By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
In 1970 the Wiatts declared bankruptcy. Sixteen-year-old Greg came home from school to discover that, except for a wreck of a car, everything the family owned had been sold.
The next few years were tough on Greg. He quit high school, only to return after deciding he didn't want to wind up at the same dead end as his father. He moved out of the house and got in trouble with the law, picking up two felony convictions for dealing marijuana. At one point, he found himself in the mental ward of a Lincoln hospital, which in turn started him on a two-decade love affair with mood-altering prescription pills--Valium, Lithium and Prozac.
"I was lost," he recalls. "I didn't seem to fit in anywhere. My parents' relationship was falling apart, and I blamed myself, and society, and `the establishment,' and anyone else I could think of: cops, judges, whoever."
One night in 1978 Greg received a call from his mother. She had thrown Herb out of the house and was getting a divorce. Herb, she said, was sitting on the front lawn, refusing to leave, and the sheriff was on the way.
Greg drove over and found Herb Wiatt perched among the few things he owned. His father, he says, didn't cry or say a word, but just sat there looking lost and bewildered.
After Greg got his father an apartment near his, life seemed to return to normal. Then Herb suffered a stroke and was hospitalized. Greg found his father at the hospital, barely conscious. He turned his animosity toward his mother.
"I hated my mother for what she had done to him," Greg says. "I thought about how hard he had worked to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, and I knew he was going to need someone to take care of him. It was payback time, so I went to court and had myself appointed his legal guardian."
Greg moved to Colorado, bringing his father with him. But Herb soon pleaded to return to Nebraska. It was the only place the old man felt comfortable. Left alone, Greg says, he blamed himself for not being the son his father wanted, and began numbing himself with cocaine.
By 1983 Greg was in a Boulder drug rehabilitation program. One day he telephoned his mother, whom he hadn't talked to much following the divorce, and asked her to come visit. At that point, says Betty, she realized she had to make a decision about whether to tell him the truth about his father and his birth.
"I was pretty sure I knew what was at the bottom of Greg's troubles," Betty says. "I remember looking at him sometimes and seeing only half a person, the half that was me. I myself wondered about the other half, the other man--who he was and what he was doing.
"So it wasn't hard to guess that Greg was having a hard time finding himself. Even if he didn't know the truth about how I got pregnant or what had happened to Herb, I think he felt that something was missing deep down."
Betty confided the family's history and her theory about Greg's problems to his counselor. It made sense, the counselor said, and urged her to tell her son the truth. But she still had doubts. "The whole thing about artificial insemination was that you were supposed to keep it a secret," she says. "But more than that, I had promised Herb that I would never tell Greg the truth. It was very important to Herb--pretty much all he had left. But Greg needed to know."
That morning Greg was asked to report to his counselor's office. It was his 28th birthday, and he thought there might be a surprise waiting. He had been off drugs for three weeks, he says, and felt better than he had in years. But he wasn't prepared for the sight of his mother sitting in the office, her hands in her lap and tears running down her face.
Betty made Greg promise he wouldn't tell Herb that he knew. And, says Greg, it was an easy promise to make. Her confession had given him a new appreciation for the courage of Herb Wiatt. And learning the truth, he says, allowed him to forgive his mother. Now, he says, he understood the terrible pressure she had been under to keep such a secret, and how it had helped destroy their family.
Greg tried to make up for the gulf between him and Herb by driving frequently from Denver to Lincoln to spend time with his dad. As it turned out, there wasn't much time. On Thanksgiving Day 1983, Herb Wiatt suffered another stroke and died. He went to his grave believing that his son didn't know--and would never know--that he wasn't his natural father.
Following Herb's death, says Greg, "I was consumed with conflicting emotions of anger and curiosity. Anger because I couldn't believe that this had happened to my father. He was a good man who should have been allowed to have a family of his own. I began to see this conspiracy between what was done to him and my birth--society didn't want people like my dad, but it did want blue-eyed, blond-haired, `smart' kids like me."