Families for Children Patron Michael Caines MBE has always known that he was adopted. Michael grew up with a sense of knowing he was different but was adopted into “an amazing family and never wanted for any love or felt that I was somehow missing out on something”. Pat and Peter Caines adopted Michael (the youngest of their six children) in 1969 when he was 6 weeks old and his adoption story was always transparent and as Michael says “it was obvious to me as my adoptive parents were both white”.
Michael knows his birth mother is from London and his birth father was originally from the West Indies. He understands that when his birth mother became pregnant her parents would not support her in keeping the baby. She was unmarried and in a mixed race relationship, having already given birth to Michael’s sister, who is one and a half years older. Unfortunately her relationship with Michael’s birth father hadn’t worked out and she moved away from London when she was pregnant.
Baby Michael was born in a Mother and Child home in Exeter. Michael says he is very forgiving of his birth parents and doesn’t judge them. It must have been difficult for his birth mother to place him for adoption after looking after him for six weeks and his birth father didn’t know him. Michael is keen to point out that for him and his adoptive family “it’s been a great story ever since”.
Growing up for the first eight years of his life in Cullompton, Michael says that it was a small town and he didn’t really sense he was different apart from the colour of his skin and can’t remember falling victim to any racial abuse. He enjoyed great family holidays and didn’t want for much. He had loving grandparents.
The family then moved to Exeter where Michael stood out as the only black child in his school. The other children were curious and made some taunts. Unfortunately Michael got into lots of fights and was told by his headmaster that “sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you” but as Michael quite rightly points out, words do hurt. However, Michael also attributes these incidents to shaping his character. “Yes, I’m different but that’s a good thing. My personality is four-fold with influence from both birth and adoptive parents.”
Michael then went on to senior school, progressing to Exeter College. During this time he made some great friends, who are still friends now. Young Michael excelled at swimming and water polo; including playing for Devon and West of England Water Polo teams.
At this time in the early 80’s, Exeter was not a multi-cultural city but Michael found his role models through music and sport – Michael Jackson and Prince (musicians), Ray Lewis (the first Canadian-born black Olympic medallist), Jesse Jackson (Civil Rights Leader) and Malcolm X. Michael states that he has always been interested in his culture and has found out about how black communities came to be in the UK, the effects of the slave trade and the migration of Africans into western society.
Michael has not yet traced his birth parents but has spoken to Mark Tyler about his experience and now feels the time is right. “In life you’ve got to know where you’ve come from to know where you’re going.”
Until now Michael had felt no real need to trace his birth parents, partly out of respect to his adoptive parents (sadly his adoptive mum died in 1996, Michael says she was an inspiration to him) but now that he is father to two children he feels compelled to do so. Michael explained how a friend commented, “your son has your eyes” and growing up he never heard comments like that. Now looking at his children he needs to know about that chapter of his life and to make the connections. He would like to “open up a whole story that we can all be proud of…to trace our ancestors back to the West Indies and on my mother’s side in London. A chance to meet my sister and to give my children back their missing link as well. Hopefully we will all get on well together but we would have to respect each other’s space. It will be nice to have the element of my life that is unknown become known. In a perfect world in ten years I will have a relationship with my birth parents. But whatever happens, my parents will always be Pat and Peter Caines.”