Being Dad

I’m a separated Dad. Once a story belonging to others in newspapers and on TV, it is now my own tale too. I’m not particularly interesting, but as millions of single mothers and fathers around the world will relate to the experience, they may appreciate the telling of the tale as it happens.

Nothing has ever felt more important than this. Not the armed and red-eyed Somali shifta I once came across in a dusty village called Jalalaxi, nor the rabid militia pursuing the queues of bundle-toting Tutsi refugees leaving Rwanda as we drove in over the border in 94. Not even South Africa’s famed voting queues of the same year. Because, as dramatic as it may sound, ‘this’ struggle for my children’s fair access to me  is the biggest story of my lfe. Wrapped up in it is the future of two delightful beings, their happiness and emotional security.

‘Why, Daddy, why?’, said my 5 year-old on the way to creche two years ago. He was actually testing how many times he could get away with the ‘why’ word, but as we pulled onto the motorway – inbetween our machine-gun giggles at his ploy – it got me thinking. Wondering how my father would have answered that question.

This is a Daddy Story. For me, my now seven year-old boy and his four year-old sister, my greatest gifts from a person with whom I once shared love. A story of contrasts, emotional dead-wood versus big hugs and love measured by legal percentages – as told from this father’s perspective. These precious creatures are products of yet another broken home, insecurities and fragile egos. The tales of single mothers out there with there own challenges are well-told; absent fathers, alcoholics and abusers. On the other hand, what about the mothers who intentionally deprive their children of positive role-models. Women will tell you in shocked voices of other women they know who do that. But men don’t speak about it.

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 Some parenting authors and child psychologists will say it’s the children’s family history – the way their parents themselves were raised – that will to a large extent shape the way they are. There are many examples to support this, but more importantly it’s the way their parents behave in the here and now – and in the future – that will be the deciding factor in how equipped they are to deal with the world. And how they love.

This writing, with the others that accompany it, is an introduction to my love story.

Truth & Lies in Parenting

By Charlene Smith

(author of Nelson Mandela’s official biography)

Becoming a parent alerts you to all sorts of lies, most of all the ones our parents or culture taught us. Being a good parent is about trying to implement new truths.

Soon after my daughter was born I wrote about the Motherhood Myth. I’m not sure what I expected when first I saw her, perhaps a string quartet? Instead there was this tiny little red creature with the longest tongue I’ve ever seen on a person licking the air, exploring her chin and nose. I was intrigued and confused, also very tired, but certainly not in love.

That came three days later when I confessed to a visitor that although all the other babies were “lovely,” Leila was “incredibly beautiful.” When I look at pics now I see that was not true, but maternal love blinds.

However, not every woman has maternal feelings. I respect those women and men who choose not to have children, I believe that every child deserves to be born to someone or a pair who will love them and give them the best possible life they can afford (and here time is worth more than money).

When Leila was about a year old I remember sitting in the living room chatting to my friend Glenn, while his son Lee played with Leila. As the children became rowdier we spoke louder and louder, we made no attempt to curb our children, we adjusted. Afterward I wrote another piece about the Motherhood Myth and this was about the importance of fathers.

Glenn’s wife had no interest in their son, she left Glenn not long after the boy was born, taking the infant with her, but then she’d often go away for the weekend and abandon him in the commune she shared with others. At some stage someone would call Glenn and he’d fetch Lee. Glenn later married someone else, had two more children and was an exemplary father who sadly died young.

The fathers of both my children were A-grade Dreadful Fathers, they never paid maintenance, lied about why they were unreliable about access, forgot birthdays and Christmases’ but although it was clear to my children that I didn’t like their fathers, I encouraged them to have relationships with their dads. My issues were not theirs and even though both fathers actively tried to sabotage me to my children, my view was that I’d brought up these children, given them their values, they knew what was right and wrong, and hopefully had acute BS detectors.

However, what I’ve also learned is that it is hard for children to have a good BS detector with an absent dad – they always want to be loved by him and they will do much to try and create a relationship with him.

In the tricky world of divorce, especially the acrimony that flares at the end of a relationship and is whipped into an active brush fire by lawyers, one can become so consumed by one’s own ego, and, “no, I definitely did not do that” or “I never would have said that” – that we can become imbecilic nitpickers and whiners.

As parents, adulthood is not an option, the minute that sperm collides with the egg and all the Bingo signs light up, we have to grow up.

And growing up means showing up, means never bad-mouthing your ex to your kids, demands that you encourage a relationship with the spouse you once adored and now hate. Being a grown up means that you love your children even when they drive you so crazy you could weep (and sometimes do).

Adult parents are a little like good cops, we protect, we serve, we don’t expect thanks, we do it because it’s the right thing to do and the benefits are fabulous. #