I followed with keen interest, the conversation on paternity issues and the necessity of DNA tests after the news broke of Tunde Thomas, a man who allegedly died of a broken heart following his discovery that the children of the marriage between him and his wife were in fact not “his”.
However, though the legal implications of who owns the child of a marriage has been expounded severally both in the courts of law and social media, it is true that there is an presumption that a child born during the existence of a marriage or soon after, belongs to the husband.
Let me take a little from Chinua Achebe’s book, “That boy calls you father, have no hand in his death,” strikes me the most. You may wonder what the statement has to do with the issue of DNA after all Okonkwo was not the biological father of Ikemefuna and paternity was not at stake in the story but in my pondering over the issues raised in the DNA story and the statement made to Okonkwo I realised that one thing is central to both stories and it is the effect of TRUST and its absence in relationships.
Trust is an essential component in all relationships and relationships cease to thrive where there is an absence of trust on the part of one or both parties. I make bold to say that it is the lack of trust that has lent credence to Men surreptitiously carrying out DNA tests on the children that call them father.
Please don’t get me wrong, men have a right to know whether they are the ones that sired the children sleeping in their homes and for whom they have assumed responsibility and they also have a right to be upset, heartbroken and distraught when they discover that their ‘children’ did not come from their loins. In the same vein, women have a right to be upset, heartbroken and distraught when they discover that their husbands have a child or more outside the home and it is hypocritical when we are sympathetic about the pains suffered by the man whilst we downplay that of the woman because after all “Men will be men”.
Though the circumstances of the pains suffered by both sexes differ greatly, the issues remain the same- trust has been violated on the part of the woman who realises that her husband doesn’t trust her and that realisation will go on to taint every aspect of their lives together. (I guess that’s why most men carry out the tests secretly.) and on the part of the man who wonders what to believe anymore about the woman sleeping next to him, the issues go deep into his ego, manhood and progeny.
We have expounded on the rights or otherwise of the husband and the biological father but we seem to forget that a third party or in some cases, parties exist in the equilibrium. We have forgotten about the child who calls the husband father, who knows no-one else as father, who becomes fodder that is trampled upon in the fight between two elephants.
I noted with alarm how the pictures of the young kids were splashed all over the media space without any thought or care as to how it would affect them. Are we so insensitive to think that these children will never know what they were subjected to? Have we forgotten that the internet never forgets and that with a click of a button the children or their friends will read about the sensational story we all drooled on? Are we aware of the psychological damage and baggage these children will carry through all their lives due to no fault of theirs?
I practice family law and I have been involved in cases where the father requested for a DNA test to be carried out to verify his children’s paternity and I know first hand the feelings that the children had towards their father and how the carrying out of tests cemented the hatred in their hearts towards him even in cases where the tests proved that their father indeed fathered them. I also am aware of the feelings of rejection, identity confusion and awkwardness those children feel towards the father they once were free with.
The mother’s are also not exempt as their feelings toward her may also change especially where it is confirmed that she had passed them off as someone else’.
The feeling of being disconnected is very much like that of an adopted child who becomes aware of the fact that he is adopted. Following that feeling often ( but not always) is the need to know who their real father is and the inability to fully trust all they’ve been told about themselves.
DNA test affects all the parties involved, father, mother and especially the child. Children get their sense of self worth and identity from their fathers, after all it is his name they bear and it is most cruel to put a child through the psychological pain of not knowing who to call father.
Where tests are carried out as a mandatory procedure, ie for immigration purposes, it is my opinion that where the tests come out negative, it behoves the parents to ensure that the children are left out of whatever skirmish that results thereafter. The question to ask is what makes a father? Is it the donation of sperm or the care, nurture given to the child?
In their study “Paternity testing: a poor test of fatherhood” Heather Draper & Jonathan Ives argue that “there are few morally acceptable justifications for a man to seek a paternity test because fatherhood is not contingent on genetic relatedness and that suspicion of misattributed paternity is no justification for paternity testing. They stated further that the justifications for, and problems with, paternity testing suggest that it is something men should seek antenatally, at birth or not at all.”
I agree with them paternity tests should not be undertaken solely to prove infidelity. The children men have nurtured in their homes and hearts are their children whether or not they are from their loins. These children look up to their fathers and trust them. Fight with their mother if you will but still be father to them.
As Ogbuefi Ezeudu warned Okonkwo, father’s, in a bid to prove your wife’s infidelity do not cause your children’s death psychologically and emotionally.