In search of my father: I didn’t find him, but found a new loving family
Majority of children who grew up in a single parent home will confess to having the urge to search for their missing parent and find their roots.
According to the 2019 National Census, 38.2 per cent of families in Kenya are headed by single parents, having risen from 25.1 per cent in the 2009 census.
Armed with hopes and faith of finding them, many have set out in search of the other side of their family, hoping that they will be welcomed with open arms.
These were the exact dreams of Elizabeth Mwihaki Njenga who started her journey three years ago, with high expectations of finally meeting her father and his family.
Mwihaki says her urge to one day meet her father’s family was fuelled by the tough childhood she grew up in.
Also, the environment she grew in saw her live with children who had present and responsible fathers and even mothers.
For her, the opposite was her daily life, an absentee father and a mother who referred to her as a “cursed child.” Mwihaki claims her mother perceived her as an obstacle to her ambitions, thereby abandoning her at her grandparents’ who within a short while saw her as a burden, and took her back to her mum.
“My mother got pregnant when she was 20 years old. She had vowed she would not have children and, therefore I came as a mistake. She wanted to abort me, but she says someone convinced her not to and that is how she ended up giving birth to me,” she claims.
Her mother abandoned her at her grandmother’s when she was just 10 months old and moved to Nairobi. The grandmother who had nine more mouths to feed also got tired of taking care of an infant and opted to take her back to her mother when she had attained the age of two years.
“That was the beginning of my years of trouble, which fuelled the urge to look for my other parent. I kept the dream alive for more than 30 years until 2020 when I decided it was the right time to start the search,” she notes.
Armed only with an old photo of her mother standing next to a man she grew up being told was her father, plus two names, her journey kicked off on social media where she posted requesting for any information that would lead her to him. But with few responses, she decided to let it rest.
“Early 2023, a woman posted on a Facebook page that she was looking for her mother and later came back with a testimony of finding her, though she was deceased. This encouraged and gave me some hope. I also posted the few clues I had of my father,” Mwihaki says.
Within days, she had also gotten crucial information on the possible areas her father would be in, with the majority of them pointing her to a family living in a village in the interior parts of Nyeri. “With this information and the possibility of my childhood dream coming to reality, I got anxious and scared of what might transpire and whether he would accept me or not and what would come next after meeting him,” she says.
In March of that year, after much thinking and consultation, Mwihaki walked right into the compound of the family she thought was her father’s. At the back of her mind, she was well prepared for any eventualities such as being rejected by the alleged father or being received and embraced as the prodigal daughter who was finally coming back home.
“Before going to Nyeri, I was in communication with my just found grandmother who upon asking her son about siring a child, he denied. And so, when I got there, he still told his family that I was not his child and that he did not remember neither me nor my mother,” she adds.
Mwihaki was devastated. She proposed they take a DNA test to ascertain. However, before the testing, the man changed his mind and announced that Mwihaki was indeed his daughter. But despite these latest revelations, she opted to go ahead with the DNA testing.
“When the results came out, it was negative. I was not related to the man I grew up believing was my father! It broke my heart because I was very hopeful, but I had prepared for such a scenario, therefore it did not affect me that much,” she says.
Even though they were not blood related, Mwihaki and her children have found a family in the family of a man she though was her fathery. Strangely, they accepted and welcomed her as their adoptive daughter.
“I no longer have the urge to look for my biological father. I do not want more surprises and I have decided that God will be my only father. Also, in this new family, I have found a family in whom my children have found a loving person to call grandmother,” she says.
Psychologist Loise Okello says identity crisis is the main reason children from single parent homes go out in search of their missing parent.
She says fathers are believed to give children a form of identity and belonging and when they are absent, the urge of finding their roots and knowing who they are from their paternal side becomes important for them. “When a parent is missing, the child grows with an urge to connect with them just to understand why they were not in their lives. No matter the outcome, it brings closure to their lives,” she says.
Okello says there are several outcomes that children looking for their other parent ought to prepare for as they set out on the journey. Depending on the circumstances around growing up with a single parent, the child might find their father who will either embrace or reject them.
She says when they are rejected, these children suffer psychologically and might result in hatred and anger. “Everyone who starts this journey is hopeful that they will be embraced and when they are rejected, it affects them negatively. It brews anger, bitterness, makes one lose hope and might be rebellious, “she says.
Okello says some fathers might use the opportunity to explain why they were absent and some might take advantage of the child’s vulnerability at that moment to demonise the other parent as the reason they were absent.
There are scenarios where mothers are not helpful because they are concealing their absent father’s information over what they believe to be for the child’s own interest.
Okello says this might result in conflict between the mother and child, with the majority of them going ahead with the plans without the involvement of their mother.
As a counsellor, Okello recommends that these children use professional ways to handle the identity crisis, which arises as a result of absent parents.