By Calista Reddington
Robert Hoge was born in Brisbane, in 1972 to Mary and Vince Hoge. He had a large tumor as big as a newborn baby’s fist in the middle of his face, eyes at the side of his head and deformed legs. Initially, his mother rejected him and wished he would die but she later reconciled her feelings about his appearance. To add salt to the injury, a doctor advised his mother to abandon him in a home without even seeing him.
After much soul-searching, and a family meeting with the other Hoge children, it was decided that the baby would come home to the family’s house in the sleepy bayside suburb of Wynnum.
Surgeons later removed the tumor and created a new nose for him from one of his toes and his legs were so damaged that they were amputated.
Robert, who has written a memoir of his experiences, called Ugly, said his late mother wrote in her diary: ‘I wished he would go away or die or something…
‘I told the hospital staff I didn’t want my baby. I wouldn’t under any circumstances take it home.’
She started visiting her son in hospital, but he said she confided to her sister after a visit: ‘He is so ugly.’
Later, Robert said his mother ‘separated her shock from her concern over how she’d raise a child with major medical conditions’.
He added: ‘She split the embarrassment she was concerned about feeling if people stared at me from her worries over the impact bringing me home would have on the rest of her children.’
Hoge admitted by the age of ten he started to become aware of how his mother had felt about him when he was born.
He said: ‘From time to time I’d ask her to read “from the book about when you didn’t want to bring me home.”
‘My parents would talk to me honestly and openly about their feelings when I was born. It was ultimately vital in helping me understand my place in the world.’
He insists that he was not hurt by his mother’s revelations and that his whole family were ‘amazing, loving and caring’.
He told Daily Mail Online: ‘My mother had four healthy children before me and to not have some shock when a child is born with some medical issues would be a surprise.
‘I didn’t really feel hurt by my mother being initially reluctant to take me home. It was like a movie that has some sad parts in the middle but has a happy ending.’
He added: ‘I really appreciated how honest and frank my parents were with me.’
He said it was not until he turned 30 and became a parent himself that he started to truly understand how his mother might have felt.
‘I thought I knew what my mother had gone through when I was born, but when I found out I was going to be a father, I realized it was at best an intellectual understanding.
‘Expecting a child is a tornado of emotions, and even with all the evidence to suggest otherwise, I couldn’t shake the concern that my daughter would come out “wrong,”‘ he wrote in Good Housekeeping.
He said it was his memory of his mother that helped him get through becoming a father for the first time.
He wrote: ‘Despite coming from a working class family, with four other kids to look after, and no notice she was about to give birth to a son with significant issues, she did okay.’
Robert, who is currently on tour in the US, said he wanted to share his experiences in the hope that it might help others.
Finding COURAGE in DISCOURAGEMENT
As an adult, Hoge became a journalist, before entering into politics as a media adviser to former Queensland premier Anna Bligh.
“I think for me, the most extraordinary thing about getting to know Robert, working closely with him, is how quickly Robert’s appearance becomes something you don’t even notice,” she told Australian Story.
“And I think that is because he has not only great intelligence, there’s something charismatic about him.”
In his late 30s, with a child of his own, Mr Hoge felt it was time to tell his story, walking away from the job of running Ms Bligh’s media unit.
Beyond documenting medical milestones and the measured, thoughtful love of his parents, he hoped the story would provide impetus for a conversation about the importance placed on beauty in today’s society.
“This is actually a conversation I’d like to have about disability, and about beauty and about ugliness, and the first person I had to have that conversation was with myself,” he said.
“Let’s not try and hide away difference and try and roll everyone into this one mess of a ball that just so everyone can be treated the same.”
Mr Hoge’s wife Kate says while his story has always connected with people, the book he has written offers the opportunity to take that connection further.
“I think he’s starting to become more aware of how the idea of beauty or ugliness has power over people,” she told Australian Story.
“In some ways Rob’s experiences are no different from almost anybody else.
“I think every adolescent at some point has felt intensely ugly or uncomfortable, and overcoming that is the passage that we all go through.
“[What’s interesting about] the journey that Rob’s been on, is that he has had to do that in a really public way and probably in a in a far more intensely self aware way than a lot of people have.”