When I was in primary school, my uncle said the most disturbing things to his son (within my hearing distance) about his grades, asking him how he could be outsmarted by “a whore’s child”, his own cousin. Because my father was absent, my uncle labelled my mother a whore, defining her by her lack of a husband who was supposed to validate her. As an extension, I was defined by the lack of a father whose presence would otherwise validate my existence.
Even though the sting has long since dulled, I have never forgotten those words.
Growing up, I only saw my father once when I had just finished primary school. Sadly, seeing me then didn’t make him want to get to know me or stick around. The next I heard of him, he had died. In the 14 years of my existence that he was alive, I never got a chance to tell him all the things that I wanted, no, needed to say to him. Sometime after he died, an aunt gave me a few of his photos, which I had never seen before, to keep. But I told her I didn’t keep pictures of strangers.
I would not fight for him just as he did not fight for me.
I had found my voice and for a while she lost hers.
I am a few days shy of 32 as I write this, but my position in my family has not changed; I remain a member of a fatherless tribe.
The stigma of being nameless
Recently, at a family gathering which I was thankfully absent from, my uncles asked that we of this fatherless tribe – I have three other cousins who are in the same predicament – change our last names to those of our fathers. As far as my uncles were concerned, the family name was not ours to use. As such, they would have liked it very much if I ceased using it…32 years later. When I heard about it all, I was beyond angry and had I been there, there is no telling how much damage I could have caused to our frayed relationships.
I used my father’s name up until around Grade 2. In primary school, however, other kids still remembered the surname I had used before and instead of feeling any sort of pride, I grew to loathe it. Not only did it sound a bit funny, it also reminded me of whom I wasn’t. I was torn between two worlds and no one would let me forget it. As a result, even my mother, not being able to handle the split from my father took out most of her bitterness on me. I grew up a loner and to this day, I struggle to maintain relationships because I do better on my own.
A new name
As a consequence of all this pain – and as crazy as it sounds – I am thinking of starting my own family, one they cannot claim. I don’t just mean getting married and having kids, but starting a whole new line. Some people think it’s because I am bitter but it’s not. It’s just that I’m tired; I’m tired of continuing to fight this fight while carrying a name I can never really own. All these years of feeling nameless and unwelcome have made me need a name that I can claim as my own, my birthright, my heritage, my legacy. I can only imagine what I would have to endure for this to become a reality in our patriarchal society where single mothers have historically struggled to get their children’s identity documents approved through the Registrar’s office. It seems, as far as society is concerned, I only really have two choices; either take my father’s name, or any other name that I can be directly associated with, or my husband’s on marriage.
But I do not want to do either.
I believe that one day, I will walk these streets with a new name and make my own mark on this world using it. When this finally happens, shame will cease to be an emotion I have to feel as no one will have the right or authority to tell me where I belong. A new name will mark the beginning of a family and home, a place I can proudly invite others to come and sit with me.
A new name will finally allow me to let go of what isn’t mine.
Main image shared from www.elev8.hellobeautiful.com
This article was written by Kai.