The Two Men: My Father and Grandfather.

My father was a pilot for Ethiopian Airline . 1968 approximately.

My birth mother and father went on to marry different people. He was already married when I was conceived.  I received this photograph of my father Giday Stefanos from his daughter when first I met her in 1995.  I was twenty nine.  He passed away in 1973.  The ring  is the exact same as the one Bob Marley wore. The watch is a Rolex 1968 . Marley is quoted at the beginning of   Rebel Without Applause  published by Bloodaxe Books in 1992. The moment when first I saw this photo was captured in the documentary below on BBC 2 in 1995.

Here is my father with The Emperor’s lion at Addis Airport.  I received this photograph from one of my uncles,  his brothers,  whom I met in 1999.  I travelled across America to meet them all. I met them in  Washington DC, Seattle, Raleigh, New York, New Jersey and Boston in 1998 (check) . You can see the tail of an Ethiopian Airlines airplane in the bottom left corner with the red yellow and green emblem. They left Ethiopia, like my mother,  at the time of the revolution in 1994 but for different reasons than her.

My father (wearing suit) with The Emperor’s lion at the top of Air-stairs 1969

Various members of my fathers siblings  worked for Ethiopian Airlines at a time when air travel was at its most chic. The time of  the Leonardo DiCaprio film  Catch Me If You Can. My father is   on he left in the dark suit andI think other  is Woldu, my uncle who has also passed.

This below  is my father  in Addis pre 1973. He liked to party.  I guess it is The Pilots Club.  .

And this  is my Grandfather. He was a great and principled man. He was an exporter and importer & friend of The Emperor: His name is Stefanos Enquo Selassie Tebletez Araya.  They all lived in Addis where my father was born. I found out this fact about my grandfather when I was thirty six years old.

Photographs  have become important in my journey. They confirm what was stolen. These are the men of my family.   They have passed now.  And I accept them and as much as is possible I love them.  Their faces are written in mine. Their are more men in my family. The uncles,   my fathers brothers,  They are strong. This is another photograph of my grandfather.I will leave the story here for now.  I think of these photographs as waiting for me to find them. That’s a bit egotistical of me.  They were not waiting for me. Thanks for reading.


28 thoughts on “The Two Men: My Father and Grandfather.

  1. I had been very interested in finding out more about your Ethiopian heritage and story ever since I read your book earlier this year – especially about your dad. Thanks for this eloquently narrated film and beautiful photos of your dad and His family.

  2. Fathers are important to us, even in their absence. The shape of you comes from them. The 1995 documentary is a beautiful testament to this, as is your acceptance by your father’s family, now yours. Thank you for sharing so such of yourself and your personal journey with us.

    PS I actually hate the “journey” usage but in your case it is the right word to use. Your strength of character shines through, in spite of everything the so called childcare system threw at you. I hope you can feel the love you inspire in others.

  3. I am reading « My Name is Why » and I am so touched by how delicate this beautiful book is. Are we historical beings? Our identification with memory seems impossible to escape. It is at once painful and warm, and …entertaining. Is identification ever « fair », just?

      • I thought that if my mum had been black, maybe I would have felt loved. I thought that if my dad had been less wounded by sexism, racism, culture, elitism, maybe he would have loved me longer. I thought that maybe if I hadn’t had my abortion age 20 and terrified but also age 20 and so happy deep inside…maybe I would have loved better. “The stone the builder refused” can indeed be “the head cornerstone” but then isn’t our house not built on thought rather than on reality? Does any human being actually feel loved? Can our identification with an “I” – who separates him/herself from what he/she calls “you” – ever feel other than the pain of separation? “Belonging” feels so good but it is paid at a high price for human beings: in order to stay in a group one can seldom be free and once a group is defined as “we”, it also defines what the group isn’t, which is “they”. I feel your pain, deeply, for reasons that aren’t yours and maybe they are. Ethiopia was my only home in this world – the only place where a work trips took me and I landed in the midst of people who finally all looked like me – they got upset that I did not know the language and thought I was being snobbish :). We are told our human ancestors came from Ethiopia – we all came from there.

        • The search for identity is unending. It is implicit in the term “search for identity. I was thirty two when I found all my family.
          I travelled all over the world to meet them face to face. They are good people. All of them. I wept on the way home from Boston after
          meeting the last one of my uncles. I ws their dead brothers son and they had never heard of me until then. He left me as a gift?
          I was a grown man who looked like him. That is just one glimpse of the complexity of finding family. I cried when I left because
          I realised the lesson was waiting for me to find the answer all along.

