"I don’t know anything about my dad. I think he left when I was 6, and I think he was a cab driver, my mom said. When people used to ask me where my dad is, I would say, “He died when I was 5.” This was to save the questions because I didn’t know anything, so what’s the point? Now as I have gotten older I can say that he left when I was 6. I don’t remember when he left but I have a memory of a male person leaving. I’ve asked my mom, but she doesn’t want to say anything because I think it hurt her so much. She told me I can ask my auntie but there is no point because she’s in the Philippines and the pictures are probably gone. He might be dead by now, and I don’t know what he looks like or his name. He’s a cab driver and that’s about it. It’s fine, I’m okay. I thought in my 20s that it would be nice to meet him maybe, but it doesn’t matter now."
Claire spoke candidly about her dad. There was not much to say because she had no details about him. It has been rare thatI have spoken with someone who knows so little about their dad, not even a name. It felt important to think through, “Is fatherhood necessary?” Claire told me she has gotten over avoiding questions about him, and sat for an interview:
"We’re from the Philippines, and I think my mom had me when she was18. My mom started working part-time, so my grandparents brought me up since I was 5. She was always working because we were very poor. She would come every few months and give money to my grandparents so we could have food, clothes, and go to school. I never had anything and if I was lucky to have something to eat I would eat something. We used to go to sleep on the floor and go to the toilet in the dark because we couldn’t afford electricity. I just appreciate everything, and sometimes I spoil them because it’s everything I didn’t have and I can give it to them now. I can give them clothes. I was lucky to have new clothes every 3 years. I used to ask my grandma what we were going to eat today, and she’d say rice and sauce. I used to cry and think if that’s all. My mom would send money and it was like Christmas because we could afford to do stuff, and I was happy. I appreciate everything I have now, but it’s hard.
"After a few years, my mom went to Australia. She would send money when she could so I could have little parties for my birthday and some clothes to wear and food to eat because my grandparents were really poor. She came back again to the Philippines to say to my grandparents, “We’re going to take Claire now back to Australia to give her a new life.” I was so upset because all my friends were there, and my grandparents were upset too because they brought me up since I was young. I don’t really know my mom that well because she left so early. When she comes to stay at my grandparents’ house, she’s like a stranger. We talked and she said I could sleep in the bed with her, but I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t know her –she never did anything with me. She would just send money – that’s about it. My grandparents are there all the time: if I had to go to hospital, if I needed anything. I mean they were therefor my first period.
"I came to Australia and I didn’t know a word of English. I just stood there not knowing what thesekids were saying. I met another Filipinogirl, and she used to translate what they were saying to me. She told me what I needed to do and the booksI had to have. As I started year 7, Istarted to learn English, but I was bullied at school. Back then, there was a lot of racism withAsians and immigrants: “Go back to your own country, you such-and-such.” I used to cry and say, “They’re so mean.” As time went on, I made some friends andstarted to get more confident in studying. I started working when I was 17 at a take-away shop.
"I met the kids’ dad in high school when I was 15. He was nice back then, but as time went on,his attitude started to change as we got older. Being together so early we didn’t know any better. We got married a few years later for 2 years,and things didn’t work out. We had ourfirst one then our second one two years later. He started to develop depression, and we moved from one house toanother. He just started to get quiteviolent verbally towards me so I had to take out some intervention againstthat. He tried to hurt us, me and thekids. We got divorced when Benjamin wasonly 6. They couldn’t understand – theywere so upset. With their dad, it’ssafer not having him around because he was quite abusive towards me, and Ithink, as Benjamin grows up, he’ll realize why things were happening or whythey couldn’t see their dad because of what he’s done towards me. I have talked to him about it in someways. I’ve told him his dad is not well,but his dad is not trying to get better. He’s not taking his medication. He’s not seeing the kids. He’ssupposed to have supervised visits and the last time he saw them he just saidabusive stuff towards me which made the kids cry and upset. That didn’t work out well for them. That was 2 years ago, and he’s missed out ona lot now. He’s missed out on theirachievements and how much they’ve grown. My kids are growing up now, one’s 11 and the other’s 13, and it’s hardnot having a father-figure for both of them, especially for Benjamin being ateenager.
