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How can any parent choose between their children?

TOUGH LOVE: Conjoined twins Marieme and Ndeye are fighting to stay alive – and their parents must make an incredibly difficult decision on their future (photo: BBC News)

WHO WOULD put themselves in the place of this man? Ibrahima Ndiaye is the devoted father of a set of twins. Marieme and Ndeye are two years and eight months old, and they are a blessing, as the old African saying goes: “One child is a blessing, but two... oh, well, your cup of blessings runneth over.”

But what if one of your blessings must die so that one of them can live? You see, Marieme and Ndeye aren’t just any set of twins. They are conjoined. Conjoined to such an extent that only one can survive the surgery of separation. The other has to die.

But which one? Will it be Marieme, the quiet one with a sweet tooth? Or will it be Ndeye, the live wire with a pitch-perfect voice?

It’s a choice that no father should have to make, let alone any mother.

Yet Ibrahima Ndiaye cannot get out of this choice between life and death. It’s a choice that won’t go away. It’s a choice he has to make. It’s a choice the mother of the twins cannot make.

And no man can leave it to the doctors or any other outside agency to make the choice for him. Such a cruel world when the vast majority of us are so blessed to not ever have to make such a choice. Ibrahima must look around him every day and wonder: “Why me, Lord? Why me?”

DELIBERATION

Having said that, none of us can really imagine what he has to go through and what is in his mind. None of us can begin to imagine his deliberation. Where on earth do you even begin to deliberate? How can any parent choose between their children?

And yet, some of us, if not many of us, do so every day. Oh, not to the extent that this gentleman has to make a choice. Our options are not necessarily life and death, although, who knows, they can end up being that. The choices we make are social or maybe even cultural or just, simply, selfish. We can choose between our children or choose not to choose between our children.

I remember my father telling me once, when I suggested that he preferred one of my brothers over the rest of us. I remember distinctly, the look of a wounded man on his face as he responded that: “When you have children of your own, you tell me then whether it is possible for any father to parent preferentially one of his children over another.” It wasn’t until I became a father that I totally got it. I understood.

When my elder daughter was born I never thought I could love anyone as much as I loved her. Not even her mother. But then when my younger daughter was born I realised that I loved this younger child as much as I loved the older one. I could not choose between them. And I still cannot. Even if someone held a gun to my head, I cannot choose.

And yet, like I said, I know people who choose every day between one child and another, and every night they choose between one child and another.

Those people will look you in the eye and tell you straight that they could not choose between one child and another, and yet, they cannot be in two places at once so they live with one child and they visit the other child when the time and arrangement permits. I’m talking of course about baby fathers. Any man who cannot spend the day/night with all his children is a baby father.

I know what you’re thinking, this is not the same thing as poor Ibrahima has to go through. Fair enough. My argument is not that it is the same thing. My argument is that many people who say they could not and would not choose between their children do so nevertheless, and in doing so, disrespect and belittle the kind of desperate choice that parents like Ibrahima Ndiaye have to make. Some of us parents, it seems, take our blessings for granted.

I cannot imagine not treating all my children exactly the same. And you cannot treat all your children the same if they do not have equal access to you. You can blame it on the children’s mothers as much as you like, but, at the end of the day, the result is the same. If you are a father with ‘baby mothers’, the likelihood is that you have had to choose one child over the other and the child whose mother you choose to be with is less likely to have a beef about an absent father – unlike the other children.

The choice that Ibrahima makes will haunt him for the rest of his life. There is not a day in his life that he will not bear the burden of his choice. But his choice is not of his doing. You could argue that he does not even have a choice – that it is God’s choice, if you want to get technical and religious about it. But the choices we ordinarily make when we bring children into this world are our choices. The choice that you make over your children may not haunt you for the rest of your life, you may not even spend much time considering it, but there are unforetold consequences as a result. The child you neglect, for example, has choices too.

They can choose to reject you, as the disgraced former lawyer Constance Briscoe did when she described her mother to me as being simply “the vessel” that brought her into this world.

Her mother may have had the last laugh when her daughter was sentenced to a jail term for perverting the course of justice, but the rejection by her daughter, as illustrated in her daughter’s memoirs, was devastating. Particularly when it was so publicly displayed.

NEGLECT

Because Briscoe’s vitriol was predicated on the claim that the mother chose between her children.

That the mother chose to neglect her. Her mother denies this most vehemently, as any mother would.

Never mind the father, how can a mother choose between two children? Is that even possible? Surely Ibrahima’s choice is one that a mother could never make.

And so it is for mothers all over. Ultimately a father can choose between one child and another, perhaps because men are not “the vessel” through which children enter the world. I have come across no more than a handful of women in my life who could make such a choice.

Hence women continue to embrace all their children equally, even when they cannot stand their child’s father.

My prayers go out to Ibrahima. As for your choice between your children, that’s your lookout.

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