“Why did you leave?” is the heartbreaking question Samantha Nkirote, David Kene and Sheila* would each like to ask their biological fathers one day.
They are convinced that the answer to this question could give them closure.
They are not alone.
According to Prof Catherine Gachutha, a counselling psychologist, children who are rejected by their biological fathers often battle with questions on their identity, self-worth, security, belonging and dignity.
From the time she was seven to when she turned 21 years old, Samantha Nkirote would cry each time someone brought up her father.
“If someone says goodbye to you, there is some sense of closure, but because I never got to grieve, I was in mourning for many years.”
Born to a British father and Kenyan mother, Samantha, 32, had a relatively privileged life until her father left. To date, she associates his leaving with poverty and life becoming difficult.
“I heard that my mother went into my father’s office one day and found the secretary packing. When she asked what was happening, she was told that he was moving to Russia. He’d met someone else and was going to leave without saying anything.”
The family was living in Uganda at the time and he left them with nothing to their name as her mother could not access their joint account and had given up her career 16 years before for her marriage.
“We moved back to Kenya and put up with our relatives who were not welcoming so it felt like double rejection.”
Though she always felt loved by her mother growing up, she was always afraid that just like her father, she would leave one day.
“We lived in a bedsitter and whenever my mother would leave the house, I would sit by the door waiting for her because I was scared she wouldn’t come back. At night, I would tie a string on my hand and hers too, just in case she left in the night.”
Also read: Missing in action: Why Kenya is in the grip of a fatherhood crisis
When Samantha was clinically diagnosed with depression in 2014, she tried to find him as she felt she needed parental support.
“My mother had also been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease so I felt I needed my father, but I was never able to find him. Not even through his relatives.”
If she met her father today, she would ask him why he left without any explanation and why, if it was about money, he did not look for her when she was 21 and no longer financially dependent.
“I would just like to know why. He’s my father. Even if he did not want the responsibility, I felt like he owed me an explanation. As an adult, it doesn’t make sense to me how you can love someone and leave them completely."
She feels that the answers would make her understand herself and him better and that observing herself in him would satisfy her.
“I would never consider him a father, but a human being I would occasionally meet with, if we ever reconnected.”
David Kene, 25, found out that the man he grew up calling dad was not his biological father in March this year.
He was so angry and confused when his mother told him the truth that he walked out in the middle of the conversation.
“I asked myself who this man that thought I was not worthy of being loved and raised by him was. I was also mad that it had taken my mum 25 years to tell me the truth.”
But despite his anger and confusion, the questions that had nagged him throughout his life now made sense.
“Growing up, there was always something that did not add up in my relationship with my dad. I had a lot of run-ins with him, like any other teenager would, but we never seemed to connect even after that. It didn’t feel normal. I would look at the closeness he had with my sister and wonder why I could not have the same with him.”
His mother’s confession also explained the distance he’d always felt when interacting with his dad’s relatives unlike when interacting with his mum’s.
“I was raised by my maternal grandparents until I was six and they dotted on me. My middle name, Kamau, is my grandfather’s. My maternal aunties and uncles also showered me with love and attention. I could not compare this with the treatment I received from my dad’s side.”
He started questioning his identity too.
“I had always been a proud Kalenjin. I took great pride-and still do-in my Kalenjin-Kikuyu heritage, but now it all felt like I had been living a lie all these years.”
His feelings of anger evolved to love and gratitude. “I got to appreciate and love my dad even more for I have never lacked anything growing up and he made me who I am today. So I’m deeply grateful to him.”
David refers to the man who raised him as dad and the one that gave him life as father. He searched for his father on Facebook when he learnt of his existence, but his efforts did not bear fruit. He tried to ask relatives his whereabouts but this too, was not successful.
“I would like to meet him even if for just an hour. I would not swap my dad for anything but if I met my father today, I would just like to look him in the eye and ask him why he left. I would like to hear his reasons for abandoning my mum.”
Sheila*, 28, was 14 the first time she said the word ‘Dad’.
It was to her stepfather and the world felt strange in her mouth as she had never said it before.
Her mother was only 18 when she had her and Sheila was brought up by her grandparents. She started living with her mother when she turned 13.
As a child, Sheila lied to her friends that her father was a doctor in the US because she wanted to fit in. When she finally got a father after her mother got married, she still had trouble fitting in with his family and felt like a stranger.
“I think my stepfather had a hard time explaining why he suddenly had a teenage daughter.”
She describes her relationship with her stepfather as complicated, adding that they are not close.
Sheila always longed to meet her biological father but her mum would get upset each time she brought up the subject so she stopped as it was hurting their relationship.
“A few years ago, I would have done anything to see him but the fact that he has never tried looking for me breaks my heart. He can find me through so many avenues, even Facebook, without my mum’s knowledge. But I also fear rejection. What if he does not want me in his life?”
She has tried to move past this yearning to see her father but has been unable to do so.
“There is a hole that can't be filled by anything else. I wouldn't expect him to be part of my life now but
I feel like even if I can get a glimpse of even how he looks like, it will give me a lot of closure.”
Prof Catherine Gachutha says most children who grow up without their fathers will naturally develop identity issues as they will question who they are and where they came from.
They will see it as a loss and will often go looking for their fathers.
She offers insights on how growing up without a father or father figure affects a child’s life.
The child will gravitate towards self-destructive behavioural tendencies. Boys will often resort to truancy, drug and alcohol abuse to compensate for the emptiness, anger and resentment in relation to this particular rejection.
A child who does not grow up with a father or father figure is unable to connect with the image of a God who cares. If the father on earth does not care for them, then they are not able to relate to the father in heaven that they have also never seen.
The shame associated with growing up without a father sometimes hinders their social development. They may be shy or withdrawn. They are also most likely to have unhealthy romantic relationships.
The girl may have trust issues with men while the boy will not trust he is man enough.
The child may grow up with low self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
A child for whom a father’s love is either inconsistent or non-existent experiences trauma. They deal with this pain by trying to suppress it which causes sadness, distress, hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness, which can lead to depression.
Sometimes they can have suicidal ideations because they are unable to pick themselves from that pit.
Research shows that children without fathers are twice as likely to commit suicide than children who have fathers.