Phan Van Tieng cannot remember all of his children's faces and sometimes mistake one for another.
Tieng's getting on in years, but that's not the only reason he has such a hard time keeping track of them.
The Hau Giang Province farmer has 21 living children and around 80 grandchildren by his first and only wife.
Still, he recognized a Thanh Nien reporter at first sight during a recent visit.
“You interviewed me six years ago, and took photos of me!,” he said seconds after greeting the reporter at his home in Nhon Thuan 1 Village in Nhon Nghia Commune, Chau Thanh A District.
Back then, Tieng was still working his rice paddy.
Now the 87-year-old has surrendered to his children’s demands that he stay home due to his poor eyesight.
Tieng said that with the exception of one child who died several days after birth, all 10 of his boys and 11 of his daughters remain in good health.
His eldest son, Phan Van Cang, is 64.
87-year-old Phan Van Tieng at his home in Hau Giang Province. Photo: Thanh Dung
Following the birth of his seventh child, Tieng and his wife began naming them after the number in which they occurred.
Neighbors thought the family stopped with Phan Thi Muoi Lam (15) -- their 14th child according to the way Vietnamese southerners address children in a family.
Instead, they went on to have eight more.
Tieng’s wife Luong Thi Hai gave birth to their last child Phan Van Net Em in 1988 when she was 47; she died of a stroke 17 years later.
Tieng has remained a widower ever since and his children have settled down with their own families--surviving, mostly, on farming.
The couple's relatives of the couple had 15 children at most.
Neighbors once passed a rumor that they had used a secret royal tonic to make them so fecund.
But they were too poor to have planned such a huge family, which currently may be the largest in Vietnam.
Tieng said he couldn't afford to send all of his children to school and that’s why they continue to work the fields today.
We had a lot of fish and vegetables in the wild back then. If we'd had that many children at present time, we’d probably have starved to death”-- Phan Van Tieng, 87, father of 21 children.
“We had to work very hard to raise them up. It’s lucky for us that they were good and also took care of each other,” he said.
Tieng announced, with delight, that some of his grandchildren are currently attending universities and others have graduated to become teachers.
During the conservation, his youngest son's eldest boy stopped in on his way back from school and gave Tieng a bow.
That reminded him of the heavy financial burden of raising a kid these days, including expensive school fees, milk, food expenses and healthcare that his son usually moans about.
“We had a lot of fish and vegetables in the wild back then. If we'd had that many children at present time, we’d probably have starved to death,” Tieng said.
Tieng doesn't have a photo with his whole family since they rarely thought of taking one.
He promised Thanh Nien reporter another time.