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PART 1 of 7: Here is Paula's story.
I watched my husband, Les, open the letter and turn ghostly pale. "Another bill?" I asked. Les grunted, and scrunched the paper up before storming outside, letting the fly screen bang shut behind him.
In the courtyard, I found him plonked beside our collection of garden gnomes. "What's wrong, luv?" I soothed, hoping he'd open up. Instead, he sat brooding with a face like a fart for a good 10 minutes.
"I refuse to believe I'm his bloody father," he said finally. What was he talking about? Les and I had been married for 20 years and had two teenage girls, Tanya and Michelle, who he doted on.
Money was tight as he'd recently had his hours at the factory cut back to part-time, but there was plenty of love in our house. After some gentle coaxing, he explained how a letter had arrived out of the blue from a 21-year-old man named Dylan, who claimed he was Les's son.
"His mother Rhonda's nothing but a cheap tart," Les scoffed. "There was nothing between us."
His prickly defence made me suspicious that Les wasn't really telling the truth. Thinking back, I remembered how scathing he'd been whenever the name Rhonda had come up - like it brought back bad memories for him. Later that night, Les even showed me the letter, which pulled at my heart.
Dad, I've been wanting to contact you for so long Dylan wrote. Please let me be a part of your life. When Les was sleeping, I crept out into the living room to search for Dylan on Facebook. His unusual surname meant he was the first result to be displayed. Seeing the profile picture of the sun-tanned young bloke holding a surfboard, my stomach dropped. He was a dead-ringer for Les.
Dylan's account seemed to be public, so I scrolled through his posts. The poor bugger was obviously doing it tough: he'd written a rant about how his boss hadn't paid him and he'd been kicked out of his apartment for skipping the rent. In another post, he mentioned getting dumped by his cheating girlfriend, who he'd lent $1000 (about R14 000).
I have to do something, I thought, realising that this was a lost young man who'd likely been denied a proper childhood. Before I could chicken out, I wrote him a private message. My husband needs time to welcome you into our lives, I typed, but we'd like to help you out financially in the meantime.
Les and I shared the same Facebook account, but he struggled just to send a text, let alone checking social media so I knew he'd never see the message.
That night, I tossed and turned wondering if I was doing the right thing. We hadn't even been able to afford for Tanya and Michelle to go on their school excursions this year-we didn't have money to burn.
But if Dylan was Les's son, which I was certain he was, then I felt partly responsible for him. After all these years not knowing about Dylan, we had to do the right thing. Next morning, I received a reply from Dylan pouring his heart out to me. He was in a deep depression and wanted to see a counsellor, but couldn't afford it.
His mother, Rhonda, had turned her back on him. I had Dylan's address from the letter so I withdrew $100 (about R1400) and posted it to him. Since then, the two of us have stayed in contact and even spoke on the phone a couple of times.
The money I send him each month is a lifeline-even though there are times I've had to go without. I've tried to get Les to talk about his son, but he refuses. So for now, the money is my little secret, but I'll keep doing it as long as I can. After all, poor Dylan has no-one else.
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SOURCES: CEN/MAGAZINE FEATURES
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