HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsIs it fair for a child not to know its dad?

Is it fair for a child not to know its dad?


A few years ago, some journalist took to the bottle and became an alcoholic when he discovered that the man he called uncle in the neighbourhood was actually his father.

Opinion by Ropafadzo Mapimhidze

The then young man pestered his mother so much that she eventually pulled out a letter which that uncle had written when she became pregnant, denying paternity.
She had kept this letter for more than three decades, neatly wrapped and properly sealed in a plastic sheet.

“I never slept with you and so how can I be the person responsible for that pregnancy? . . . Go and find the man who impregnated you for I am not the one. I have never loved you and will never love you,” read the letter that was written in Shona.

This was in the mid-60s when having children out of wedlock was taboo. But because this family was wealthy, they decided to adopt their grandson and raised him as their own.

The journalist was lucky because his maternal uncles also travelled with him abroad where he earned various degrees and landed a job at a local media institution.
It turned out, however, that the man who was his biological father actually lived less that 3 kilometres from his Chisipite home, a house his maternal grandfather had bought him.

This journalist actually knew some of the children at that house because they had also attended the same affluent school at primary level.

It was so heartbreaking for this young journo, who was now married and had four children.

This journalist, who died a very bitter man, had once told his friends that he would one day shoot his father.

There are so many reasons why women will not reveal the identity of their fathers’ children as this may open healed wounds.

I have a cousin who has not told her daughter who her father is because he had lied to her that he was a bachelor.

But then there are some women who just want to have children but don’t want commitment with the men who impregnate them.

Babble, a website on the Internet, says being a single mom isn’t an anomaly anymore.

While women want to protect their families, letting dad remain a mystery to friends, family, and even their children isn’t a decision made lightly.

Some women say they don’t feel right sharing the unusual way their children were born because they are not sure who will accept it and if it’s what their children will want.

“It’s not a matter of hiding it. It’s just not my story anymore — it’s our story.”
As more “single moms by choice” like these women grow their modern families, paternal identity will become a more common issue, says Mikki Morrissette, author of Choosing Single Motherhood.

She agrees with these women that once the baby arrives, the story of paternity belongs to the whole family.

“As that child grows, the original story is his or hers: and having many people know it first might seem like an eventual invasion of the child’s private story.”
Furthermore, the story of a child’s paternity may not be warmly welcomed by everyone.

“Then there’s the issue of why you’re keeping the father’s identity a secret. It’s one thing if the woman is feeling protective of herself or her child’s privacy, but it’s another thing if she’s not proud of the way she’s building her family because that could get passed on to the child in subtle ways.” says psychologist and author of The Secrets of Happy Families, Scott Haltzman.

“Often women will choose to withhold the identity of the man not only because of some of his bad qualities, but because the mother herself has some sense of shame and embarrassment about whom she chose as a sexual partner,” he says.

Unfortunately, giving kids a vague answer early on eventually leads to tough questions down the road, says Haltzman.

“We find that clinically, children typically are interested in learning about their parentage; it’s a very rare child that is able to accept ‘you don’t have a father,’ as an explanation about his or her roots,” he notes.

As William Shakespeare wrote, past is prologue. By denying a child his or her past, it may be hard for them to see where they’ve come from — and where they go from here.

Sarah is happy to keep the fathers of her two boys’ identities hidden for now, and has not encouraged their interaction — financial or otherwise — in any way.
She says she doesn’t worry that her kids will find out their identities through word of mouth at school or through friends.

“I may be naive about this, but I’m not worried about that. The few people who know the details also know this is a delicate topic and are not the type to talk about it without referring to me first. If this does happen, I’ll know that the time has come to answer their questions about their fathers in more detail.”

Whatever reasons people may have about this matter, I think it is unfair for a child not to know his/her paternity.

Unless, of course, it is a matter that involves incest, then that perhaps could be more a valid reason to maintain secrecy.

But then for how long can one keep such a secret?

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