I’m 26, And I don’t Know My Dad

April 15, 2021

During a random conversation with a friend, Sierra*, a few weeks ago, she mentioned that her mum passed several years ago and that she has never met her dad. I couldn’t stop thinking about the story the whole evening. On the following day, I hit her up to ask if she would be open to talking about it in more detail and if it was okay for me to write about it. She agreed to it and we set up a call.


My mum died on an afternoon in December 1998 inside a maternity ward. She had just birthed my baby brother, and I imagine her handing him to my grandmother and asking her to take care of her babies as she drew her last breath. When she had me three years earlier, it had been a difficult experience. She was in labour for three days, and for the most part, the doctor didn’t think both of us would make it. But we did. After it was over, they had some news for her: she had no business trying to have another child. Well, she tried to have my brother. 

After she was gone, a decision was made about what the family would do with us and who would take us in. My older brother, who my mum had in her previous marriage and was about 15 years older than me, went back to his dad’s family. My grandmother took my baby brother. My mum’s older sister took responsibility for me and brought me to her home. I called her and her husband mum and dad for my entire childhood. 

However, the disadvantage of tossing all the kids around and separating us was that we never really bonded. We’ve made significant progress in recent years, but the cracks are still there. 

Anyway, my foster parents changed my last name to theirs, and I answered that for years. We talked about a lot of things but only so much came up about my mum. Nothing about my father. 

In 2009, the man who raised me passed away after a long illness. I remember coming home from school for the holidays sometime in the previous year, and he was sicker than I’d ever seen him. He had lost most of his mobility. By the time he eventually died, mum had spent most of their money on hospital bills. 

My older brother came to his funeral,  and we had time to talk. He pulled out a passport photograph from his wallet and asked if I knew the woman in it. When I said no, he revealed what I could have guessed. The woman was my mum. I wanted to know more, especially about who my father might be but he promised to tell me more the next time we saw. 

Things became more difficult at home after my foster dad’s death. Mum couldn’t afford my school fees anymore but she managed to keep me in school and the boarding house I was in. But there was a day things were so tough and I called my brother to send me ₦500 airtime. Unbeknownst to me, he took it as a cry for help. Not long after, he showed up at my school, lied that mum asked him to pick me up and instructed me to pack my stuff. I was confused but I followed him, no questions asked. I lived with him for a year or thereabout. And he was the only one who’s talked to me openly about my dad. 

One day, he gave me a slip — it was my birth certificate and it had both my parents’ name on it. That was my first interaction with my father. I knew his name now, and I decided to take his first name as my last name.

Apparently, my mum met him after her first marriage. She had just moved to Ibadan with my older brother to start a new life. She put herself in school and met my dad during that period. But there was a problem: he was Igbo and my mum was Yoruba. It was a taboo relationship, but they didn’t let it stop them. They married in secret and kept it that way for years. Only my maternal grandmother knew about the marriage, I doubt that any of my dad’s family came around for the wedding. The rest of the family didn’t know who my dad was until my mum passed away.

However, taking his name didn’t feel as nice as I thought it would be. I couldn’t shake away the fact that he abandoned his kids after his wife died, and I wondered what kind of man it made him. I thought he didn’t want us. I was mad, and it was torture. I had a father who couldn’t be bothered about finding me. For many years, I struggled with this. I wanted to be accepted by any man — for someone to look at me and say “You’re enough.” 

***

I reconnected with my mum’s sister the following year, but I didn’t ask her about my father. I didn’t want her to think I was ungrateful. The best way was to piece everything together myself. I got the missing parts of the story from various people as a teenager, and then as an adult. These parts never and still don’t make much sense to me.

I once struck up a conversation with an older relation who is now late, and he told me that my dad didn’t exactly abandon us. He tried to reach out to us after my mum’s death but because he had no job and was broke, he wasn’t allowed to see or take us with him. He stayed away because they told him to. I understand that my mum’s family did what they thought was best for us, but sometimes, I can’t help but think that they had no right to send him away. 

But it’s been years now, and he hasn’t tried to make contact. But I like to think that he has tried and probably still is trying.  Sadly, my younger brother thinks he broke our family — that if our mum hadn’t died while having him, we would know our father. I blamed myself too. I felt like she would have been in better shape to have my brother if there weren’t any complications when she had me. But I also know that it’s neither of our faults. Childbirth comes with its own complications. It was out of our control. 

I started dealing with my abandonment issues and a whole lot of other psychological issues that everything has caused me a few years ago, and while I’m still learning, I’ve made a lot of progress. I’ve accepted that I might never know or meet my dad. The only thing that links to him is a piece of paper with his name. And you know what? That’s all right for now. I harbour hope that maybe, he will come for us before I’m 30.

Toheeb Lanlehin

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