Lately, I’ve been wondering if there is a piece of me that’s eternally missing. I wonder if I’ll ever find it. My extended family; who are they? My cousins and I have been discussing the prospects of planning a family reunion but the one problem we face is finding each other. You see, like many other Jamaican families, we suffer from the “absent grandfather” syndrome. Our grandfather of 14 children left for England in the early sixties, never to return. It is said that he fathered children in England too but we really cannot be sure. The link that binds us to those people related to him can really never be uncovered, since it is rumored that he has passed on. So will we ever truly find the missing family members? Or will the sins of the fathers visit us on the day of our family reunion? A great plague is upon Jamaican children. Who and where are their fathers?
As I was searching for statistics to support the number of children that grow up fatherless in Jamaican society, I came across and article by one Omar Tomlinson and I was intrigued. You see, he bears my family name and it’s just ironic that as I write about the family, I can’t help but wonder if he, too, is a long lost cousin that we have yet to connect with. This fueled my desire to continue the search for the missing link.
A Gleaner article written by Kevin O. Chang asserts that fifty percent of children born in Jamaica are born to unregistered fathers and eighty-five percent are born to unmarried mothers. The effect of this bitter truth is sometimes harrowing. This makes family reunions damn near impossible.
Consider my cousins I just met, who lived for years without a clue of who their father was: Living a pseudo identity with the wrong last name for half their lives because their fathers, my uncles, were not present to sign their birth papers. Now we can make many arguments for why the fathers were not present (often times the fathers of these “illegitimate” children are already married or shacked up and cannot afford to lose their “story book families”) and we can give pity statements to the children but fundamentally, our society has a problem when more than half our children are and continue to be born to men that will not claim them. And we wonder why Jamaican children in schools today are so angry and why it can no longer take a “village” to raise them. Where are their fathers? This makes planning family reunions absolutely difficult.
You see, in a culture where being a “gallis” is a well-respected and popular thing, it is hard for men, who were probably themselves fatherless, to see the significance of upholding their duties as fathers. Nobody considers the effects of randomly sowing his royal oats; a man’s main concern is to “have nuff gyal and gyal inna bungle” not considering how he will feed or clothe the kids he created over in Rema and Jungle. He doesn’t consider the family member who will painstakingly try to plan a family reunion and then realize that the pieces of the puzzle are too large to put together.
At thirty-three, some of my cousins are just finding out that they have cousins. Raised as an only child, my cousin played, worked, learned, and grew up alone. He might have wondered what it was like to have cousins in school, at home, and at church. He might have looked in the mirror many days and wondered if his father’s image resembled the growing one in the reflection. He was unknowingly excluded from family functions. He never knew of the cousins that looked like him and the ones with children that bore the same names as his own children. He never knew. In fact, he didn’t even know his last name. And there are many other children like him in Jamaican society; those whose family members are mere figments of their imagination.
My own brother never knew his father until he was thirteen. He always wondered what having an older sister would be like; one with whom he could share his concerns about puberty and women and education and simply, life. And a family reunion would not involve him because he, like the other fifty percent of children was considered a ghost, a well-known secret, or not considered at all until one day someone becomes interested in planning a family reunion.
It is then we all realize that the missing pieces are too many to find and we come across articles written by people with our family name and we wonder if that’s one cousin whose life we have missed out on and we question whether there will ever be enough time to catch up if we should ever find them. So we urge our fathers, the priests of the household, the breadwinners and love givers to take a moment to reflect on the children they have fathered who are probably out there hurting, wondering and wandering; trying to find the right puzzle to fit the piece of them that they have never known. Then we urge you to connect with the mothers of these children to offer to them what it probably is too late to give: A name that is worth signing and an extended family that is worth knowing and the opportunity to attend a true Jamaican family reunion.