FOR Tamara Hibbs, growing up in the 70s and 80s in a white family among white communities in Baltimore and Kentucky had always been a slightly alienating experience.
She didn’t quite fit, and from her earliest memories she was always subtly aware of it.
Her hair and skin were noticeably darker than anyone else in her family, and she tried to explain it away by talking of the native American roots of the man she had always assumed was her father.
But no one else in the entirety of his extended family looked anything like Tamara. And the names and insinuations followed – often from the people who were supposed to care for her most.
And other little hints abounded. During routine check-ups, doctors and dentists would idly enquire if she was from the Indian subcontinent, as she had pigmentation indicative of people from that region.
It was not until Tamara entered her fifties that her mother Barbara, suffering with Alzheimer’s in the last days of her life, let slip the unbearable truth.
Tamara recounted to the Olive Press: “She looked at me and she goes: How’s your dad? Have you talked to your dad lately?”
“Oh mom,” I said. “He died a long time ago. Like a long, long time ago.”
“She goes: Oh no, I’m not talking about him, I’m talking about your biological father.”
“I said: What are you talking about?
“She said: Your biological father. He’s from another country. He came over on a ship. I want to know if you’ve talked to him.”
Barbara later tried to retract and dismiss the comment; to walk it back as a figment of her daughter’s imagination.
But the genie was out of the bottle.
Thus began an Agatha Christie-style mystery to track down Tamara’s biological father that would take her – metaphorically – across the world and back again, before landing in – of all places – Fuengirola, a small Spanish town near Malaga.
He was a man she had always known had existed deep down. A married man who had had an affair with Tamara’s mother when she was 19 and got her pregnant.
But she had never understood how this man could have abandoned her to be a misfit all her life, and deny her the family and heritage that was literally her birthright.
Immediately Tamara set about doing a DNA test. It matched her with people from India and Pakistan – countries and cultures totally foreign to her.
Remarkably, it brought up a living relative in the US: a pre-medical student from Pakistan.
She contacted this young man and told him she was searching for her biological father.
But from his age it was clear that Tamara needed to speak with his parents, who it turned out were happy to take DNA tests themselves.
The mother tested and was not a match. But the student’s father was a match – on his father’s side.
But the match was perplexing, as this man was only a half match; a half first cousin once removed.
Something wasn’t right. But Tamara knew she was on the right track – and closer to tracking down her biological father.
She knew he was a Pakistani man who had come over to the US in the 1960s, studied and practised medicine, and then left the country some time in the 1980s.
To crack open the case, Tamara took her story to a genealogist who analysed the data.
She went back to Tamara and asked her to check if the pre-med student’s grandfather had had a second wife.
And it turned out that yes, Tamara was a descendant of this man and his second wife.
Of that union, only two sons ever came from Pakistan to the US – and one of them must have been Tamara’s father.
Before long, Tamara found herself in a Whatsapp group with one of these two men, the man’s son, and the genealogist.
It could have been that she was talking to her brother and her father.
Over the course of a two-hour conversation, Tamara quizzed this man, swapping life stories, filling in blanks and tending to wounds that had never healed over.
They determined that in 1969, the year Tamara was born, he had been living in Germany.
He was not her father – he was her uncle. Still, she was closer than ever to finding her father.
Her uncle gave her one cruel warning: “Yours is a really sad story.
“But until your father acknowledges and accepts you, which is something that isn’t really in our culture, I can’t either.”
Tamara learned that her biological father, a successful eye doctor, had been married with three children when he had had the affair with Barbara, Tamara’s mother.
And then he left them too.
“He left them because he didn’t care,” her uncle said. “He cared about his work, he didn’t care about them.
“He didn’t care when he was young and he’s not going to care when he’s old.
“I’m sorry, but he’s not going to open Pandora’s Box.”
And then Tamara’s long lost blood uncle closed the door on her too. “I doubt there’s any reality to your story anyway. I’m sorry.”
By this time, Tamara had tracked down a number of relatives on her father’s side, and despite a reluctance to acknowledge or deal with an illegitimate family member, she found one Good Samaritan.
One relative who was rooting for her, to get her recognition and get her justice from the man who fathered and abandoned her, despite the shame it would bring on the family.
This person gave Tamara the names and telephone numbers of her father and his wife.
They were living across the Atlantic Ocean on Spain’s Costa del Sol, just 25km from Malaga.
“I hope your father accepts you, because that would be the right thing to do,” the Good Samaritan said.
But this person warned Tamara: the wife and her ‘typical Pakistani mentality’ would not be receptive to her existence.
And it turned out to be so. When Tamara sent a Whatsapp message to the wife explaining who she was, she was blocked immediately without even a response.
When Tamara contacted again from a different number, she received the frostiest and most hostile response she could have imagined.
“He has no recollection of your mother; he is old and forgetful,” the wife wrote.
“He has no desire to speak to you nor meet you, and you cannot force him to.”
Tamara cried after she read the message. It seemed like her search had come to a cold and unloving deadend, as heartless as the 50 years of denial she had lived through all her life.
It was at this darkest moment that Tamara decided she would not be denied again.
She contacted an attorney to discuss legal options to force her father to recognise her.
But, despite all the contacts she had made with his extended family in Pakistan, and the DNA matches she had made with cousins and distant relatives, she did not have the direct match she needed to convince a court to compel him to take a paternity test.
It was then, through providence as much as from grit and determination, that Tamara tracked down her half-sister – the daughter that her father abandoned when he left America.
Tamara’s sister believed their father was dead and it came as quite a shock to learn that he was alive and well, retired in Spain to a wife 30 years his junior.
It was painful news too, because her mother – the woman who could’ve been Tamara’s step-mother – had died after a life of penury trying to raise three children on her own. Believing that she had to do it on her own because the man who should have been shouldering the burden with her had died.
A DNA test confirmed that this was indeed Tamara’s half-sister and that her father was Tamara’s father.
The next step was to hire a private investigator to find her biological father’s address in Spain – a task easily done.
She found out his address in Fuengirola on November 16 and he was served on November 24.
However, the retired doctor has so far dodged the court summons, with his lawyers claiming he was ‘in hospital’ and dismissing the evidence against him as ‘insufficient’.
But he has, at least, now acknowledged the authority of the court and a date for a hearing is currently pending in Fuengirola Court.
Tamara is carrying out a paternity investigation and demanding a DNA test from her father, with his consent or without it.
And then what? When this old and forgetful man, who had an affair and got a 19 year-old girl pregnant and abandoned her and who even left behind his own legal family to start a new life with a much younger woman, is legally declared her father? What then?
“The first thing I would ask him is: how dare you?”
“I feel like I have a right to know 100% who my biological father is – not because I would be proud to have him as father, let’s just get that clear.
And then there’s another reason. A deeper reason even than having a court legally forcing the man to recognise the daughter he had always denied.
“I used to always take care of my mother or her matters on her behalf. So I look at this as my last word of business in regards to my mother.”