When she was about four years old, Ani* was visiting a friend's house. While in the living room she saw he a family portrait and asked her friend, "Where does your other father live?" Thinking it an odd question from the girl, her friend's house maid later asked Ani's maid. "What did Ani mean by that question?"
After that incident, Ani's mother told her not to talk about their family to anyone, "Not every family is like ours, so don't bring it up."
This is when Ani realized that her family was not like most others. Ani has one father she calls Bapak and another she calls Papi. Ani was born out of her mother's relationship with Papi, but she considers Bapak her father as well. "Growing up, I was moving around a lot. During my time in Indonesia, I lived with Bapak, but on the weekends I would stay with Papi."
Ani was raised in a polyandrous family, that means that Ani's mother had two husbands. Ani grew up with two fathers.
She was told not to mention her family to friends in school due to the possible backlash against their unorthodox familial arrangement. Even her mother's extended family was not aware of the truth. Her fathers' parents didn't know that both men were married to the same woman.
Often it was hard for Ani to keep her family a secret. "Sometimes I just blurted it out. My cousin is my best friend, so there were times when I innocently said I had a Papi, or my Papi lives here". To her surprise, Ani's cousin and aunt weren't shocked to hear about it, but she knew most of her friends wouldn't accept her lifestyle, so she kept her family's secret buried for years.
"Growing up, Bapak and Papi were completely different. There were times when I wanted to tell my friends about Bapak, but I didn't even know where to begin, so I would just say he's my uncle."
The polyandry dynamic in her family eventually changed. Bapak and Ani's mother got a divorce when Ani was a teenager. Since then, Ani felt more free to talk about her unique unbringing to friends. Because they work in the same industry, Ani and Bapak keep in touch through related social circles. "Since you broke up with mom, I can tell everyone about our family [laughs]. I don't care," she remembers jokingly telling Bapak.
"People tend to cheat in monogamous relationships. Humans are not made to be monogamous, it's not part of our nature."
Polyandry in Indonesia is extremely uncommon and taboo, most relationships and families are rooted in monogamy to the opposite sex. Having two fathers to care for and maintain a relationship with was often a burden for Ani. When she was a young girl, Ani's family worked out a visiting schedule.
"As a child, I moved around a lot. While I was in Indonesia I lived with Bapak, but I would stay with Papi on the weekends." The situation became complicated when Papi got a job abroad working in the oil industry. Since both dads wanted to spend time with Ani, all three parents came together to strike an accord.
"I was allowed to live abroad with Papi under one condition. Bapak said to me 'You can live abroad with him, but when you turn 13, you have to come back to Indonesia to live with me.' I went to live abroad when I was 6."
Ani's mother always believed that their polyamory family can survive, even with the social stigma that followed them. When she began dating Bapak, Ani's mother told him right away that she would never commit herself to one man. "I'm not only dating you, there are other guys." said Ani, mimicking her mother's voice. There was no drama, "Bapak and Papi had a good relationship. They were friends, but to make it work, they had to have an understanding with my mother," added Ani.
Papi was a Christian Chinese-Indonesian while Ani's mother was a Muslim. Due to the difference in their religions their wedding was not approved by their parents, so they ended up living together in secret. In Indonesia, not only do parents have to approve of a marriage for it to go through, but there is a law against people of different religions marrying each other, usually one person must convert in order to legally marry.
Not long after, Ani's mother arranged to marry Bapak. Her relationship with Papi was strained and about to end, but all of a sudden Bapak and Ani's mother had a huge fight. Ani's mother decided then that she would elope with Papi. Years later, Ani's mother and Bapak made up and married as well, which lead to her mother having two husbands.
"I don't know the technical details, but they said they had proper marriage certificates. One certificate declares them to be Catholics and another one says they are Muslims. Maybe it was possible back then, that's what I was told."
Ani claimed the main difference between her family and a monogamous one is that discussion always takes place before the family decides to do anything. Harmony was the key word that her mom emphasized since she was little. Every family decision had to involve her mother and both fathers.
One of the rules that helped maintain harmony was when one of her dads were away from the family, they were allowed to date other people as long as they talked about. If anyone in the relationship fell in love with someone from outside, they would let the others know right away. No one was supposed hear it from somebody else, communication and honesty were the key elements.
"If someone wanted a divorce, then it should be done on good terms. When Bapak moved abroad, he started dating another woman, but he was open about it. However, Papi has always just been with my mom," added Ani.
Her mother allows her to practice polyamory if she wishes to do so. Ani feels like her Mom is the most open-minded woman she has ever met. "Since I was young, she would always tell me, 'When it comes to dating, feel free to date more than one person at the same time. It's good because you have more options. Once you're in relationships with people, you can decide which one(s) are the best for you.'"
Like most parents, Ani's mother applied a different set of rules to her than she did to herself. Her mother was very adamant about Ani finding a partner of the same religion. This view baffles Ani, she says it's the one thing that she refuses to follow. "Mom married a Christian, why should I marry a Muslim? I don't want to. Don't tell me what to do like that [laughs]."
However, there's one thing that Ani believes that still rings true from growing up in such a family dynamic, polyandry was never a drawback. Her mom, Bapak, and Papi were all very happy.
Ani feels that her mom's decision to marry two guys played a huge role in her family's harmony. She's not sure if her family would've survived without two fathers.
"In my opinion, people tend to cheat in monogamous relationships. Humans are not made to be monogamous, it's not part of our nature."
*Name has been changed