody and Shanie

It’s always tricky to have conversations in a noisy room with many people at a table. So, I purposely positioned myself in front of Zoey and her family to get to know her, as I hadn’t spoken with her before.

Zoey and her family seemed very nice. We talked about her childcare work and Seve’s work as a grounds manager at the golf course. Their son Oliver was a lovely thirteen-year-old. He told us of when he did a face plant against a tree and lost his tooth. He did a fantastic Nanny McPhee imitation with his false tooth. Overall, it was a nice dinner. I appreciated Carolyn and Ronnie travelling from Inverness and everyone else spending their Friday night with us. We need to get Shanie us from England and get everyone together.

Zoe and Seve, Oliver, Jordan and Joshua, Carolyn and Ronnie

When we returned to the Thainstone, I received a message from Shanie. I found out she has a fourteen-year-old son named Henry. She is a high school teacher who teaches psychology in England. Her dad is a nuclear scientist. Shanie was adopted, too. Shanie has two grandchildren, Willow and Monty. She has two other children, Jack, 29 and Olivia, 27.

I also received a message from Cheryll McLeman, Jodie, Zoey’s mom, and Ronnie Elson senior’s wife. She filled in a lot of information.

I found out that Ronnie Senior was a womanizer (not me), loved music (me), loved buying clothes (me) and highlighted his hair (me).

Ronnie cheated on his wife Cheryll when she was pregnant with Jody. This is what ended the marriage. Cheryll was 17, and Ronnie was 29 when they first got together.

Jody and Cheryll met Ronnie when he returned from Newfoundland just before he died. Ronnie’s family moved to Newfoundland when he was young. His dad had an affair, and his mom took the kids back to Scotland. Ronnie never knew much about his dad, and his mother never talked about him.

Ronnie’s mom and dad had Ronnie and Yvonne, who were born in Canada, and Ronnie adopted a girl. Ronnie also had another daughter with his new wife.

Ronnie found out his dad was still in Newfoundland and went to reconnect. That’s why he ended up in Newfoundland.
Ronnie did hurt his children through his neglect. That’s the sad part. Carolyn and Ronnie used to have him on a pedestal, and Zoe adored her dad, and he didn’t even send her a birthday card. Inverness was a small town, and I remember meeting people who knew Ronnie. Someone once said they had received a Christmas card, and Zoe was there. She heard that, and it hurt.

Ronnie Elson Senior – Not Rod Stewart

It was the same with Carolyn and Ronnie; they wanted a connection with him, and he didn’t bother.

Jody was young when we separated, so she remembers him as someone she met one summer when he was home. He asked her what present she would like, and he would buy it for her (it was around her birthday). She was so excited, and all the next day, she was waiting for this fantastic present, but it never arrived.

She wasn’t affected by him like the others. She accepted it and continued; he wasn’t a part of her life.

Well, my dad wasn’t Rod Stewart, but he was the life of the party. I got some of his charisma, but it’s morphed into kid charisma. This is why I can easily connect with children and perform on stage in a rock band from my rock singer days or in front of thousands of children. I received my sensitive nature from my mother. I can be anxious in some situations and shy in others. So, I’m a mix of both my mother and father.

I’m looking forward to building relationships with my new Scottish family, but I will always love my Canadian family, whom I grew up with. I’m blessed to have two families: one Canadian and one Scottish.

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