Every girl remembers when she started her period. I remember that it was one evening in 1st year of secondary school. As it dawned on me that it had finally arrived, I ran down the stairs admittedly filled with excitement, smug in the knowledge that I was now a ‘woman’. As I got to the bottom of the stairs I put on my cool pre teen slouch and turned into the front hall, where I caught my Dad coming from the kitchen. It didn’t occur to me that he couldn’t be the first person I could tell or that it would be weird. It was Dad. The same Dad who had fumbled my afro into two very loose and very messy pony puffs when my Mum had gone away for a work trip (that school day ended fairly traumatically with a kind hearted teacher braiding my hair with multi coloured elastic bands to rescue me from the teasing of my classmates). The same Dad who picked me up from school most days because he finished work earlier than Mum. The same Dad who taught me how to ride a bike and who, equally scared of dogs as I am, pedalled furiously beside me when we got chased by a pitbull in the park. . Who helped with my maths homework. Who horrified my Mum by buying a £99 school rucksack in year 8 because it had a lifetime warranty ( I still have it, 14 years later).
And so, unable to hide my excitement any longer I blurted..”Dad, I started my period!”. He looked slightly panicked and I could see him trying to compose himself. This wasn’t on his list of things he’d have to do. “Erm…well..has your mother told you what to do?”. “Yes”. I replied. ‘And you’ve got all the stuff?” “Yes”. “Well, make sure you do everything she told you to do. Erm..and make sure you tell her when she gets home, she’ll be happy to hear”. I quickly learnt that the easiest way to get out of any trouble was to tell my dad his only daughter was on her period. “Dad, Shade hasn’t done the washing up!” “Leave your sister alone…she’s on her period”.
Whether it’s been starting periods, starting school, finishing university or my first break up, my Dad has always been the most reliable man in my life. That doesn’t mean our relationship has been perfect. Me and my Dad have fought, and we’ve fought hard. There were times I’ve cried and screamed and been angry enough to burst. But he has always been there. Like the ticking of the clock on my wall, he has been a constant that I have never questioned. Not once have I worried that I would come home and my Dad would not be there. There may have been times I wish he hadn’t been there, but there he was – stubborn and stoic in that old Jamaican way, and funny and full of life in a way that is unique to him.
And why is this special? I know so many people who have not had what should not be considered a luxury. I should not feel lucky to have a father that has consistently provided for me. He should not be congratulated for doing what is good and reasonable for a father to do, which is offer basic care for the children he produced. My Dad has gone above and beyond that, but in a community where fatherhood is sometimes seen as a casual extra that may or may not exist, he stands out.
I don’t want to add to the narrative that black fathers are bad fathers. As much as I can say that I know many people who didn’t have their biological father in their life, I probably just as many who did and some who had fathering from men who didn’t share the same genes as them. Half, isn’t good enough though. It’s not good enough that half of my friends had fathers who were consistently there and half didn’t. It’s not good enough that on Father’s Day, my Facebook timeline was flooded with people shouting out their Dads, but a large enough group of my friends were silent (and not because they don’t use Facebook like that).
Marriages end, couples split up and animosity brews. I understand that the woman you once loved may turn out to be someone you feel you have no respect for. Not everyone has chosen to do what my parents have done and brave the storms of marriage for 30 plus years. For some, they never had the option to choose to do the battle that is learning to love someone for life, sacrificing and being unselfish and remembering vows you made when it’s the only thing you have to hold on to. Life happens.
But whatever life does, fatherhood is never trivial. It is never unimportant. You will always matter to that little boy or little girl. Or 20 years later, that big boy or big girl. No matter what voices scream loudly that you are a bonus, an extra or even just dead weight, I believe that fathers, all fathers, black fathers are essential. I would not be the woman I am today had it not been for my Dad.
Some of you have incredible children who have managed to do impossibly beautiful things with their life despite your absence or inconsistency. You should be proud and ashamed. And you should know that it’s never too late to try. Some of you have been like my Dad – imperfect, faltering, human but persevering in your efforts to be fathers. And I thank you. #BlackDadsMatter