          • Our hearts are restless. So often we expect /want more than another is capable of giving. And sometimes Death w/ its finality takes from us the love & confirmation we so desperately seek. My poor beautiful son has been upended for the past 5 years w/grief from the loss of his father. At 25 years of age society wants to call him mentally ill. He is so disillusioned & lost & hurt & sad. He has expected more than what we family have to give. He sabotages his options on a regular basis – so he won’t lose anything else. -I think. Sorrow & light & life . My heart. My son.
            Thank you, Lemn, for your beautiful reflections. I believe in love too.

          • I don’t know if ….having listened and deeply heard all you went through and so generously shared with the world… I do not know if it is fair, not unkind of me to ask ….“why Lemn, do we need an identity at all?”. Please forgive me if you find the question too harsh to consider. If whatever defines us makes us dependent on that definition…fearing death, fearing that whatever we would like to identify us with disappears, fearing discovering what we didn’t think we were… feeling lonely when what defines our identity isn’t….If we find it difficult to love outside of what we identify with…. if identity has made us suffer…why do we hang on to it? And, more importantly, because we can only identify with… does identity exist at all? What we have identified with does. But what about us?

            • Identity is the myth that keeps on giving. It’s just an idea primarily constructed to control us. I agree with you.
              Furthermore the greatest lesson I have learned is to let go of the idea of identity all together.

  4. Hi LemnSissay,
    I enjoyed your documentary on bbc iPlayer this afternoon, what a role model you are for today’s youth, no matter where you come from or what upbringing you had, you can still be positive and try your best in life. Thank you

  5. I would agree that social identity is constructed and varies with different social situations. However, I also think that there is a deep identity which is individual and spiritual. In the ‘Imagine’ program, I think you hinted as much by your habit of facing nature each morning and letting the poetry come to you. That is a similar experience to mine as a composer. The ray of sunshine comes from being a child of the Great Spirit, which we all are, though not everyone recognizes it. In this sense we are all brothers and sisters. It is also an answer to the question ‘why?’ You were born to transmit the ray of sunshine. So were we all, but you certainly do.
    Thank you. John

    • Hello John, are you saying we are relationship with the unknown in ways that we ourselves discover if not afraid to do so? …”channelling something bigger than me that proved I wasn’t alone” (My Name is Why). If this is so, why have we created the notion of an “I” (to which we identify) – something defined by memories and projections, by memories/expectations of relationships based on outcomes of pleasure and pain? Why have we identified ourselves with something that gives itself a life outside of present relationship and craves relationships based on expected outcomes? An idea of safety? What Matalie wrote on the 26 about her son is heartbreaking and maybe relates to this?

      • Hello Fatou, it’s good to hear from you. I think I would sign up to that statement about the relationship with the unknown. It’s certainly my experience when I write music. We are part of the whole, but not the whole, therefore we are individuals. But that is quite different from the socially constructed ‘I’. You and I are complementary parts of the greater whole and we can all learn from each other, is what I think. So very best wishes to you in your life.

        • “We are part of the whole, but not the whole”…where/what is the divisive line? Is part of a strawberry a strawberry? Without the part the “whole minus part” isn’t whole anymore. We definitely “feel” as being a part…and I wonder if the conditioning to “having” an identity and of “being” what we identify ourselves with isn’t responsible for this feeling of separateness. Rejection is very often the result of non-identification it seems to me.

          • Our existence is a mystery. Scientists have discovered that every physical thing, our bodies and strawberries included, is composed of similar components, but what lies behind them is beyond our understanding ultimately. However, I think we are made to love and be loved and I’m sorry for any rejection.

  6. Dear Lemn,
    I read your book ‘My name is why’. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your experiences and the heartbreaking memories and evidence from your past. Your story reflects parts of my own past – we even share the same birthday! The strange life of growing up black and being surrounded by white and not really understanding why things are as they are – but they are!. I think the poetry you wove into each chapter helps to paint the picture of your life and is stunning. Your book is beautiful and a treasure that I am lucky to have found.

  7. I’ve just watched your programme on iPlayer & found it so insightful as a 70s mixed race adoptee. The ‘chalky white’ & ‘baby farm’ stuff particularly resonated. Love the pictures of your father & his family. I would love to know something of my father & wonder how easy it was to find your fathers family? I see you found out much of the information in your 30s so I think you looked for a long time.

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