By Bunmi Sofola
Any time Gbenga thinks on the past, his memories of Laanu, his son are as painful as they once were precious.
There was the magical day in May of 1992, that Laanu was born and placed in his arms. “I looked at the wonder I’d helped created and I felt really proud,” Gbenga said.
“In my mind’s eye,I could see him as a toddler, taking his first steps. I remember buying him toys, especially the nitendo he was always glued to. But overriding all of these happy memories is the terrible day, two years ago, when Laanu’s doctor told me gently there was no way I could be his dad!
“That devastating moment marked the beginning of two hellish years for me, during
which I struggled to understand why I was so terribly deceived by Antoinette,Laanu’s mother. Forced to continue being financially and emotionally responsible for him, even after we got divorced ten years later. And I’d had this suspicion that Antoinette had suspected for years that Laanu was not really my son.
“The nightmare began when Laanu, at the university in the UK got ill and needed blood transfusion. I’d gone to visit him at his insistence and readily agreed to donate blood as his blood group was rare. When a doctor told me kindly I couldn’t possibly be the father as our blood didn’t match, I felt as if someone had viciously kicked me in the groin.
Sadly, Laanu had to be told and he was so embarrassed he couldn’t look me in the eye. Poor thing at 22, to learn the man you’d called ‘dad’ all your life, was no blood relation of yours. As soon as he was well enough, I let him know I still loved him and would always be his dad. He obviously couldn’t handle the trauma as he’d now completely cut me off his life after a few disastrous visits.
“I demanded answers from my ex-wife, and in a heartfelt e-mail she sent to me, she wrote: “Remember, I was only 20, when I got pregnant and as a terrified, immatured, confused girl, whose own father turned his back on me, I tried to do what was the best at the time. You and I, were together and that’s how I wanted it to be. I’m not a bad person and wouldn’t want to hurt anyone.” Really? To add salt to my wound, she’s now in a relationship with Andy, Laanu’s biological father—her former childhood sweetheart!
“When I first met Antoinette, it was at an Easter picnic organised by friends. I was an undergraduate and she was a 20-year old receptionist at a bank. We’d both gone to the same comprehensive school, but barely remembered each other from our school days. She approached me. She was very pretty and chatty. We started going out together and I was smitten.
I was really loyal to her right from the start. Unfortunately, I wasn’t her only admirer. Several months after we became lovers, she cheated on me with Andy, her first boy-friend and an ex-student of our former school. At the time, I wasn’t aware of her infidelity. She later claimed, that her fling with Andy was a one-night stand. She said that while she ‘suspected’ Andy might be the father, there was always the chance that Laanu could be mine.
“That came as a surprise to me as I always used condoms. I was so blinded by love I just assumed my contraceptive had failed and never questioned the possibility that the baby wasn’t mine. My parents were a bit disappointed but took full responsibility for mother and child until I finished at the university and we got married as soon as I got a decent job.
As the years went by, people told me how much he looked like me and had my mannerisms. There was nothing ever to make me suspicious. But I always thought it odd that my wife was seldom interested in having more children; telling me it was too soon and I should allow her to finish catering school.
“As soon as she finished, she changed. She set up a small catering outfit and she became too independent for my liking. She went out a lot under the guise of building her business. As I protested, we had really bad rows, and in the end, she just left.
She said she was a child-bride and had fallen out of love with me. She took Laanu with her and through him was able to milk me for child maintenance. I paid for everything including his school fees up to the university. Looking back, it’s cruel she put me through all that knowing Laanu might not be mine. All those years of deceit are hard to forgive.
“In her e-mail she tried to explain why she kept the lie going for so long. ‘As time went on, she wrote: ‘I started to get serious feelings that we needed to find out for sure if Laanu was ours. I felt he had a right to know but there never seemed to be a right time.
More than anything, I was terrified of hurting him.” The irony here is that Laanu’s biological father also admitted that it crossed his mind right from the start that he might be Laanu’s dad. He begged Antoinette for tests but she refused until that fateful day when I donated blood to save my supposed son.
“I broke down in tears and Laanu looked really embarrassed. After he left hospital, he told me it wouldn’t affect our relationship and that he still saw me as his father and that wouldn’t change. I was still in shock, but I said the same thing—that I loved him and he’d always be my son. But he withdrew from me and, after a few visits, stopped replying to my calls and texts. In the end, I phoned Laanu’s granddad to ask him if he was alright. He told me he was just trying to deal with it all.”
“I only have myself to blame,” said Antoinette, “and I wish at that young age, I didn’t have to deal with such a huge problem—alone. I couldn’t go to anyone; I had no support and nowhere to live. I needed my mum and dad, but they were not there for me— I had to sort things out myself. You and I were together, and that’s how I wanted it to be. At the time, I didn’t think long term and naively thought we could be one happy family.”
In the two years since he learned the truth, and estranged from Laanu, Gbenga’s hurt has turned to anger and, not surprisingly, bitterness towards Antoinette. “It started to eat me up,” he said. “I felt as if I couldn’t breathe at night. I couldn’t sleep. It’s a horrible night mare. I still thought of Laanu as my son and I’d still have a relationship with him if I could, but he has turned against me. And Antoinette’s relationship with his true father is a final twist of the knife. After so many years of secrets and deceit, it’s hard to see how the wounds can easily heal.”
“I am honestly, truly sorry,” wrote Antoinettee. “A decision I made at 20, has undoubtedly ruined my life. Given the time over, I would do it differently. That’s easy to say now I’m over 40, but as a young girl, I didn’t have a clue. The main thing I would change is the hurt I have caused everyone… .”