What you need to know:
- Not having contact with a father can affect a child emotionally, developmentally, and academically.
- If an introduction between a child and the biological deadbeat father is to take place, you will need to prepare yourself and your child emotionally.
- If the father of your child would like to keep on seeing his child, work on an appropriate visiting plan.
A few years ago, a man in his early 20s wrote to Philip Kitoto in DN2: “I learned from nonfamily members that I was born out of wedlock. My mother once told me in a fit of rage that she is the only person who knows my biological father but refused to reveal more. My relationship with my parents is bad. I rarely communicate with any of my family members. I have never received parental love. I feel out of place and need to find my father.” This email betrayed the situation many children and young adults find themselves in the quest to unravel their roots.
When Sally Wakesho fell pregnant nine years ago, raising her child without a father was the last thing on her mind because she had been in a good relationship. “I considered myself lucky to have a good man. I was confident that my child would have a good father.” This was until she disclosed to him that she was pregnant. “He looked shocked. The shock was followed by silence. In the next few days, he began to avoid me,” she says. Her partner suddenly got too busy to meet up. In the end, he told her that he suspected the baby wasn’t his. “He said that I must have gotten pregnant by another man. In any case, he said, he wasn’t ready for fatherhood,” she says. It is now four years since Sally was dumped for falling pregnant. Her son’s father has been absent all through. “He never came to the hospital when I delivered. He has never shown interest in being part of the baby’s life,” she says.
To compensate for his absence, Sally has marshaled an army of male mentors around her boy. But this hasn't been enough. “He recently started asking why he didn’t have a father like his friends at school,” she says. “I am worried about how to respond. I don’t know why he has developed so much interest in his father lately.”
Sally confesses that passing her son to a man who denied him from conception would hurt her conscience. “I know my son has a right to know who his father is. But bringing him into his life will mean having him in my life. I don’t have the strength for that,” she says.
Joy Ngure is another mother who is wondering how to talk to her eleven-year-old son about his absent father. In the last ten months, he has been asking questions about whether or not he has a dad and where he is. “He came home one day and asked why his surname was a woman’s when all his friends’ surnames were male,” she says. “I am still bitter at his dad and don’t know how to talk to my son about him without bad-mouthing him,” he says.
Not having contact with a father can affect a child emotionally, developmentally, and academically. While the child may have a good step-father or father figure in their life, he or she will want to know their real dad at some point. Take Anita Wanjugu’s daughter for instance. Despite having a responsible, loving, and caring step-dad in her life, she still craved to know who her biological father was. The mother of two rebuked her and forbade her from discussing ‘such topics’ again. “Although she heeded, she became withdrawn and cold, especially towards her step-dad. Her performance both at home and school deteriorated,” Anita says. She discussed the matter with her husband and they agreed to let her meet her biological dad. “We first told her that she would write him a letter to know whether he wanted to meet her or not,” she says.
According to child therapist, Damaris Kamau, a child may only need to know who her father is. “Often, a child will have reasons based on curiosity. And once that curiosity is satisfied, they may not be as fervent towards meeting him like before,” says Damaris. Her sentiments were echoed by Loureen Ijeji, who sought after her father for fourteen years, and found him in April 2013. “All I wanted was to see him, how he looked and what he did for a living. I just wanted to know him, that’s all,” she said. Damaris says when a child asks about his biological father inquisitively and with insistence, telling them the truth in a language they can comprehend would be for their emotional and developmental benefit.
However, if an introduction between a child and the biological deadbeat father is to take place, you will need to prepare yourself and your child emotionally. “A child meeting their real father for the first time will experience tension, confusion, and anxiety,” says Damaris. For a start, prepare the child by providing communication between her and the father. “This will allow her to feel comfortable when meeting him.” Discuss the realistic expectations of such a meeting in a language that your young one will understand. “Your daughter will have high expectations. She may think that her father will want to be with her or even reunite with you. Explain that such expectations may or may not come to fruition,” says Damaris. You may also plan a shared activity to avoid awkwardness during the actual meeting.
According to Damaris, these are some of the things that you should do to prepare your child for a meeting with their biological father:
- Be positive and honest: Do not give your child false reassurances. Instead, provide truthful information according to the child’s age. For instance, if she asks why her father chose to abandon her, you may reply that he was not ready for fatherhood yet rather than say he was an irresponsible cheat.
- Future visits: If the father of your child would like to keep on seeing his child, work on an appropriate visiting plan. Involve your child’s opinion and be clear on whether she or he wants to see him or not. If there is a stepdad in the picture, keep him in the loop so that he does not feel isolated.
- Encourage communication: Before your child meets her father, encourage a phone call or a letter between them. Bear in mind that she or he will be meeting someone you don’t see eye to eye on many issues, and whose values and outlook in life you don’t know about. The letters and phone calls will give you a peep into the kind of meeting they will have.
- Meeting: Keep the meeting brief, activity-filled and fun. This will diffuse any lingering concerns, awkwardness, and tension between your child and their father. Let your child’s father know that the meeting will be brief.