I met my father when I was around twelve years old.
Even though I had lived the first twelve years of my life only knowing what he looked and sounded like, it was good to know I had a father. His absence was never felt. I was surrounded by people who gave me what I needed at the time. Food, shelter, clothes, toys. I was expecting a peaceful relationship with my father, but to my surprise we were off to a rocky start. He had his beliefs, and I had mine. I had been raised a certain way, and he wanted me to act another way. I never got yelled at, and this stranger wanted to boss me around, and make me call him dad. I needed to be comfortable with that word.
A father is not a dad.
Living with my father was like living in a golden prison. We went to the best schools, ate nothing but the best food, and had every toy we wanted for Christmas and birthdays. But for some reason I could not connect with him. My younger brother would get a beating every day, because he is hard headed. I learned to go to my room and pretend to sleep when he was around. I wanted peace. I did not want to walk on eggshells in my own house. I got busy reading books, and spent most of my time at the library. Two years after entering my life, my father took another exit, and I was relieved. Sad to say, but I was relieved to not have my father in my life. I had uncles, whom I saw from time to time, but no real father figure. No genuine relationship with men. The ones I knew only wanted to take advantage of me. That’s what I knew. Either absence or sexual relationship. I didn’t want to be a part of neither of those. I didn’t even have a boyfriend until I was twenty-one years old.
I wanted to be in love, I wanted to experience love. That is the only reason why I got into a relationship. Not because I found a great guy, but because I wanted love. I never set my standards high, I didn’t know any better. So, I let myself go, let my guards down, and got pregnant.
But let’s rewind. After my father exited my life, I was sent to live with relatives after relative, and then with my mother for the first time. I lived with her for almost a year before my father decided to take us back. We moved to a different country to stay with him. A little reluctant, but curious and excited about a new experience. The stressed out, controlling father I once knew was still there, but this time he had a wife next to him to help tone that down. Him and I slowly started working on a relationship, but I still did not open myself to his love. I did not know how. Even when he told me how beautiful I was, I was not listening. I was too busy being angry and emotionless. People in my life came and went all the time, I never really had a constant. Except for my brother who is a year younger than I am. Nothing was ever stable enough. I went through college and graduated with a bachelor’s degree, I started on my Masters a year later but shorty got pregnant. I had been in an off and on relationship for four years.
This is where my father’s absence in my life manifested itself and I understand it now.
For all these years, I was holding on to a relationship that was not healthy. I was so in love, and my heart was getting broken and stomped on over and over again by the same person. He told me he loved me. He told me I was beautiful; he wanted to see me all the time. He was fulfilling a void that I had no idea was even there. Had I been listening to my father when he tried to tell me the same things, I would not have been so desperate for love and affection. Desperate to the point where I could not realize I deserved better, that I was a queen and deserved to be treated as such. I set my standards low from the beginning and let this man disrespect me over and over. I held on to these emotions, and went through an emotional roller coaster and allowed myself to get pregnant. Things got even harder after that.
How could I be a mom if I don’t know what it was like to have one. How can I raise a daughter in this world full of predators? How can this man that I loved so much give all my love away to different women, while I was carrying his child? I was broken.
I had to pick myself up, I had to be strong for Imani, which means Faith in Swahili. I turned to God, and got the strength to leave this man behind. I had to call my own father and tell him what I had been going through. Him and I are still not best friends, but our relationship has come a long way. He is a proud grandfather, and even if Imani’s father is not around to make her feel safe, her grandfather will be. He has a second chance at helping raise a baby girl to a queen who knows her worth and won’t let anyone slow her down. I also have a chance to be the mom I never had growing up.
I am learning to love myself. My heart is not completely healed, but I don’t feel like a victim anymore.
I cried, and cried, and cried some more. The pain was like nothing I had ever felt before, but God helped alleviate that pain. I had to learn to forgive. I forgave my father for coming into my life so late, for being in and out of it. I understood he did not owe me anything. He could have completely abandoned me. Him and my mom could have decided to have an abortion. They were young, in high school. But they went through it, and gave me a chance at life. I had to forgive myself for not giving my father a chance to be a dad to me when he tried. I had to forgive Imani’s father for not knowing how to love me when I could not even love my own self. I understood later that no one had taught him how to treat a woman with love and respect, but I pray that one day he can help our daughter set the bar high and elevate her own self esteem. I have learned to let go of unhealthy relationships. I lost so many friends and family members and do not miss any of them. The right people stayed in my life. I am learning to believe in my own self and not seek anyone else’s validation. I have put on a lot of weight after the baby, and the stress of my relationship with her father, the first man I ever fell in love with. I am learning to love this new body while working on it. I love the new-found confidence and growth that I have. Loving and getting to know myself, so that when the right person comes around I am able to accept their love.
Having that father figure I could trust growing up would have helped me establish a relationship with men, period. As soon as a man approaches me, I immediately think they want sex, even though they may not. Having unconditional love and affection from a father would have helped fill that void that developed in my heart over the years.
That desire to be loved, to hear those three words even, was something I was not used to and I held on to that. I started my teenage years in a different country, a different continent, yet another different school, different language, food, so much change and I was busy trying to fit in. I still did not have that emotional support from my father. From a young age I had to step up and be responsible for my brother, to never complain, to be grateful, to blend in, to follow the rules, and I finally lost myself.
I recently co-founded a non-profit called SASSe, which stands for Saved And Slaying sisters Empowerment. It’s a platform to help other young women who have been broken, and who need a support system. Who need women that can relate to their experiences. Our goal is to not only be there to hear others’ stories, but to provide physical help, whether it be with food, clothes, shelter or other necessities including baby clothes, diapers and wipes; giving them hope and emotional strength to be able to overcome whatever they may be going through, to get them on the path of self love, and putting a Godly perspective on their lives. God is the only one who will never break our heart, or drag us through the mud. The only one who loves us for who we truly are so I make it a priority to include him into everything I do.
That’s how I survived.