DAVID Gates will probably never get over the shock of finding out that the little girl he thought was his daughter wasn’t his.
And it’s been made more difficult to cope with by the fact that he has only seen her once in the seven years since he made the shocking discovery that turned his world upside down.
David was no longer in a relationship with the girl’s mother when she contacted him to say that she was pregnant and that he was the father. But he didn’t question his paternity.
Looking back, he admits that the fact that he had always wanted children may have encouraged him to accept the news without questioning it too much. And he loved being a dad.
“I always thought of it as being a privilege to be a father and I enjoyed the time we had t o get her immensely,”
says the 47- year-old from Titchfield Grange in Fareham.
“People used to tell me that I was a good dad.”
David had regular contact with the little girl, who he still regards as his daughter.
She stayed with him every other weekend and for longer in school holidays.
He says there was only one occasion when she was younger that he wondered if she was really his – which was when he found out that her mother had changed the little girl’s surname, so that it was no longer Gates.
“I tried to come up with reasons as to why she would have done that and thought ‘does that mean she isn’t mine’?
I even got a DNA test kit but I talked myself out of it. “On reflection, I’m glad I did because it meant I had a further five years with her and that was a joyous time,” he admits.
But eventually David’s suspicions built to the point that he decided he would find out for sure. As he details in the selfpublished book he has written about the experience, Access Denied, under the name David E Gates, pressures to pay increasing maintenance, which he was struggling with, was a factor in him deciding to go ahead with the test.
He also describes how his relationship with his 'daughter’s’ mother was becoming increasingly volatile and was putting a great deal of strain on his relationship with his girlfriend.
David and 'Kelly'
When the test came back to say that he wasn’t the father he had to face the news that he’d avoided some five years earlier – that the girl he thought was his daughter wasn’t his.
It’s hard not to wonder if he regrets giving into his suspicions and finding out the truth. After all, he could have had another seven years as her father – perhaps the rest of his life. But David says he is glad he found out when he did.
“I don’t think I regret having the test done, mainly because the truth came out of it,” he says.
“I’d have hated to be in the situation where – God forbid – she’d been in an accident and needed a blood transfusion or something and I found out then that I wasn’t a match because we weren’t related. That would have been really awful.”
David made the decision to confront the child’s mother and to stop seeing the little girl for the time being.
It seems that, looking back, he wonders if this really was the best decision.
“When I initially found out, I didn’t know what to do for the best – I didn’t know whether to carry on seeing her or not,” he says.
“Then so much time had passed and when I tried to re-establish contact it was denied to me. That was the hard part then.”
In the book, David details the battles he had with the Child Support Agency (CSA) and the courts to have it accepted that he wasn’t the girl’s father and therefore didn’t have to pay maintenance for her. The anger he felt at what he describes as “the injustice of a system that unfairly treated me”, is very apparent.
He is keen to separate his desire to find out the truth from his feelings about the girl he calls Kelly in his book.
'Kelly' on holiday with David
“For me, it was never about not being Kelly’s dad,” he says.
“It was nothing to do with my actual relationship with Kelly. She was my daughter and I was her dad and nothing would ever change that.”
David tried to re-establish contact with Kelly, asking her mother if he could see her, writing to her and sending her birthday cards.
He also wrote to ask if his parents – who also felt that they had lost one of their grandchildren – could see her.
But he had to stop trying to establish contact when he was issued a police caution for harassing the family.
Now he writes and dates a birthday card to Kelly every year, which he saves in a memory box for her, along with drawings she did and photos of their time together, in the hope that in the future she may seek to re-establish contact with him herself.
“I think she was old enough when I last saw her to remember me,” he says reflectively.
“I really hope she does get in touch, perhaps because she has some questions to ask and I can answer them. That would be nice – to talk to her and maybe have her Grandma and Granddad see her again.”
He adds that he has considered trying to contact her again in the future, once she has turned 18.
“I’ve thought about that,” he says.
“Maybe saying ‘I’m here if you have questions and want to talk’. I wouldn’t want to force it on her though. I’d have to think about her wellbeing first of all. I wouldn’t want her to be upset.”
Given David’s concerns about upsetting his daughter, did he ever think about not writing the book – which might be quite upsetting for her to read?
“I was very careful about what I put in the book and it took me a long time to write,” he says. “I wanted to tell people what happened to me so that they could be aware that these things go on – thinking about how it might help someone else was key.
“Part of me wanted to hold some of the people in the CSA and the courts to account because I don’t think they behaved appropriately.
“Part of me also wanted to write it to remind my daughter of some of the good times we had together.”
He adds that writing it also offered some catharsis and helped him deal with some of the painful feelings and memories.
As he says, discovering he wasn’t Kelly’s father was a bereavement but without a death and he had counselling to help him come to terms with this.
He made a conscious decision to take down the photos of Kelly from around his home but on her birthday usually gets them out and spends some time thinking about her.
“I have a cry but come away smiling because the photos bring back good memories,” he says.
“I’d still really like to have kids. It’s a bit of a dream.
“If people ask me if I have kids I usually say ‘I used to have a daughter but when she was seven-and-a-half I found out she wasn’t mine’.”