From today's Evening Herald
THE greatest accident of birth is that none of us get to choose our parents. Like it or lump it, they are who they are. Some parents love and cherish their offspring; some never take responsibility for them at all. If you're lucky, your folks might muddle along somewhere in the middle.
Then there are the exceptional parents. Those whose children turn out to have extra challenges beyond the basic trauma of being born and having to get to grips with the world. Parents like Angie and Azzedine Benhaffaf from Cork who are proud mum and dad to conjoined twins Hassan and Hussein.
Tiny babies are vulnerable on every level. The Benhaffaf boys have had a bigger battle than most. When their conjoined status was first spotted in the womb, it wasn't expected that they could survive. Now they are three months old and thriving, in part thanks to superb medical care, but also very clearly as a result of their amazing parents.
There hasn't been a set of conjoined twins born to Irish parents in five years. The level of interest in their extraordinary story was always going to be high. Angie and Azzedine -- on top of coping with the very specific needs of their little boys and their worries for their future -- have had to deal with that public spotlight.
How they have dealt with it is a measure of the kind of people they are: and how lucky the twins are to have them as their protectors. Angie revealed how a British tabloid wanted exclusive photo rights to the boys for f80,000. The offer could have been tempting. The boys will need surgery in the near future and their medical costs are soaring.
For the Benhaffafs, their children's dignity was paramount. They would not trade a second of their boys' time for money. Instead, they shared their "great gifts" with the Irish public, allowing all of the media access to their story for free. The whole family -- parents, boys and their big sisters Malika and Iman -- went on the Late Late to show off the gorgeous new arrivals.
"We may be broke but we are morally rich," said Angie of their decision to invite the country to share their joy, rather than sell it piecemeal to the highest bidder. "When the boys look back on it they will be proud we did not accept money for their story," she added.
Even had she never explained her motivation, it would have been clear to anyone who saw the couple on the Late Late Show. They were honest about their concerns for the boys'
health, and the impact on the family as a whole of the new pressures. But what outshone every other emotion in that studio was their tender love for the two tiny mites in Angie's arms.
On one level, the purely physical, those boys have been handed one of the toughest starts in life you could imagine. On every other level, they are blessed.
Most gratifyingly of all, the Benhaffafs have been given what they deliberately never asked for: financial support. Inspired by their devotion, fundraisers around the country have started to fill what has been dubbed 'The Little Fighters' Fund'.
TV chef Clodagh McKenna is just one person who has devoted time and effort to raising money towards the twins' medical expenses: at the weekend, more than 1,000 bikers took part in a charity motorcycle event in their name.
The outpouring of generosity will be helpful when the twins hopefully travel for surgery to separate them later this year. Hopes are high for them -- they do not share any major organs -- but it will be an intricate and tense operation.
But beyond money, Hassan and Hussein have the best support team in the world behind them. Mum and Dad.
Anyone wishing to donate to The Little Fighters' Fund can send a donation to the Permanent TSB branch in Patrick Street, Cork: sort code 99-07-03; a/c no: 16556196