“Having a baby doesn’t make you a Father, anyone can make a baby. But Father means taking care of your children” Malcolm X
It’s been just over 6 months since I landed in Toronto, that’s 6 months of being a full time Father, not just a Dad, but a Father. Sometimes when I look at the short time of being here, I catch myself thinking back to where I was 6 months or a year ago. I was working as a conflict mediator, youth engagement practitioner, and life coach for dis-engaged youths and the community. But here I stand, anonymous to anyone with a history unknown to anyone, least of all to the daughter that now looks at me.
Though my daughter is nearly 3, this will be my first Father’s day. The other two, I never felt like a Father, so I couldn’t accept the accolades. Yes, I was a Dad in that I knew I was responsible for a life. We would communicate a few minutes daily on facetime, via skype, but nothing replaces real time, real touch. Yes I was the Dad, but I wasn’t that Father that was building a relationship, and when all is said and done, that’s a Father, someone that can relate to his offspring.
6 months after her birth, my wife and I decided it best for her to be raised in Toronto. Now saying it and doing it is something we are still working on. But the time had to come where I had to make the decision. Everything was coming to ahead, my Daughter’s long term memory was beginning to develop and I was feeling detached from my responsibilities so the only option was to end my relationship with London and take that plane ride to Toronto.
Though my daughter only had a short-term memory, she knew what and who was important though, had she had a long term memory she would’ve had the early flashes of me in and out of her life. I was the guy that came briefly and then left. I remember an event that struck a chord with me, it was on a visit, me sleeping at the far side of the bed and she awoke early came in the room, didn’t see me in the bed, so innocently asked, “ Mummy, is daddy gone?” I realised then I was in the midst of painting a picture in her mind of a man who was sometimes here and at a drop of a hat would disappear.
At the time she wasn’t fluent in English, but I deeply under-estmated how much she was comprehending. On the way to the airport, I thought I would give it a go and have a heart to heart conversation with her. So I told her I was on the way to the aiport and I was going on an airplane. She started crying uncontrollably screaming No!.. If I needed a tipping point before, I didn’t need one now.
TO BE A FATHER
The title Father is given at birth but father is something you earn. Though I was lucky to be born in an age of skype and face time, nothing measures up to physically being there and its something that is the minimum requirement for a child. I could count myself lucky she knew my name was Daddy, and perhaps because of the phonetic connection to Mummy she knew I had an important role to play in her life. Though for the mere fact she recognized me as Daddy, I owe a debt of gratitude to my wife. She would ensure my face was imprinted in her mind, she had a picture of me in the mirror and she every morning she would ask ‘who is that?” She would answer Daddy and she would repeat the questions during face time conversations. She may not have known what a Daddy did, but she knew that it must have some kind of importance.
Though even that natural attachment has its shelf life. When you fly in and out of a life, your last memory stays with you and you become oblivious to the development that has happened in between. So where I remembered her, after I arrived crying as she was being placed in the car thinking I had disappeared to now (in my penultimate visit) being shy, my distance was causing small strains in our relationship.
Arriving in Canada permanently, meant for the first time I was going to be with my daughter after the honeymoon period. This made me understand the term Father in it’s full glory. I remembered speaking to an adoptee that found his biological Father, he sad “it wasn’t the big re-connection that he thought he would feel. There was no great shift. He was just another person.” That always stayed with me. Being a biological father means little to the person if you are not putting in the work. Hence I never acknowledged any accolades on Fathers day before today.
The early days was challenging. She was a girl of routine, and I was breaking the routine, which left her a little confused. Though she was saying words and starting to comprehend, she principally communicates in feelings and emotions. And the true measure in how she see’s you is how she responds in times of distress. There were times she would awake in the middle of the night and as soon as she saw me she would hysterically scream for Mummy, it was the same when she was hurt. I did begin to think whether the 2 year gap had prevented the creation of the natural bond that is supposed to be there between father and daughter. Had there been a subconscious separation and unspoken of feeling that would be there for eternity?
THE POWER OF ONE
It’s amazing how much power such a little being has. Your sole mission is now to please this little human being by any means. If she is in the park and asks you to join in, you do it just to see the smile on her face, if she asks you to “have some too daddy” you eat it just to see the smile on her face.
There was a time I played a little trick on her, as we were walking to the park, she was taking her time looking at the grass or something, so I hid. She turned around and I was gone. Though I was hiding behind the fence, I could see her in the crack. And what imprinted in my mind was that frantic look, the helplessness, the fright she had believing I was gone, disappeared without a trace. I could only imagine that the same feeling so many other daughters and children in general have, that become internalized and manifests itself in ways unimaginable.
But it was times like these that were important in us developing our bond, and it must’ve been two months later that I began to notice her attitude towards me changing, I was now a forever present, a constant, her long term memory was kicking in just as I was arriving and the memory of that person that came and went had disappeared. She would get up and ask for Daddy, expecting Daddy to be there, as far as she was concerned I had been there since the beginning.
Sometimes I wonder what type of a Dad should I be, or need to be, for although she is a joker and I love laughing with her, I also want that respect that is tinged with a hint of fear that comes with a strict hard line approach. I am so much more hands on than my Father was, which I hope will lead to intimate close conversations later on. Though I am getting the feeling that honeymoon phase is over, and one of my friends reminded me, “it was at the age 3 that real parenting began.”
My work with teens and young adults, has conditioned my mind to prepare for the turbulent life of a teen. For as beautiful as she is now, I keep counting down the years when it is me against her friends. So for that reason I have always been concerned about community and environment. And for those of us who that have engaged in community work, when you have your own children there is a natural dilemma, because working in the community takes so much of your own energy and resources it is extremely hard to praise two masters when your own children come. So tales are a plenty with people who have strong community standing, but a poor home life. Equally people that disengage with the community when they have their own children to take care of. I fully understand both sides of the road. Though ironically with my own child, I appreciate more the need for those that work in the community. For like it or not, there is going to be a time that your child will face the horrors of the world alone. However I will gain solace if I know the community she is apart of is strong enough and cares enough to protect her and look out for her interests. That is only possible with those that engage with the community.
While I am only a drop in the ocean of Fathers, following in the line of the many greats before me, and trying to be example for those starting their own road. There is absolutely nothing like looking at a little miracle, realizing you are responsible for its manifestation, as well as it’s continued life. A contract you have till the day you die. I realize a Father is as important to a son as it is for a Daughter, and that is an absolutely beautiful feeling that I can’t stop thanking God for.