A Lesson We Could Learn From Strom Thurmond's Daughter

With all the sensationalism around "secret children," and the affairs that produced them, Strom Thurmond's daughter gets to the heart of the issue. Essie Mae Washington-Williams eloquently puts words to the feelings that all secret love children experience living with the reality and stigma of being illegitimate.

"In a way, my life began at 78, at least my life as who I really was," Washington-Williams wrote in her autobiography, Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond. "I am Essie Mae Washington-Williams, and at last I am completely free," Washington-Williams said at a news conference in 2003, revealing her secret.

When a person's very existence is evidence of betrayal and deception by a parent, being kept a secret is its own jail of emotional bondage. The secret child pays the price for the parent's shame, guilt and embarrassment. My freedom came at 31, when I found out I was a secret love child from an affair.

While my parents were not famous public figures, I found the courage to share my experience of getting to the other side of such a challenging dilemma by writing Ellen Who? Story of a Secret Love Child. My intention is to help other secret children and their families.

Unfortunately, some have their illegitimate identity exploited in the press. There's a level of cruelty in sensationalizing an affair of a public figure without consideration of an identity being at stake. Of recent, Dan Marino admitted to fathering a child from an affair. Before him, the much publicized Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Senator John Edwards to name just a few.

Strom Thurmond's daughter spoke of the dynamics of being kept a secret: "As much as I wanted to 'belong' to him, I never felt like a daughter, only an accident," she wrote. "Something, some strong feeling was definitely there... That was what was drawing him to me, and me to him. But that feeling was all bottled up. We both felt it, from opposite sides of an invisible wall. It was segregated love." She also said: "...We loved each other in our deeply repressed ways."

Admission of our human fallible behavior can be a tall order. However, if the primary consideration were the effect on others, rather than self, perhaps there would be an opening to speak freely about the existence of offspring from affairs. Secrets cause destruction; born out of guilt and shame.

My goal is to get the conversation going through a support forum on my website for mother's, father's and the offspring effected by affairs in hopes to lessen the stigma, shame and guilt that no human being ought to carry.