Circa 1990, I was about 5 going on 6 years old, I don’t remember a lot of things from that age but I remember this incident vividly. My mom and my father were in a heated argument. He was packing, and in between trips outside, they argued. I don’t remember the specific words, I might have been too young to really understand them anyway, but it was clear what was happening. My father was leaving his family. Ironically, it’s one of my most cherished memories, because it’s one of the few recollections I have where my mom, my father and myself were in the same frame.
On a day when the world is celebrating great dads, my mind will inevitably wander on thoughts of my father. It’s usually a sad day for me, even three decades later. I quietly read posts with people celebrating their dads on social media and look on in envy. Sometimes I reflect on a letter I wrote to him as an assignment for my English A class in high school that I never shared with anyone, not even with my teacher at the time. I was so embarrassed because most of my classmates had seemingly great relationships with their dads. I got a zero because I chose not to submit it, but the truth is, I was quite contented, as I kept my embarrassment to myself.
You see, I’m from a country where a man proves his manhood by the number of children he reproduces. The higher the number, the higher the ratings. Any man that challenges this status quo is mocked and jeered, because somehow, our manhood is tied to the belief that we are only worthy if we procreate. You can imagine just how destructive such a notion can be to a society where the majority of its citizens live below the poverty line.
My father was no different. Throughout his conquests, he had 5 children with 3 different women. And somehow you may read this and say “that’s not so bad”, because it’s not uncommon in Jamaica for one man to have reproduced upwards of 10 children, with 10 different women. But I challenge that thought and say to you that a man (or woman) should NOT bring forth even a single child without a stable foundation. Often times my friends and family would take that as my intention to get rich before I reproduce, but that’s not the case. I believe if one has a choice, they should always conduct a self-evaluation to ascertain whether they are emotionally, mentally and financially prepared, to facilitate bringing another human being into this world and properly caring for them.
I ran after him as he took his last remaining belongings to the car that awaited him outside, the last thing he said to me was “gi yuh madda dis” as he handed me a clothes iron that I guess he felt too bad to take with him. I didn’t know why he was leaving us at that time and even now it’s not entirely clear, but I guess I grew to accept it for what it was in my eyes – he had found someone else and was no longer interested in us.
In the next few months following that unfortunate day, my mother gave birth to my baby brother Devore, one month before my 6th birthday. Thinking back, I can’t remember ever being aware of her pregnancy, but I remember waking up late one night and being told by the other tenants in the 5-family tenement yard, that she went into the hospital to give birth to my little brother. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I surmised that my father must have walked out on my expectant mother. She and I never discussed it, but I suppose that may have been a painful memory for her. Whether he knew of her pregnancy remains uncertain, but that’s the kind of experience that helped to form my perception of the man I share a last name and genetics with.
Throughout the years I would have sparse contact with him. He would give us hope that he would stand up to his responsibilities, but he always returned to his default self – a disappointment. The truth is, as a young and impressionable kid, he was an enigma to me and in some sense I revered him. As I got older, that reverence turned into dislike, because I started to realize that he didn’t acknowledge Devore as his son and I was quite bemused by that. There were a few times over those years that he would give my mother money or clothes, but they were only for me. He never did the same for Devore and so I grew a very strong dislike towards him.
As adults, he has somewhat repaired his relationship with Devore and my brother being the man that he is (a better man than I am) has seemingly made peace with what happened and has chosen to move on from it. You shouldn’t be too surprised that my other siblings all suffered abandonment from my father. Today, my oldest sibling, my brother Daryl, will be laid to rest and from my conversations with him over the years and even as recent as up to two months ago, he left this world with an unmatched hatred towards our father. [RIP bro] 🕊️
I’ve found peace in the knowledge that it is better to have an absent father than to have a father present who is of poor character and a terrible human being. I’ve found peace in knowing that I didn’t miss out on anything, but rather he missed out on my milestones. He wasn’t there the day I made the Basketball and Table Tennis team in high school, he wasn’t there when I graduated from high school or college, he wasn’t there to help me tie my tie when I got my first job and he wasn’t there to help me pick out my first car.
Remarkably, it was his absence that taught me how to be a better man than he was (not that that was entirely difficult). Because of him, I vowed never to have a child before I felt I was ready. Because of him, I’m loyal to a fault. Because of his absence, one of my biggest dreams is to have a stable, healthy family.
I will never forgive my father for his absence and I don’t think his wellbeing will ever be of concern to me; at some point it becomes a choice to not be a part of your children’s lives, whether you could afford to take care of them or not financially. I’m not bitter and I’m not angry. I do not wish him ill. I’m contented and I’m at peace in knowing that he exists just like any other human being to me.
On the night before my English A assignment was due, being the procrastinator that I am, I remember writing the letter to my dad, while tears streamed down my face. Below, is the closest version of the letter that I can remember, as it was destroyed in a fire years later. (Read blog on fire here)
I’m 5’11 now and my feet are growing faster than mommy can afford to purchase shoes. I made the basketball team and wish you were here to watch me play.
Devore has gotten so big and is a pain to deal with. I often think about you and wonder why you are not here. I hope you are doing ok.
Father’s Day is a special day and I commend all the great fathers, who regardless of their relationship with their child’s mother, has stood up to their responsibilities in helping to grow a good human being. I’m especially pleased that there is somewhat of a paradigm shift when it comes on to fatherhood in Jamaica. At the risk of underpopulation mind you, more and more men today are making better decisions and making concerted efforts to help to raise their children. It’s a special thing to see an increasing number of fathers on social media enjoying fatherhood and making fatherhood attractive and for the right reasons.
Long may this paradigm shift continue.
Written by: Jason McPherson