Ironically, my Dad not being around is something I’ve never wanted to speak about. If you had asked me what effect it has had on my upbringing, until recently I’d have told you none at all. That’s not to say he wasn’t always there, things started well and I often find myself reflecting on fond memories of “when Dad was around”. Cinema outings, bike riding, swimming trips and even the occasional stroll. Sometimes I become so deeply entrenched in my memories that I can’t help but wonder; what did we do? What could I have done to make you stay? What would life look like if you hadn’t left?
Fatherlessness is an issue many of my friends deal with. All around me I’m surrounded by young men determined not to become the men their fathers are, while others are subconsciously wondering down that path without even realising it. The effect of an absent father varies largely from each person to the next and I can only truly speak of my own. You can only imagine the struggles of my two sisters, trying to find their own definition of womanhood, or my own burden to somehow be ‘the man of the house’ without knowing what it means to be one.
For so long there were areas of my life I knew I had to work on but just couldn’t seem to overcome. After all, how could I solve an issue, without truly knowing its root cause? Like how I subconsciously don’t do well with male authority (or most males for that matter) telling me what to do. If my own father didn’t, then who really had the right to, right? Or my earnest fear of commitment, a fear that finds its way into all my relationships. A fear that discourages me from pursuing lasting bonds, opening up to friends or addressing my emotions. A fear that allows me to tell myself I’d rather handle this alone, than feel ‘vulnerable’ to anyone. Like an unopened book of lessons and life stories, I was never able to open up to my father as a young boy growing up. Then there was my notion of the more girls I get the bigger of a man I am. An idea that has left too many young men finding security in their ability to do the numbers. Seeing my father’s attitude towards women, my parents failed marriage and the lack of a healthy same-sex relationship, subconsciously led me towards sexual immorality and disrespect for women.
Not to mention my inherent struggle to ask for help. Being the only son and now the only man in the house, I wanted those around me to be able to depend on me, without allowing myself to depend on others. Growing up I felt constantly conflicted, almost as if I had to pick a side between my parents (Mum did majority of the caring but she also did majority of the disciplining). For so long I wrestled with the idea that I should hate my father, I mean, how could I still love and yearn for a man that wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. I’d feel ashamed to tell people my Dad left, embarrassed that friends of 10 years plus had never caught a glimpse of him. And there’d always be an implicit envy of nuclear families, wondering why I hadn’t been blessed with two loving parents and a strong family unit.
Many of you may be able to relate to this lack of male guidance/counsel. We hold our Mum’s to the highest of accords for all that they’ve done. Playing the role of both mum and dad while upholding their job and their families. On occasion my Mum and I would discuss issues of faith, friends and girls (although we’ve always shied away from ‘the talk’), but it never seemed to make up for the stereotypical fatherly lessons I was craving. I mean, I haven’t shaved once in my short 20 years and I couldn’t tell you a time my Dad was present at any sporting event, parents’ evening or award ceremony. It’s funny how I depend on a woman to teach me core fundamentals of what it means to be a man. I find healing in my mother’s lessons, the support she’s given me and being the best friend I couldn’t have asked for. But like an innocent child, sometimes I still crave my father’s love and that father-son relationship I so desperately needed.
One thing life has presented me with is a unique opportunity to share my experiences with others, in the hope that they’d better navigate the effects of fatherlessness than myself. Let us never forget the importance of giving back and the influence we have in the lives of young people. I’ve seen young girls hearts turn sour towards men and young boys burdened into pursuing criminal lifestyles for quick money. It’s no secret that the African-Caribbean community is in deficit of father figures. While the stats may be overwhelming, through faith, ambition and determination, I have witnessed young men flip the script and find their own definition of manhood. Amongst these men, one thing remains constant, and this is the existence of a ‘father figure’ to emulate, respect and look up to. As men may we take it upon ourselves to be big brothers, mentors and role models to the younger people in our communities, instilling the lessons we learnt through our own experiences.
“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us”
– 2 Corinthians 1:4
For the young men currently reading this, growing up without a significant male figure, trying to reason with what it means to be a man. For the young black boys out there, struggling to make ends meet while trying to be a son and a provider. Find peace in the fact that you are not alone. There’ll be those around you that seem to have it all, the clothes, the cars, the girls. This may even be you. Then there may be some of you looking to that lifestyle asking yourselves why you can’t have it too. While all of these things are eye-watering. Clothes will fade, cars will lose value and girls will come and go. Surround yourself with people that will build you, pursue education with enthusiasm, make honesty and diligence a habit. The odds may be stacked up against you, but hard times produce strong character (Romans 5: 3-4). Seek the things of value that life has to offer.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”
– Philippians 4:8
At the time I was far too young to understand the severity of what my Dad leaving meant. As the years go by however, I’m finding comfort in the unknown. I don’t know where my father may be, what he is doing or whether I could have done anything to make him stay. For so long I was concerned with succeeding so he’d feel ashamed that he left, living vicariously for his approval. Only to find no fulfilment, no freedom and no peace. One thing I do know now, is that I have a Father who will never fail me, never forsake me and never stop loving me. An everlasting Father whom I’m learning to place all my trust in. An unconditional Father who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. A Father to the Fatherless. It’s been 7 years since I last heard from my Dad. Since then I thank God for my uncle, friends and mentors that he has filled that void with. For everyone, young or old, still trying to reason with their own scars of fatherlessness. Accept the fact that you’re from a certain home but that doesn’t define you. May we as young men strive to be better fathers, sons, brothers and husbands. May you young women find confidence in your ability, beauty and self worth.
Hope this helps!
P.S. Shout out to all the fathers out there doing wonders in their children’s’ lives. You’re never overlooked or undervalued, big up you man.