By Lasisi Olagunju
Everyone has a history; how you act and tell your story defines you. Ace comedian and celebrity, Helen Paul, trended wildly last week. Men and women with very difficult beginnings should seek out Helen Paul and learn from her how to manage life’s complexities and dankness. I listened to the comedian’s trending video, the entire 59 minutes, two seconds. It contains everything that sets people free from taunts of fate and challenges of life. She spoke candidly; she ‘cried’ and smiled; she talked about her teenage shortcut issues and about her school report card pranks. She even confessed to sins that people hire SANs to conceal. She was lucid and got applauded. Like romance novelist, Lori Forster, she bared it all. She shamed the world with details that would ordinarily be deemed shameful. She came across as a complete human being. She waltzed through her warty beginning into her glorious now. Helen displayed unbelievable openness; she celebrated every good thing and every bad thing in her past; she freed herself and floated into life’s waiting arms. I wish our husbands in high places allow Helen to teach them how to bathe clean and dry the sponge.
“I was born out of rape,” she announced, telling the tale of the abuse that birthed her and the consequences of her being born at all. She was born in downtown Lagos into nothing and landed in the midst of thorns. She toddled in rejection, wrestling society’s moral thistles. She was denied the privilege of having a name at birth – and even on the eighth day, no one thought of an identity for her beyond the fact that a girl was impregnated by a rapist and from that act came this unwanted baby girl. She said persons she knew as aunties called her a “bastard child”; they would not even agree to sharing the family name with her. Her forename, ‘Helen’ came much later by accident; the ‘Paul’ that serves as her surname was donated by a complete stranger at the point of her registration in primary school. She was, literally, a nobody.
Bastard is a stigma word; an exclusionary term. In English, it means an ‘illegitimate child.’ The French have a different spelling and pronunciation for the word; they have bâtard suggesting “a child conceived on an improvised bed.” A bastard to the creative German is a child begotten, not on a marriage bed, but on a bench. Helen Paul was labeled a bastard by almost everyone she grew up to know as family. That very bad word has an attached legal term; it is called bastardy. There was a time in England when bastards were, in law, deemed to have no parents, no relations and no ancestors. They were not even entitled to a surname “except such as they won for themselves by reputation, and they were heirs-at-law of no one” (George Stevenson, Bastardy, 2006). Helen Paul’s Nigerian experience was, therefore, in seamless synergy with an unpleasant page in England’s social-legal history.
Helen’s story was known to me years before now but not with the tone she rendered it in the latest video. No matter how many times it is told, the bastardy narration continues to provoke gasps. If you say your own is too much, the next page humbles you. Helen is not alone. In May this year (2023), The Washington Post reported a similar story of a child born into a void and who may also grow up nameless. “If life had started gentler for the baby girl who was born at a D.C. hospital on a Sunday in January…, she wouldn’t have been sent home without a name. But life did not start gently for her. Not at all.” The Washington Post reported that four months after her birth, “and for reasons that are heartbreaking, complicated and frustrating, she still doesn’t have a birth certificate.” The newspaper adds: “Court records show that her mother was struggling with mental illness and addiction during her pregnancy, told people she didn’t want the baby and left the hospital shortly after giving birth and before filling out important paperwork. They also show that despite repeated efforts by the woman who is now caring for the baby, the four-month-old remains without any official documents bearing a name. The child doesn’t have a birth certificate, and without that, she can’t obtain a social security card, receive benefits she is entitled to or qualify for Medicaid.”
Some people’s stories come that sad, strange and complicated. It does not mean that the baby won’t climb the hill of life successfully, even without a name – or with a borrowed name. Look around you, among kings and courtiers, there are many Helen Pauls lacking the balls to tell their stories. But they are products of grace. The Helen Paul story is a lesson on how grace turns liability to asset, hate to love. But she warns her audience: “Nobody loves you except you; if you don’t love yourself, how can others love you…?” She grew up in a neighborhood where everyone viewed her with disdain and disgust; a product of rape whose story may also not be different from her mother’s: “They said this one won’t get to the tap before she would fetch water…that she won’t finish school before she would carry belle…But I always insist that I would get to the tap, I would fetch water and leave the tap running for who else wants to fetch water.” With a University of Lagos PhD and more than one Masters degrees, plus work home and abroad, she has worked the tap and her bucket is full.
In the two stories above, there is no mention of the men who sowed the seeds. Men almost always melt away after the act; they leave the women to clean up and the products to suffer. The Helen Paul narrative has her maternal grandmother in most of the places where her father is supposed to be; the US story sounds sadder: Daycares turned their back at the blameless baby “because she doesn’t have a birth certificate.” But, sometimes when life makes you bald-headed, it compensates you with a beard. An alien lady is filling the void left by the nameless baby’s ‘father’ and her mother.
I don’t know how much of the equally complicated life story of Apple founder, Steve Jobs, is in our head. Job’s is another story of rejection, adoption and success. To super-rich Steve Jobs, his biological parents who put him up for adoption were no more than his “sperm and egg bank…a sperm bank thing, nothing more.” He eventually made up with his mum but never with the dad.
In competition with the Helen Paul story last week was the scandal of an Osun family. A man’s four children were found to have been fathered by other persons. The man is Kola, his wife is Toyin. Husband and wife were on radio trading blames and accusations and making confessions. In Yoruba land where I come from, it is a stigma to be born without a known father. It is even worse if the father is known but is not the husband of the child’s mother….
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER NOW
Support MATAZ ARISING’ journalism of integrity and credibility.
Good journalism ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
We ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
TEXT AD: To advertise here – Email email@example.com
MaTaZ ArIsInGTexas Insecurity: Buhari wasted trillions, Northern elders can criticize Tinubu – Shehu Sani The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has lamented that Nigerian president, Bola Tinubu’s words, deeds and body language have obviously proved that he is not interested in the security of Nigerians and Nigeria as a country. Prof Usman Yusuf, a NEF chieftain,…
By Bola BOLAWOLE MaTaZ ArIsInGTexas Nigeria, as I have often said, is a country of one scandal, one minute. Before you have settled down to digest one, another happens! So, you hurriedly sweep the previous one under the carpets to have enough room for the latest! Our carpets, thus, are bulging, threatening to burst any…
MaTaZ ArIsInGTexas The Ooni of Ife has described the report of him visiting the embattled Godwin Emefiele at Kuje prison, as a cheap blackmail Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, in a statement issued by his aide, said he was at the facility for an advocacy program The monarch noted that the program was an initiative of Queen…