FOR THE LOVE OF MY SON A father’s custody battle

Charles Wachira, 37, is a single father but not by choice. He fought various court battles with his estranged wife to have custody of his son, Wilson Murimi. He acknowledges

  • PublishedJuly 10, 2011

Charles Wachira, 37, is a single father but not by choice. He fought various court battles with his estranged wife to have custody of his son, Wilson Murimi. He acknowledges that the painful parting with his wife affected him emotionally and psychologically, but draws solace from his child who gives him reason to live. His life’s mission is to bring up his son in the best way possible. Despite the challenges of being a single parent, he is doing just fine as he narrates to MWAURA MUIGANA.

 Charles Wachira and his young wife anxiously waited for the birth of their first child on the morning of April 4, 2003. This was after one year of living together. When the boy was finally born, it was discovered that he suffered from inflammation of the air cavities within the nose passages, what doctors referred to as sinusitis, and needed surgery to correct the condition. After the procedure was done, the doctors recommended that he stays under close supervision until he fully recovered. This made his mother stay at home to take care of him, a decision that didn’t go down well with her. She couldn’t wait for the baby to join baby class so she could go out and work.

To ensure his family was well provided for, Wachira worked overtime in his barbershop in Dandora to make more money. But despite fully providing for his wife and son, she felt confined to the house and this brought on disagreements. After about five years of playing housewife, she eventually got a job as a waitress in a hotel in Nairobi’s industrial area. Wachira didn’t see the point of his wife taking up the job. Against his advice, she walked out one morning in 2008, dropped their son in school and went ahead to start the new job.

Her job required her to leave the house early and return late in the evening so it became Wachira’s responsibility to prepare their son for school, drop and also pick him. This meant closing the salon early to pick the child, prepare his dinner and put him to bed. With time, this routine took its toll on his business, which started declining when clients would come and not find him.

Wachira’s problems with his wife started from this point. They had many disagreements relating to raising of their child. His wish was his wife to stop working and he starts a business for her with some money he was likely to get from a family revolving fund, but she was not interested. During the Christmas holiday of 2008, Wachira travelled to his home in Nyeri and returned home to find his wife had packed her bags and was preparing to leave. No amount of pleading would make her stay.

“She told me in the face she wanted a different life from what I was providing. She accused me of being a stumbling block to her happiness. I loved my wife dearly and didn’t want her to leave. I made promises to change and give her freedom to do whatever she wanted but she would hear none of it. I tried even snatching her bags from her to prevent her from leaving, but all this was wasted effort. She walked out on our son and me. I was devastated.

It was one dark night I will never forget. I thought it was a bad dream that would come to and end. I will never forget the sight of my son crying while holding onto his mother’s skirt begging her not to leave. Not even his tears would make her change her mind. I travelled to her parent’s home in Murang’a the following morning to seek their help in reconciling us. I found my wife already there on a different mission – seeking for help to remove household furniture from our house. In the presence of her mother and a village elder she declared our marriage dead. No amount of persuading from her mother to give the relationship a second chance would help. When asked about our son, she told her mother I was capable of bringing him up alone. The die was cast. My marriage was over.

At first I thought we would make up when she came to her senses. I didn’t give up and continued trying to woo her back. Eventually she cut me off and would not even pick my calls. I remained alive because of my son, whom I had to take care of single handedly. It was a very difficult time. I was emotionally drained. The psychological turmoil I was going through was too much for me to handle. Every minute alone in the house with my son looked like eternity. I longed for the days my wife and I shared a happy relationship.

There are many times I felt like a failure when I could not meet all my son’s demands. I felt helpless in such situations and feared my son may hate me for his mother’s absence. I can’t even begin to explain the hurt and pain I went through. But one thing I was determined not to do was fail my son. I tried as much as possible to meet his needs and be there for him. I would take him with me to work during weekends and holidays and while at home tried as much as possible to spend quality time with him.

While on the outside I appeared like I was coping, deep inside I was hurting badly. I couldn’t sleep well at night and during the day could not stop thinking about my wife. Sometimes I would find myself crying. I experienced terrifying dreams and at times thought I was hearing voices and seeing images of animals moving. I was losing my sanity. I lost my appetite and grew very thin. My family was concerned about me and wanted to help. It was one of my relatives who took me to a prayer meeting that really helped me get out of the hole I had dug myself into by refusing to accept the reality.

During the April 2009 school holidays I took my son to spend time with my parents in Nyeri and he really enjoyed his stay. He didn’t want to leave when I went to pick him up. We decided with my parents that it was best I leave the child there as the environment was conducive to a growing child. I enrolled him in a primary school near my parents’ home. The arrangement worked very well. My son was very happy and his health improved tremendously. He enjoyed the company of other children in the village and of course his grandparents dotted on him.

