Dad's Army

With my crack team of helpers, I'd do whatever it took to find Moustafa...

Published by: Jessica Bateman & Fiona Ford
Published on: 5th March 2010

Pulling into the driveway of the swish Yarmouth hotel, my imagination went into overdrive with thoughts of saucy shenanigans. My boyfriend Paul read my mind. ‘I’ve got work to do!’ he grinned.
Typical! He was a regional hotel manager, and was often asked to do last-minute cover.
Tonight we’d planned to enjoy a curry, but then Paul had got a call asking him to cover a manager who’d phoned in sick.
We’d only been together a few months. Although we were blissfully happy, I felt like there were three people in our relationship – me, Paul and his non-existent father!
He’d never met his dad, but knew his name was Moustafa Toati, who’d left Tunisia for Britain in the 1970s.
He’d worked as a waiter in his granddad’s restaurant and, according to Paul’s mum Lorraine, they’d fallen head over heels.
But then Moustafa had found a job at a hotel in Norwich.
When Lorraine discovered she was pregnant, she’d had no way of contacting her lost love.
She’d raised Paul alone, until she’d met and married John. They’d spoiled him with love.
But ever since he was 15, Paul had been desperate to find his dad – but all he had was a crumpled photo of Moustafa in his waiter’s uniform.
He’d put ads in the Norwich newspapers, contacted the Tunisian Embassy, and searched through the phone book – all without success.
As soon as I’d heard, my heart had gone out to Paul, and I’d immediately offered to help. Everywhere I went, I stared intently at men, wondering if they were Paul’s dad. It had got me into trouble a few times! Like now…
As a smart, middle-eastern head waiter took our coats, my eyes never left his. ‘Are you all right, Madam?’ he asked, breaking into my trance.
‘Er, fine,’ I replied. ‘Just something in my eye.’
‘You must be Benson,’ Paul said, changing the subject.
‘That’s right,’ he smiled. ‘I’m here to look after you.’
He did just that. Paul had an easy evening, while I enjoyed room service and a bath.
Relaxing in the bubbles, though, my mind started to wander.
Benson was middle-eastern…worked as a waiter…
‘Benson could be your dad!’ I cried, as Paul came in the room.
‘You’ve been in the bath too long,’ he laughed. ‘His name’s Benson, not Moustafa.’
Oh, yeah! Darn it!
Five years passed, and Paul proposed. By now, finding his dad had almost become an obsession. I wondered what would be the look on Paul’s face if I could find his dad in time for the wedding.
But on my own, I’d never be able to track him down. I needed help…
Gathering all my friends and family together, I briefed them.
‘I need all the information you can get,’ I said. ‘Ask people at checkouts, stop strangers in the street, get chatting to men on the bus!’
‘Blimey, being ordered about like this is like being in the army,’ joked one mate.
‘We are,’ I said. ‘We’re a dad’s army!’
But despite their best efforts, our dad’s army found nothing, and Moustafa wasn’t at our wedding.
Dad’s army rumbled on, but I felt like giving up, until one day, when we celebrated my parents’ wedding anniversary at the hotel where Benson worked.
‘Congratulations,’ he beamed, as he took my parents’ coats.
What a gentleman.
‘Funny to think I thought he might be your dad,’ I sniggered to Paul.
‘I doubt we’ll ever find him now,’ he sighed.
Looking at his long face, I realised we couldn’t give up.
‘Maybe we need to go back to the beginning,’ I wondered.
It’d been years since I’d searched the internet for him as I’d relied on my dad’s army instead. Maybe something new would come up.
Back home, we logged on and I tapped in Moustafa Toati.
Did you mean Moustafa Touati? it threw up.
‘I’ve never seen it spelled that way before,’ frowned Paul.
Clicking on the new spelling, hundreds of internet results popped up, and one caught our eye.
‘A marriage certificate,’ Paul gasped in surprise. The address listed a home town of Norwich.
‘It has to be him,’ I blurted, excitedly. ‘It’s not far, let’s drive round there right now.’
So we did. Knocking on the door, Paul explained who he was to the woman who answered.
‘Me and Moustafa split up years ago,’ she explained. ‘But here’s his work phone number.’
The moment we’d been waiting for was finally here!
Eagerly, I pulled out my mobile – but Paul shook his head.
‘I want to see him in person,’ he explained. ‘Let’s check out the number on the internet.’
Punching in the number, I was shocked to the core. The first entry was for the hotel where Benson worked.
‘It couldn’t be?’ I whispered.
‘I-I think we better drive over there,’ Paul stammered.
‘If it’s Benson, what are you going to say?’ I asked him.
‘I’ll know when I see him,’ he nodded.
Nervously, we walked into the hotel and immediately found Benson. ‘Hello…’ he started.
‘Did you know a Lorraine Davis?’ Paul blurted out.
A faraway look flickered across Benson’s eyes. ‘Yes,’ he smiled.
‘A lovely lady.’
‘She’s… she’s my mum,’ Paul replied, hesitantly. ‘Which makes you my… dad.’
Benson stood open-mouthed.
‘I never knew,’ he whispered, falling on to Paul, hugging him.
The three of us burst into tears.
We’d known Benson for 10 years. Over the next six months, we saw him every week. He told us he got the nickname from a character in a US 70s sitcom. He was the spitting image of the actor, and the name had stuck.
It turned out Paul had a half-brother Adam, 18, and a huge family back in Tunisia.
‘When I’m dead, I want to go back to Tunisia,’ Benson smiled.
‘That won’t be for a long time yet, Dad,’ Paul said, gently.
Sadly, it was sooner than we realised.
Just months later, Benson revealed he had lung cancer. The years of working in restaurants filled with smokers had taken its toll.
‘I haven’t got long,’ he told us. ‘But I’m so glad you found me.’
‘It must have been fate,’ sobbed Paul. ‘If it had happened a little later, I may never have known you.’
Moustafa died in January, and Paul honoured his dad by ensuring he received the funeral he’d wanted in Tunisia. As for us, we’re just happy he found his dad in time.
Donna Davis, 45, Norwich, Norfolk