«Tu n’épouseras pas une blanche. Amènes-nous seulement l’enfant.»
And so it was decided, after she had become pregnant, but before I was born, that my father would not marry my pregnant mother, nor repatriate to Cameroon with her once he completed his Masters work – not with his mother’s blessing, anyway.
Were she a Cameroonian, or even an African, my mother would have been welcome. But she had been born and raised in Barbados, making her as good as white: unwelcome and definitely a bad match for a young Bamiléké man with a promising future back home. I, on the other hand, was a Siyam. I belonged to my father, to his family, to his village. He was instructed to finish his studies and return home – with me, and only me, in tow.
It wasn’t to happen. Although she trusted my father and had been willing to move to Cameroon herself, my mother wouldn’t send me home with him. Africa was just too far away. She couldn’t imagine how and when she’d be able to see me again, and she knew it wouldn’t be nearly as soon nor as often as she’d want. If she couldn’t go, neither could I. She wished my father wouldn’t either, but he needed to.
He’d come to Canada only to pursue his engineering degree, but after his first glimpse of my pretty, eighteen-year-old mother at a campus party in 1972, he pursued her just as ardently. He ultimately won both, but forced to choose, he remained steadfast in his resolve not to add to Cameroon’s brain drain. Consequently, my father politely declined when his school, l’Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal, mentioned the possibility of a teaching position. He was far more excited at the prospects of helping to build his country and soaring to heights beyond the glass ceilings of the West.
Likewise, his six-year relationship with my mother notwithstanding, my father’s loyalty was to his family and his country, neither of which seemed ready or willing to accept her. So, just days after finishing his coursework, he left Canada, having asked that his degree be sent to him in Douala by mail. Although he pleaded with my mother, right up to the boarding gate, to let me go with him, she would not change her mind. As I looked on, my two-year old heart knew enough to be broken. “Daddy going home?” I began missing him that very day.
He visited me twice: once when I was six years old and, again, four years later. My mother, who had remained in Montreal, married a West Indian man that I grew to dislike and, eventually, to hate. From the beginning of their marriage, her husband abused her regularly and molested me once when I was eleven years old. Opportunity afforded by my mother’s forgiveness, my stepfather continued to subject us both to his evil for years afterward, and I grew to blame her equally, if not more than him, for my suffering. At fifteen, after years of running away and returning (or being returned by the authorities), I left home for good. I could no longer cope with being picked on, put down, and pushed aside. I had been completely alienated.
I ran to my high school sweetheart and found warmth, compassion, and protectiveness; Niles’ love was intoxicating. I promptly, and quite intentionally, got pregnant. Despite what our friends and family thought, it was no accident. I was in love and tired of being a runaway, and Niles would have given me anything I wanted. In my young mind, if I had a baby, I could love and be loved unconditionally, have a happy family. Shaquille was born during the Christmas break of my first year of college – I was sixteen. Although my relationship with Niles didn’t last long, I will always love him – he rescued me.
Three years later, I was still in college, following everyone’s dreams but mine in the pursuit of a medical career. (A pursuit I eventually dropped in favor of business management.) One weekend, when a friend invited me to a party and offered to send someone over to pick me up, I accepted. The driver, Justin, turned out to be a mutual friend that I hadn’t seen in several years, and we hit it off. His son, Kamar, was just a year younger than Shaquille, and they hit it off as well. After about four years together, we decided to have a third child. At twenty-four, I was finally, finally, part of a loving family.
Throughout my childhood, and more acutely as I grew into a young woman and mother, my questions for and about my father wouldn’t stop nagging, and my resentment towards him wouldn’t fade away. This guy my mother had married had not turned out to be the dad I’d wished for when I blew those candles out. I decided that my “real father,” for whatever the term was worth, would eventually have to answer for the botched order.