Real Life

Real life: My mum revealed that my dad is not my biological father

Florence Faumuinā , 51, Wellington, NZ shares the secret that flipped her life on its head.

By As told to Take 5

Florence Faumuinā , 51, Wellington, NZ spills her family secret:

I was reading in my room when my mum, Utumalama, called out to me.
I found her sitting on the lounge with a photo album open on her lap.
Her cheeks were stained with tears.
"What's wrong?" I asked, rushing over to comfort her.
"I've got a secret to tell you, love," she said, sniffing. "The man you've always called your dad isn't your biological father."
My heart started racing. I was 18 and had four siblings.
Friends always joked that I looked like the odd one out.
Mum explained the man I'd thought was my dad had made her promise to never tell me I wasn't his, but since he'd walked out on us some years earlier, she felt she no longer needed to honour his wishes.
Taking a deep breath, Mum said that when she was 22, after she'd had my older sister Mireta, she'd been very unhappy in her marriage and began an affair with her sister-in-law's stepson.
He'd convinced her to bring Mireta and run away to the South Island with him.
"It was the happiest year of my life," Mum said sadly.
But then, her husband found her and lured her back to him, telling her she was bringing shame on her whole family.
By then, she was already pregnant with me and he made her promise she'd never tell me the truth or see my real father again.
Me as a baby with my parents and my big sister Mireta. (Image: Supplied)
"This is your real dad, Tofiga Vaeluaga," she said, handing me a photo.
It was like looking into a mirror.
My eyes and nose were exactly the same as his.
I had so many questions, but Mum clammed up and refused to answer them.
It was so confusing for me as young woman, I didn't know how I fit in with my family anymore.
It took 10 years for Mum, then 50, to start talking about Tofiga again.
"He was the most handsome, kind man I'd ever met," she told me.
When I was born, she'd asked Tofiga to stay away and he'd respected her wishes – until my first birthday when he called her, begging to see me.
Coming over to the house when her husband was at work, Tofiga told Mum he'd moved back to Wellington and was staying with some relatives.
It was the only time he'd ever see me. Two weeks later, he tragically died in a car accident.
Mum was forbidden from going to his funeral and no one would tell her where he'd been buried.
I wanted to find some of my real dad's family, so I went to the local library hoping to find a death notice which would include some of their names.
Browsing old newspapers, I only came across a front-page article about the accident.
I went to police to find out more but had to apply through the coroner's court to access the files.
When I finally got them, I found where Tofiga was buried and was shocked to discover he lay in an unmarked grave.
Mum was so distressed when I told her.
Mum with her girls. (Image: Supplied)
"Promise me, Flo, you'll put a headstone on his grave. Everyone deserves to have their life remembered," she begged.
I felt so conflicted. This might have been my father, but he was a complete stranger.
I was angry at Mum for keeping so many secrets from me.
Reading through the coroner's file, I discovered the name of a man who'd identified Tofiga's body the night he died.
His last name was the same as my old school friend Evadina.
Could this be a relative of hers? I wondered.
I called her and asked if she'd ever heard of Tofu Fuli.
"That's my dad," she said. "What's this about, Flo?"
I explained that her dad had identified the body of my real father 30 years earlier.
"You're Tofiga Vaeluaga's daughter?" she asked.
He was her father's cousin and had lived with them for a couple of months before he died.
I couldn't believe we'd always had this secret connection.
All those years, when I'd wondered who my relatives were, one of them had been a good friend all along.
We wept as I told her the story of Tofiga and Mum.
"He was a beautiful man. I was only five, but I remember him well. We all miss him very much," Evadina said.
I promised to give my dad a tombstone. (Image: Getty Images)
She invited me to lunch with members from her family and I was overjoyed at meeting them all.
Everyone spoke so warmly about Tofiga.
"He was a great bloke," one said. "Would give you the shirt off his back."
I discovered why he'd been buried in an unmarked grave.
Because his dad had been married to the sister of the man who'd raised me, they were deeply ashamed of the affair he'd had with Mum.
When Tofiga was buried, they wanted to bury the past with him, like he'd never existed.
My heart ached at the sadness of it all. But I was proud to be his daughter.
That night, I called Mum, who was living in Australia with Mireta.
"I'm going to put a tombstone on Tofiga's grave," I promised as she wept tears of relief.
Mum was too fragile to fly over for the ceremony but Mireta came.
She wanted to honour the man who'd raised her for a year.
It was incredible to see members of my family mix with Tofiga's.
Watching my three kids run around with their new cousins, I realised there was no shame anymore, just love.
Tofiga's gravestone was heart-shaped, with his photo and name inscribed on it.
After the service I stood over his resting place, with tears pricking my eyes. He'd been alone for so long and now he had his family back.
"I love you, Dad," I whispered to him.
Finally, we're both feeling at peace.

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