July 8, 2013 at 8:55 AM ET
Most people only know Pattie Mallette as the mother of teen superstar Justin Bieber, but in the special "teen edition" of “Nowhere but Up,” Mallette shares the story of her own remarkable journey. Here’s an excerpt.
There are some memories, the painful ones you’d rather forget, that lie still for years. Hauntingly quiet. Crouching behind smiles, laughter, and good times. But eventually even dark secrets must leave their hiding place and come out. And my story has included its share of dark secrets. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve needed courage to face those parts of my early years, because sometimes you have to go through your past to get to your future.
My father was an alcoholic who followed in the footsteps of his alcoholic father. I don’t know much about my dad because he left when I was two years old. I do know he was violent. My dad even pushed my mom around when she was pregnant with me. I’ve learned from talking to other family members that my dad was like a chameleon. While others saw him as a loving, charming, and gentle husband and father, we saw his hidden dark side.
My mom, Diane, was the oldest of ten children. She met my dad and got pregnant when she was sixteen. They started a new life together in the city of Timmins, Ontario, Canada, before eventually moving to Stratford, a ten-hour drive away.
My brother, Chris, was born in 1967, followed just eighteen months later by Sally, the sister I never met. When Sally was ﬁve years old, her life was tragically cut short when she was hit by a car in the street in front of our house. My mom was four months pregnant with me at the time.
My mom and I haven’t always been close, but my heart breaks today when I think about the agonizing grief she went through, the pain that never goes away when you lose a child. And she endured that loss while she was pregnant—how do you mourn one child while preparing to give life to another?
I’ve often wondered if Sally’s death had anything to do with the disconnect I always felt between me and my mother. For years the emotional detachment between the two of us had me convinced I was adopted, because I always felt like I didn’t belong.
Every now and then something would drive that powerful feeling to the surface and I’d go on a rampage. I remember one time as a teen when I frantically searched the house for a piece of evidence—anything that would conﬁrm I was adopted. I had convinced myself my birth mother was somewhere out there. And that maybe she was even looking for me.
I threw open every cupboard in the kitchen, rattling the glasses and china like an aftershock. I opened and slammed shut desk and dresser drawers through- out the house. There had to be something somewhere. Just one measly document.
Finally, in desperation, I cried to my mom, “I know I’m adopted! Stop lying to me. Just tell me where the papers are. I know it’s true.”
My mom must have thought I was nuts. “Stop it,” she begged.
“What are you talking about?” She grabbed a pair of photos and shoved them in my face, comparing our baby pictures side by side. “You look just like me! Why would you even think you’re adopted?” But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And I couldn’t calm down. Something in me was still convinced I didn’t belong. This was not my home. She was not my mother.
Where did these feelings come from? And why were they so strong?
My feelings of being disconnected didn’t just show up out of nowhere. I was two when my dad left us. And his abandonment ripped a hole in my heart—one that began ﬁlling with thoughts and feelings that would scar my identity and self-worth.
Today, I can still close my eyes and feel the pain in my heart when he walked out. I was so young, but I still remember it clearly, as if it happened yesterday. In fact, it’s my earliest childhood memory. I remember my brother and me standing by the front door, blinking our big eyes and looking up to our father as he pulled on his jacket. He looks so serious.
Where’s he going? Why is he taking a big suitcase? Mommy? As my dad knelt down before the two of us, he handed me a parting gift, a Thumbelina doll. When I touched her plastic skin and looked into her big eyes that stared back at mine, I decided she was my best friend. As long as I had her, she never left my side.
“I love you so much,” Daddy began. “But I have to move far away.” He hugged each of us and slowly stood up, looking like a looming giant next to the toddler me. “I’ll always love you.”
As he turned his back to me, I could see his big hand pause on the knob of the front door. It felt like an eternity passed before he ﬁnally twisted the knob, opened the door, and walked out of our apartment. As the door slowly closed behind him, my heart reached out. I was too confused to actually cry out, but on the inside I was screaming for my dad. Don’t leave!Come back. Please, I need you. But it was too late. My daddy was gone. I wouldn’t see him again until I was nine years old.
Over the years, I’ve grieved not having had my dad around to call me Princess, to tell me how beautiful I was, and to threaten the boys I dated. I’ve mourned the loss of not having a dad I could curl up and feel secure with. A dad who would cherish me. A dad who would remind me that I was worth more than perhaps I believed I was. All little girls (and boys) need that kind of assurance from their dad.
In that moment when I was two years old, though, all I wanted so desperately was to climb into my mother’s arms and be soothed by the tenderness only a mother could give. But I couldn’t. The day my dad left was the day I had to start growing up. I had to wipe my own tears and pull myself up by the bootstraps. There was no time for sadness. No room for confusion or emotions.
It was also the day I began to learn that my mother, who did an excellent job working hard to provide for and care for our physical needs, wasn’t going to give me the kind of warm and fuzzy feelings I longed for. She couldn’t. The weight of her own burdens prevented her from giving me the kind of emotional support I needed. My mother was and still is a very strong woman. I, however, didn’t have that kind of steel survival strength. Not yet.
Pattie Mallette, known to most of the world as Justin Bieber's mom, is more than just the mother of a world-renowned pop sensation. As a young woman and a single mom, she fought hard to rise above her painful past of abuse, shame and poverty. She now uses her voice to inspire others by developing film and television projects, speaking around the country, and leading her foundation, Round 2. Follow her on Twitter (@pattiemallette).
Taken with permission from Nowhere but Up, Teen Edition by Pattie Mallette with A.J. Gregory. Published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group (July 2013).