This arrangement helped me start the healing process. I would travel to my parents’ home often to visit my son and we were very happy together. I would pick him up during school holidays to spend time with me. Things were working so well until close to one year later when his mother reappeared and asked to take her son shopping. I was suspicious of her motives and agreed he could only go if I accompanied them. As if reading my mind she told me she had no intention of stealing him. She didn’t insist on going shopping with our son and left.  A week later, her brother approached me proposing to take care of our son. I refused telling him I was capable of caring for my son. I started sensing my wife and his family were up to something sinister.

I made a statement to the police and told them of my suspicions that my wife may be planning to take my son away from me.  I was advised to report the matter to the children’s department. I was referred to the Nairobi Children’s Court, where I was given temporary custody of our son after testifying and satisfying the court that I was capable of taking care of him and had done so for close to a year. I wanted permanent custody but was told this could not be done until my wife, who had an equal right, was heard and her intentions known. I was supposed to serve her with court summons to appear before the magistrate. I was unable to trace her to serve her. I took copies of the court orders to my mother and told her not to allow anyone take away my son. I lived in the fear that my wife or his relatives could appear at my parents’ home or at his school and take my son away.

The abduction…

My fears were confirmed when in September 2009, my wife abducted our son from my parent’s home. In great distress I desperately looked for him everywhere but the search was fruitless. I reported the matter to the police and also went back to the children’s court where I  was issued with fresh summons to serve my wife to appear in court but I didn’t know where to get her. Desperate to have my son back, I approached her brother to help me. He convened a meeting between the two families to discuss my son’s custody but it turned chaotic, with insults and accusations being hurled back and forth. I however seized the opportunity to serve my wife with the court summons.

She failed to appear in court and the magistrate issued a warrant of arrest if she failed to present our son in court in ten days. I was worried about my son’s safety and was missing him a great deal. He had become so much a part of me and my life had turned hell without him. Someone tipped me that my son was living in Maua in Meru with my wife’s sister. I informed the court and was given police escort to Meru where her sister became hostile and literally chased us away without allowing me to see my son. I returned to Nairobi a disappointed man.

Hunter becomes hunted…

As soon as I returned to Nairobi, I was served with summons to appear in court in Maua on February 24, 2010 for allegedly threatening my wife and her family. Through an affidavit, my wife sought permanent custody of our son and maintenance of Ksh. 25000 a month. She alleged in her plaint that there was no other case over the matter in any other court in Kenya. Little did my wife know I was going to fight tooth and nail to keep my son. I appeared in the children’s court in Nairobi as the magistrate had requested for the hearing of the case, but my wife failed to turn up.

I also appeared in the Maua court as summoned and found my wife had hired a lawyer to represent her. I felt I didn’t stand a chance in court without a lawyer but nevertheless prayed and asked God to be my lawyer. I couldn’t match her lawyer’ arguments but the magistrate ordered the case in the children’s court in Nairobi first be heard after I explained there was a pending case. The magistrate also intervened and I was allowed to see my son. I was overjoyed to see him, though his health didn’t look good at all.  I took a few pictures of him, hoping they would help me in my custody case.

The Maua court allowed me to have custody of my son during April 2010 holidays for two weeks while the case continued and hand him back to my wife’s sister. I was also allowed thereafter to be visiting him every Saturday from 9a.m. to 6p.m.  However, there was a rider, my wife’s lawyer wanted me to withdraw the case at the children’s court before the consent could be signed. I was desperate to have my son and while I had no intention of withdrawing the case, I went ahead and signed the consent.

I cried like a small child when I held my son in my arms as we prepared to travel to Nairobi. My wife’s sister later called me and told me I should not return my son to her because she had fallen out with her sister. When I appeared in the children’s court for the hearing of the case, my wife appeared and said she didn’t have a job, nor did she have a permanent abode so she was not in a position to take care of our son. The magistrate gave her two months to organise herself reminding her that the child needed both parents. She left the court crying and I have not seen her since. When she failed to appear in court at the next hearing, I was awarded full custody of my son. This was the happiest day of my life.

My son is today a happy, healthy and bright boy in class three in a private school in Dandora. We share a closeness envied by those who see us together. Though I regret my son growing up without a mother, I am happy to play the role of mother and father, though it is at times challenging. I hope the trauma my son has gone through with not leave an indelible mark on him as he grows up. I pray he will grow into a normal healthy and well-adjusted child.

My business collapsed as a result of spending so much time in courts fighting for my son’s custody but I have no regrets.”

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