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Paul Howes: My gut-wrenching adoption secret

Union boss Paul Howes is tipped to be a future Labor leader, but just 16 years ago he was living on the streets after his adoption "happy ending" soured. Here, he shares his story.

Paul Howes. Photography by Nick Scott. Styling by Mattie Cronan.
I've known union boss Paul Howes for a few years, but it wasn't until last year, talking to him and his wife Lucy about The Weekly's campaign to make adoption easier for Australian couples, that I learned his story.
Paul was adopted. He was born Benjamin Patrick on August 23, 1981, to a 21-year-old woman who surrendered him reluctantly.
But Paul's adopted family didn't bring the happiness the young woman would have hoped for.
His adoptive parents divorced when he was young, and when his mother re-married, he didn't get along with his step-father. When he was 14, he was living on the streets.
His is one of the great success stories — from living rough, he rose to the head of the Australian Workers Union, and a potential future Labor leader.
When he became an adult, and could afford it, Paul set out to look for his birth mother. It took him five years and thousands of dollars.
After much searching, he found her; she was living in the next suburb, with children of her own. Meeting her, he says, was one of the most "gut-wrenching" moments of his life.
He learned she had kept baby photos for years. She would cry for a week around his birthday. The relationship between mother and son is new, but strong.
Paul told me his story last year, but he and Lucy thought for many months before they decided to share it. Their decision was prompted, in part, by Paul's strong feelings about the state of adoption in Australia.
He believes, like The Weekly, that it should be easier for couples to adopt: that there should be one body to handle all queries, rather than many in every state, and that it should be free.
Read more of this story in the July issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.

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