"As time went on, they had friends who were single parents, single mom or dad, so they have an idea on what’s going on. I’ve always thought they needed a father figure because I didn’t have a father figure. I think it had a lot of effects on me not having that male-figure to talk to or be there on Father’s Day or my birthday. Now that I’m older, I don’t care. Whatever you never had, you’re not going to miss it because you never had it. I was seeing a psychologist because it was quite hard being a single mom and doing everything. She said to me, “You don’t have to have a father figure. Not everyone had a father or a mother in their life. It’s just how you want to deal with life and which direction you want to go.” I don’t know how I did it, but I became such a devoted mom."
Claire’s father disappeared entirely, while her kids’ father only harmed the family while he was around. Claire suggested that fatherhood is something she wanted and, today, hopes to have for her boys. That requires someone who can represent the values she wants them to develop, and she emphasized a respect for women in those values:
"I would want a father figure to talk to Benjamin about how to be a responsible person and how to respect women – especially your mom and female friends. The way his dad was towards them told them, “You need to make sure you get a pretty woman and have money because that’s how they want it.” His dad’s mentality was not good. I just want them both to grow up to be respectful and appreciate what they have and work hard for their money. I want them to work hard and enjoy being young. He wants to grow up already. I wanted to grow up quick and I wish I hadn’t. I wish I had two parents who would take me here and do stuff with me and take me places. Now he’s going to be in year 8. I tell him to make sure he studies hard and that he’s there to study. I pay for every single thing for both of them because their dad doesn’t pay anything, but you have to do it. My biggest achievement is being such a good parent to those kids because I never had anything."
This emphasis on respecting women reminded me of the Global GenderGap Report published by the World Economic Forum on 2 November 2017. This report basically tracks gender disparity all over the world, and unfortunately and with no surprise to myself, there is not a single country in the world where women are born into a society absent of a gender disparity. When Claire began to emphasize the value of respecting women, I thought about the possibility of having a daughter and the fears I would have for her. I thought about how there was no where she could go where would have be guaranteed equal opportunities and recognition with men in her position according to this report. I also thought about how important it is for fatherhood to teach children respect for women, as these children would grow up to interact with my daughter as adults. These thoughts swirled in my mind as Claire finished up her interview:
Even though their dad is not around, they turned out alright. I think it’s just the way you bring up your kids. Whether they have a father or a mother, you just have to do your best and guide them the right way. They’re like my best friends. I’ve seen them grow. I’ve seen their milestones, and they’re my mates. We do everything together. I know as a teenager Benjamin doesn’t want to spend as much time with me because it’s not cool. I don’t even get to kiss him anymore! Whereas, Will is still loving because he’s still young, and I like that. I’m keeping that for a while until he becomes like Benjamin.
I’d love for you to talk to the boys, but Benjamin said, “Nigel? That name is a bit odd.” Even Will is hesitant. I don’t know what name they were expecting.
The next day, Benjamin must have forgiven me of my odd name because he and his friends took me to the court where they play basketball around the corner from their neighborhood. Even though Benjamin is probably 6 inches taller than me, he only scored 4 points our first game, but that second game, he found his confidence and scored 16 of his team’s 21 points. Getting to know Benjamin and his friends got me thinking about the other children I have met along this journey. They have so much time to grow and develop, and I am excited to see what life offers themas we keep up with each other. Claire has been there for every one of her sons’ moments, which is something she cannot say about her mom let alone her dad. It is an understatement to say it has been difficult for her, but she has never let her horrible experiences without her father or with her children’s father define her or dampen her spirits. She spoke as if she has been inspired by her own kids and the potential for them to live happy lives. I feel so grateful to have heard her story and have spent some time with her boys.
I wish I could say I have some idea how I could use this study to close the gender disparity which is important to all men and women; I will certainly have to do more research and look through the World Economic Forum's report more thoroughly. If you have any ideas, feel free to reach out on the Contact page of this site.
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