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Family, culture and connection – Sonja shares her story

Written on September 1, 2020

One of our Young Consultants and Influencing Committee members Sonja recently shared with us her experience of reconnecting with her dad. Through making contact with her father, Sonja was able to also reconnect and understand more about her Aboriginal heritage, find her mob, and was able to connect with a whole extended family she never even knew existed. We want to say thank you to Sonja for sharing her story!

Last month I found my dad – a thing I never thought was going to be possible. Growing up in care, I had the opportunity to have a relationship with my biological mum till the age of seven, but the option to have a relationship with my dad wasn’t something that was spoken about. I once asked my social worker about having contact with my dad, but all they had was a name, and that he is Aboriginal. They sent out a letter to every person that had the same name but with no response.

When I was nine, DCP invited me to an Aboriginal culture event, and it was the first time I had ever experienced the culture I hadn’t been given the chance to explore – a culture that was a part of me. I still wasn’t sure that I was Aboriginal at this point because it wasn’t discussed.

On my 16th birthday, my social worker got me back in contact with my biological mum. From there it was phone contact every month for an hour. When I turned 18 they gave me her number, and from there we grew closer.

I always wondered about my dad – where he was, or if he knew about me.

I asked mum once whether he did know about me, and she said he did, but they were young and he wasn’t ready for kids, so they split. I also asked her if I was really Aboriginal. She said yes – but she didn’t know which mob my dad came from.

A few months ago, I was doing a course through my job provider, which was for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and we all started talking about which mobs we came from. I knew nothing, and it made me realise how much I was really missing out on. The person that was running the course pulled me aside one day and asked me what could she do to help me connect to my culture, or even find my dad so I could find my mob, which gave me the push to try and find who my dad was and where he was from. I ended up telling my mum about it, and she said she’d do everything she could to help me.

My mum contacted everyone she thought would have an idea of where he was. Within a week, she messaged me saying to call her. I remember the exact moment she told me she had found my dad – I cried. I don’t think I realised how much I actually wanted him to be in my life until that moment. After my mum gave me his number and sent a photo of him I decided to message him saying “Hi is this Michael*? My name’s Sonja Brown. I think you knew my mum, Leanne* . I think you’re my dad”.

I don’t think I had ever been more nervous in my life after I sent that message. I sat there for 15 minutes panicking thinking that it was the worst idea to message. Thinking he probably has a family and here I am, intruding into his life, but five minutes later he messaged me back saying -“Hi Sonja. This is  Michael*. Yes, I believe I’m your dad”. I felt nothing but relief.

He was so accepting of me. He asked where I’ve been and what I had been doing with my life. I told him I was put into care at five because mum struggled with mental health. He didn’t know this happened and so was shocked. I told him that I use my experience to help future children and young people in care because it’s what I’m passionate about. He told me about his life and what he does.

He told me I have a brother, 11 and a sister, 21 with a niece or nephew on the way. I found out my mob and where they are. I have family all across Australia I have cousins in Adelaide who want to meet me and I’ve been invited to the family reunion when that happens. To go from just having my chosen family and my mum to this massive family that is so accepting just blew my mind. If I’d had the chance to find out who my dad was when I was younger, I wouldn’t have missed out on so much like seeing my siblings grow up, but I’m greatly appreciative that I’ve still gotten to have to contact with them even if it’s been just over a month.

I never thought I’d have contact with my dad’s side of the family or even my dad, it’s crazy how fast things can change, but I’m glad I opened myself up to it because now I feel whole.

*Names have been changed

If reading Sonja’s story has brought up any emotions for you and you’re looking for someone to talk to, Lifeline is available 24/7 for help and support.

You can call them on 13 11 14, text on 0477 131 114 or chat online at www.lifeline.org.au