After she left, Jackman held onto hope that she would come back to her family some day.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on December 23, 2021. It has since been updated.
Every child needs to lean on their parents while growing up. Some are fortunate to have their mom and dad in the picture, and some aren't. Actor Hugh Jackman falls into the second category, as he had to grow up without the love and support of his mother from the tender age of 8. There could have been a reason behind Grace McNeil's decision to leave her family, and Jackman was too young to perceive what was happening around him, but it's safe to say that being abandoned really affected him.
Jackman's father, Christopher Jackman, and McNeil had immigrated to Australia from England before starting their family, but after their divorce, she moved back to her childhood home, Norwich, and took Jackman’s two older sisters with her, according to Great British Life. Jackman and two of his brothers stayed back with Christopher.
“I stayed in Australia with my father and two brothers, and had a tough time for a while. But, you know, I had a very good father who was always there for us and I could never even imagine what it must have been like to raise kids on his own the way he did for many years. I don’t think I could have done that. You need an iron will and I never heard him complain about himself or his lot in life.”
In 2012, he spoke about how he felt when McNeil packed her bags and left. "At the time, it was difficult," he told The Australian Women's Weekly. "One of the main things I remember is that horrible feeling that people were talking about you and looking at you because it was odd for the mother to leave."
Showing just how innocent a child's mind can be, Jackman clung to the hope that his mom would soon come back to him and his siblings. "For many years, I thought it was not going to be forever, so I clung on to that. Up until about the age of 12 or 13, I thought Mum and Dad would get back together." But, with time, he knew that she was just not coming back. "Finally realising it wasn't going to happen was probably the toughest time to be honest."
In 2015, he told Parade that he just didn't know what to do after his mom left. "I was a fearful kid who felt powerless. I was the youngest. [Jackman has four older siblings.] I used to be the first one home and I was frightened to go inside. I couldn’t go into the house on my own. I’d wait outside, scared, frustrated." By the time he entered his teens, he was angry at McNeil for abandoning him.
He used sports as an outlet for his anger. "In playing rugby my rage would come out, rage that I identify as Wolverine rage. I’d be somewhere in a ruck in rugby, get punched in the face and I’d just go into a white rage."
But even though he was forced to grow up without his mom around, he knew for a fact that her decision to leave was not because she didn't love him. "The thing I never felt, and I know this might sound strange, I never felt that my mum didn't love me," he says.
It is true when they say a mom's love never fades, and even though the Wolverine star never experienced how it feels to be loved, he did eventually makeup with his mom. He then spoke to her, to try and understand what made her leave. Soon, he realized she was fighting an invisible war from within. "I've spoken about it at length with her since and I know she was struggling. She was in hospital after I was born suffering from post-natal depression."
"And then you add five kids into the mix and the fact she had emigrated from England and there wasn't a support network for her here, plus the fact that Dad was at work all day — and you realise that as parents we make mistakes."
One time, he even revealed that the decision his mom made to divorce his father could probably have been based on religious differences. During an episode on The Tim Ferris Show podcast in 2020, Jackman revealed that his dad became a convert of Billy Graham after attending one of the late evangelist's rallies. Though McNeil joined her husband for the event, it didn't have the same impact on her.
"My father was not religious at all and became a born-again Christian. My mother did not," Hugh said. "That was one of the things, actually, I think, that brought the end of their marriage."
Now, McNeil and Jackman regularly meet to make up for lost time, and they couldn't be happier in each other's company!
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Noam Galai / Stringer