Before I became a mother I never really understood what men were for. I know that must sound very strange but it’s my truth. My parents were married until I was thirteen, my mother later remarried and I have plenty of uncles some are great father’s some have room for improvement!
Even though my mother was a married woman for the vast majority of my childhood she was never in a partnership. My father was a presence but not present. The type of energy that would turn laughter into silence when we heard his key in the door. The type of character that would disappear to my parents bedroom when we had company and we would exhale. He was not an ogre he just lacked (lacks) the ability to emotionally connect. He is better now but whilst I was a child it wasn’t there. Don’t get me wrong my father is charming, charismatic and possibly one of the funniest people I know but that part of his personality is buried deep within. He did not have a good childhood, he lost his parents at a young age and was passed from relative to relative like a burden so the child that was a blooming flower absorbing the suns rays became closed and hard to protect himself from what his life became. As an adult I understand that and wish I could turn back time for him because when my father’s flower blooms it is one of the most beautiful sights and feelings you can imagine, but it is rare. I am digressing, back to the matter at hand…
I grew up watching my mother being married but not having a partner. I saw her try to turn unavailable men into loving partners to no avail. She became tired of doing everything and still face the expectation of being a dutiful wife. In our little community my mother was a bit of a revolutionary. She was the first in our immediate community to divorce her husband. There were prayer meetings, relatives came to beg, uncles warned their wives not to follow my mothers example, messages were passed, gossip was gossiped but my mum figured that she could ‘do bad all by herself’ not once but twice.
I watched aunt’s in similar marriages feeling like they were bound by having children and a reputation to preserve, so they stayed and bared… until eventually some left. I saw my mother and these other divorcees become queens, getting better jobs, bigger mortgages, better cars, bigger smiles, happier homes, children advancing and living life on their own terms.
In my area there were a number of single mothers and they just got on with it. It was hard it was a juggle but they carried the struggle well. At times money may have been short and energy stores low but they kept on keeping on and soaring to higher heights whilst the men plateaued. The atmosphere at home was always warm, even during my teenage angst, the vibe did not change when we heard a key in the door, unless we forgot to take the meat out of the freezer or hoover and wipe down skirtlng boards (does this chore still exist?!?). So I learned that women were better off without men, that lesson was implanted firmly within my subconscious and affected the way I interacted with all men… It still does but I am aware and working on it.
I became pregnant whilst I was in a relationship that was a journey to nowhere, I knew it was but the chemistry was, wow so I continued on this journey to nowhere until one day I thought, nope, no thanks and called it a day… A few weeks passed and my punctual menstrual cycle WAS LATE, only by one day, but I knew.
Due to my experience I thought, I am going to tell him, if he is not interested I’ll raise this baby on my own. I’m a strong Black woman, I have a supportive family, a career, good salary and I don’t need a man! What I did not realise was that whilst I did not need a man, children need fathers. I chose to be single, my child did not choose to be in a one parent family. I didn’t realise that all the formidable single mother’s I watched as I grew up were not single mothers by choice it was by circumstance. Because of information I absorbed in my childhood eyes I always knew I wanted to be a mother but NEVER thought about mothering in the context of a family unit with a partner. I didn’t know what a partner was and a husband seemed like a burden.
Now I have a child I know what fathers are for, and the guilt I feel for choosing a life where my child is essentially fatherless is palpable. There is plenty of joy and to a degree things are straight forward as I make all the decisions. There is no debate, there is advice but no debate, however the price for that is numerous conversations about absent fathers and what that means.
Fortunately we have so many wonderful fathers in our network who have a key role in our lives and are wonderful role models, however deep down the vacuum remains. I am very conscious about promoting the idea of partnership and being married before having children not because I think that marriage is the answer but at least in a marriage (I think) raising a family and navigating through life would be discussed and embarked upon in the context of doing it together.
I will never be negative about my child’s ‘father’. I did not give him a choice, I took full control, he didn’t promise me anything, and we were not committed. I made a choice based on my experience and was too ‘strong’ to realise I was being weak. I am not saying that I would have made a different choice about becoming a mother as my child is such a blessing to my family and I. I guess what I am saying is that our ‘strong Black woman’ narrative needs to be balanced with the narrative of the successful Black family, loving Black fathers and men. Single mothers should have honest conversations with their children so they aspire to start families rather than have babies.
Children need fathers, mothers need fathers too.
Happy Father’s Day to my dad and all the wonderful fathers taking care of their families <3