“I am because you are”: Happy Father’s Day, Dad
For the latter part of my childhood, I was raised by a single father. As he learned, so did we. In many ways, we raised each other. To this day, my father firmly remains my role model and greatest inspiration. Not just for his undying sacrifice but more so for the seemingly effortless way he raised my two siblings and myself. We talk often but never in a detailed way about his journey in raising three children on his own. For Father’s Day, I could not think of a better way to pay tribute to the man who made me who I am today.
Here is a snippet of his journey
What was your childhood like?
My childhood was happy. We were a large family of 5 kids therefore there was always had family around. I really thank God because my father and his siblings got together often, they always found an excuse every month to meet and I got to see ALL my cousins thn. With time, my cousins became my closest friends. We went to my grandparent’s place every year for Christmas and we all couldn’t wait to get there on the 23rd. They had a very small 2 bedroom house and all of us would sleep there from the 23rd to the 27th of December – on the floor with blankets. It felt like camp. I always enjoyed the bonfire we made every night; we would simply sit and talk. As we grew up, our conversations would just change. I was close to my mum’s side as well but I think because of the paternalistic society, our lives were geared towards the paternal side.
What is the greatest lesson your father taught you?
To be frugal I guess *he laughs*. Growing up in the 60’s, it was typical that many kids did not have what you would call an “emotional attachment” with their fathers, he was fairly distant – you saw him, he provided, but you never really connected. It was functional. I guess it hasn’t changed much. Only now, we both try to reach out more. At least I can try and understand him as an individual because there was a such a huge gap growing up. So now, I aim to understand who he is, who he was and how he grew up.
Did you always want to be a father?
How did your life change when your first born was born?
I wanted to be a father more than once. But I wanted to have all my children together, from the same mother. But nothing prepared me for the love I felt when I saw my child for the first time; I don’t think anything prepares you for that. The plans in your life change, for sure. For me, they changed positively because I got a renewed sense of responsibility; it was at the right time because I was done with school. As soon as I cut your umbilical chord I said to myself; “she’s saying ‘hello world’ and I’m saying ‘hello fatherhood’ – and at that very moment, I committed to connecting with you in a way that I had not connected with my own father. I connected with each of you very specially and very differently. I was quite excited but also, quite confused.
In 2010, my mother passed away and my father instantly became a single father to my sister, my brother and myself – we were 7, 5 and 16 years old, respectively.
Did you ever think you would be a single father?
I don’t think you ever think you will be one or plan to be. You never start by thinking that life will hand you lemons and therefore you need to look for tequila, and some salt for that matter. My utopia was always to have a family unit where you have a father, mother and children. So no, it was never in my spectrum of thought.
What’s the first thing/emotion that came to mind when you became a single-father?
I’ve never really thought about single-fatherhood. And I’ll tell you why – because I am committed to my children, from day one even when your mum was still there. I still functioned as if, you guys were the biggest asset I had. So, when she passed, it didn’t feel like there was a burden because it was almost like I had psychologically prepared myself from when I first met the three of you. To me, all it did, was introduce me to new roles. Everything around me had to work for your benefit. I thank God every day because the universe conspired, to help me. So, I don’t look at myself as a single father, I look at myself as a parent. And more so, a committed parent, at that.
What have been your greatest challenges in being a single father?
I had a coffee with your brother the other day (who is now 13 years old) and I asked him what he thought I should do more of and he told me “Dad, nothing. Just keep doing what you’re doing” So, then I asked him, what he thought I should do less of. He looked at me, thought carefully and then told me “Don’t worry too much about us.” If you want to call it a challenge, I think I have to try and be balanced as a parent and not to worry too much about that for which I cannot control.
What have been your happiest moments in being a single-father?
I had 3 of my happiest moments when each of you were born. Everything else is a journey and adjustment. The way I raised you when you were little, is not the same way I raise your teenage siblings and not the same way I raise you as a young adult. And so my happiest moments are to wake up every day and see that the same people I raised are the same people I see every day. To me, that is great joy.
What has been your greatest tool and/or coping mechanism to dealing with single fatherhood?
Prayer. It may sound cliché but I pray every single waking moment I have. I pray that I will be fit for you guys and that you may always find an avenue possible to talk to me. I also have to remember to be real to make sure that the things I show you will also reflect in the things that you see. So, my greatest tool has been prayer and trying to be spiritually centred.
What is the greatest lesson that you have learned from being a single father?
Does it have to be one? *he laughs*. I have learned and keep learning patience. Patience because as the journey progresses, mistakes will be made. I’ve also learned trust, to trust that the way I have brought you guys up. I have learned love and emotional availability. Remember you asked me about my relationship with my father? I have learned that providing it to my children does not automatically indicate that I am weak, as a father. In actuality, it has shown that vulnerability will create a stronger foundation for you guys and hopefully you’ll have to deal with less emotional issues when your families come. I have learned the value of listening. Being able to carefully listen to what each of you tell me, has created unique relationships.
It has also taught me courage. I can tell you for a fact that when you have different children at different stages with different needs – fear sets in. “How am I going to do this? How are these kids going to turn out? Two of them are women, how do I deal with women issues?” So, its the courage to say “Actually, if I can connect with them differently, they’ll be able to defend themselves and rise up as feminists, or strong women who will not rue the fact that their mother was not there.”
I have also learned to be humble. I’ve learned to appreciate good health and that through discipline… that’s another thing – discipline. Also, Focus, focus on the things I had to do to make sure fees were paid, food was on the table and the mortgage was paid. I tried to make sure your lives were like every other child’s so that you would never have to wake up and say, “If my mum was here life would be like…”
Another thing is sacrifice. I don’t regret the sacrifices I made.
I’ve also learned that you can actually create a good family, even with one parent. But, it takes guts.
If you could give all single fathers out there any words of encouragement what would they be?
You know as men, we are trained to be bold, courageous and strong. That’s exactly what you need.
- You need to be courageous in the face of fear.
- You need to be bold. Going to the shop, taking a list and buying pads for your daughter you know? That’s not what most men do. Particularly, most African men. I really don’t care what you think of me, I really don’t care where you place me. I really don’t. Basically, wear your children with pride.
- Don’t farm out your children to someone else. It’s easy for me to give my children to my mother to raise them because – “Woiye, you will struggle and not be able to take care of them” No!! Organise yourself. In fact, I often ask myself – “If I were a single mother, do you think my mother would come knocking on my door asking if she could take my children?” Have you ever seen that? Then why, in essence, can’t I organise myself well enough to take care of my children?
- Remember that as a man, your legacy is not in what you have, but in the legacy you will create because of your children.
My father is my best friend. He is THE reason I am the woman I am today. Here’s to all the fathers out there who have worked tirelessly to put their children before themselves, who have showed unwavering love in their actions and whose legacy will forever be embodied in the strong individuals they have raised and molded.
Happy Father’s Day!
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