By Dr. Moffat Ekoriko
I posted this on June 27, 2017. In the light of the Tunde, Nuru and Moyo saga, there are calls for DNA tests so ‘fathers’ can certify their children as theirs. I have called this up because it fits the times. Read it again.
Misattributed Paternity and Other Stories
I hardly take interest in matters that concern passion of the flesh. I love the peace in my home and the last thing I want is for my wife to think I am ‘like other men’. My case is particularly suspicious because I am the son of a polygamist. In life, perception can be more important than reality. I feel it is safe to dabble into the issue of misattributed paternity or paternity discrepancy: a phenomenon where the man a woman claims is the father of the child is not actually the biological father. A study in the UK showed 1 in 25 children are not fathered by their supposed biological fathers’. I just pray my fate would not be like that of Ben Victor who got stoned on social media for suggesting fathers perform DNA test to establish the paternity of their children. I will share two interesting stories.
A few years ago, a friend of mine called that he was having problems with his wife. The woman had run to a female law advocacy group to help her get custody of the children. He needed help. I called a lawyer friend to intervene. It turned out that the woman has been cheating on the husband. It got worse in the last four years of the marriage. Out of the four children, the husband suspects the last two are not his. They ‘over-resemble’ one ‘uncle’ she introduced to him. As the marriage was breaking up, he discovered the ‘uncle’ was actually the wife’s lover. The woman wanted custody of the children so they can live with her and the lover. He had accused the woman of infidelity. On that basis, the woman wanted a DNA test to prove she was faithful. He was almost going for it. I thought he was walking into a trap. I advised him not to do the test. One, he would have proof of the wife’s infidelity and that can be very painful. Two, the children call him father. How would he live with the sense of betrayal? My friend turned down the request for DNA. The lady lost the custody case. He has been able to rebuild his life. I am sure that if he had taken the DNA test, he would not have survived the psychological trauma.
The second story came from a friend. His friend was married for about 10 years and had five children. He then decided he needed a second wife. He took one. After three years, the woman did not conceive. The husband asked her to find out what was wrong with her and the other wife was taunting her ‘barrenness’. She approached the family doctor who checked her and could not find any reason why the woman could not conceive or ‘be with the fruit of the womb’, as we say in church. He was puzzled because the man had already ‘fathered’ five children. The doctor turned to science. He collected samples from the children and the man as they visited the clinic. He discovered from the tests that the man was not the father of any of the five children. He struggled with his ethics and like most Nigerians settled on ‘situational ethics’. He confided in the woman and advised her to find her way. The woman did. She conceived and had three children. The first wife would give her a knowing look and she equally did so.
I have related the two stories to present the futility of the DNA test enterprise. The man never wins. Various societies have come with unique solutions to the problem. The Ghanaians accept inheritance through the maternal blood line. This is because no one is sure a man’s children are his but they are sure his sister’s children are related to him. In Judaism, you can only access the faith through the maternal bloodline. In one of the cases decided in my village, the verdict of the elders was that the children belong to the one who paid the bride price. Not the one who did the deed. An Annang proverb says ‘ana nwan awo atibe idem ikpo, ebe anyene ayen’. I plead the indulgence of non Annang speakers not to translate that.
I believe that paternity is more than the biological act. A father is one who is present in the rearing of a child. That presence might be in many forms.
While we are quick to judge the women, I have learnt to examine the circumstances of any act. What happens when the man could not father a child? It is easy to say ‘wait on the Lord’ if you are a man or have children. Let no one get me wrong, I believe in miracles. However, the faith to obtain your miracle can be tested sorely in this matter. In Nigeria, the pressure on the woman is unbearable. She is the one who is seen as infertile. The mother inlaw would tell her, the son did not marry a male dog. Other inlaws would keep asking for their grandchildren. Others would say she aborted all her children. The Umunna would advise the man to take a second wife. In these psychologically traumatic circumstances, having a child, for the woman, becomes a survival issue.
My suspicion is that whenever there is a conflict between survival and morality, the former takes precedence. Having said this, there are those women who enjoy cheating. Since I do not know why they cheat, I will not cast any stone.
My advice to men is simple: if a child calls you father, have faith and answer yes. Do not forget the child is innocent of the mother’s sins.”