I didn’t know I needed a father.
My boyfriend’s house is not so different to mine. Walking up the stairs you are greeted by pictures of children through various stages of life. Looking at this chubby blonde child, I ask myself if he ever knew that one day, he’d candidly discuss the advantages and disadvantages; of having a live afrobeat band at his wedding. My boyfriend’s house is different to mine in some ways. For starters, there’s a dining room, whereas we have a more relaxed approach to where we eat. There’s a well arranged dvd collection, with box sets of Poirot and Pride and Prejudiced (the good one with Colin Firth). I can’t tell you where most of our dvd’s are besides, we have Sky on demand, so really and truly we’re not missing much.
The most fundamental difference is that my boyfriend has a father, a father who has an active interest in his children. A father who is devoted to his wife and his family. There is no father is my house, there never really has been a father in my house and up until now; I thought that was completely normal. I can’t say I felt I was missing out on anything because my mum was and still is more than enough. However the older I get, the more I realise how deeply the estrangement with my father has affected me.
For someone to leave, they had to have been somewhere in the first place. So I don’t really know how to describe what my father did. It’s not as if he woke up one day and couldn’t be fucked, he just had a very less is more approach to parenting. Of my 23 years of life, I’d say roughly two of those years my dad was consistantly involved in the family unit. I’m told it was idylic. My sister and I were proper little daddy’s girls and my mother was his beautiful trophy wife. We would go to the beach, visit friends and avoid witchcraft. We were the archetypal young, middle class Lagos family and from what I remember, really happy. Things changed when my mother became pregnant with my brother and we returned to London minus my father. There were always promises of one day us going ‘back home’ or daddy coming to London. He’d come down for three weeks of the year and life would carry on as usual.
When my brother was diagnosed with autism, the prospect of going back to Lagos faded away. The resources simply weren’t and aren’t there. So we stayed in London. Daddy would phone a few times a week and throw us some sheckles from time to time, but everything was down to my mum. There were many difficult times, like basically being homeless and my mum having to sell some of her jewelerry, but honest to God, we never went without a single thing. Even with the demands of taking care of a child with a learning disability; my mother made it work. We were happy children and had a wonderful childhood. My mother became pregnant with her fourth child when I was eight years old and this marked the beginning of the end.
On one of his visits, I found a text on his phone and began to realise why my father doesn’t live with us, why the phone calls had all but stopped and why he was so hesistent for us to go over for a visit. This is when I began to realise how absent, he was from everything and this was when I decided I really didn’t need a father. Whenever we would misbehave, my mother would always threaten to call my dad and I would be generally terrified; till one day I realised I had the power to put the phone down. My father was simply a voice on the end of a telephone that I hardly knew, what the fuck could he actually do? The same thing he’d been doing for years; fuck all.
As far as I was concerned anything a father was supposed to do my mum did, just like her mother did. All these new wave femists crying about gender roles really have no idea about children that have been raised in single parent families. My mother would put up shelves, fix her car and cook, she didn’t do these things to challenge patriarchy or make a statement, these were things that needed doing, simple as that.
I spent a lot of years confusing my complete lack of knowledge about men for hatred and decided that when I do have kids, I’d rather not have the father involved. I’d rather not allow my child to pine for someone who will ultimately let them down. I also didn’t understand how a relationship can work living in the same house, all the ‘marriages’ I knew didn’t even live on the same continent.
It wasn’t until I went to my boyfriend’s house and I realised what was missing from mine. There’s nothing I can say my dad has built for me, or stories I can tell that don’t involve juju or insults about my dad. I can’t call on my dad if I need a lift home. I’ve never seen my dad as a hero, a mythic figure yes, but never a hero. I’ve never hated him, I just never got to know him properly. And this would be fine if I was planning on staying single, but the deeper I get into my relationship, the more I realise just how hard it can be sometimes to adjust to having someone that actually wants to love you and take care of you. Especially when someone that is meant to love you by default doesn’t really give a shit. When we talk about our future, especially children, I’m actually shocked he wants to be involved. I’ll hear him talk about how he’ll discipline them etc and in my head I’m thinking you’re not doing that to my kids. I never take into account that they will be our children and that parenting is a shared responsibility. I’ve never really understood compromise between two people in a relationship because I’ve never seen it. My dad didn’t want to live with us in London, so he didn’t. My mum never wanted to be a single mother but she had no choice; there was no compromise.
Within African circles, I’ve found this to be extremely common. Father’s will live ‘back home’ while the mothers are left to be both parents to the children with little assistance from the father. I find it hilarious that some Africans love to talk about how Jamaicans (when referring to Caribbeans they’re all Jamaican to them) have no fathers, when a substantial amount of us hardly have a relationship with ours. It’s something that is well known amongst ourselves. There is always the tale of some aunty who’s husband abandoned her and their children and married some next woman ‘back home’. Not forgetting the uncles that will have their family, but still sleep with girls their daughters age, and of course the cliche house girl trope. In all of these situtations the woman is blamed. The man’s behaviour is either because someone is a witch or someones mother is a witch and the witch must be fought through spiritual means. Or it’s somehow the wife’s fault. My whole thing is why is that an excuse to stop being a father? Why do a lot of African women make excuses for our men? Why is this culture of bluetooth parenting so prevalent in African society? And most importantly Why are we in such denial about it?
As I get older, I wish to establish some kind of relationship with my father for my own peace of mind. It will never be a close relationship, he will never walk me down the aisle (that has been allocated to my brother), whoever I marry will be asking my mum for permission instead of him. He will probably have pictures of his grandchildren, but won’t know how old they are, or when their birthdays are, and that is okay. I will never hate my father, despite everything I do love him, I just don’t feel a particular connection to him. I don’t think I’m all that welcome in his life. I’ve accepted that I probably deep down needed a father, but I am so grateful I have a mother that was both.