"I don’t know anything about my dad. I think he left when I was 6, and I think he was a cab driver. That's what 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. She told me she has gotten over avoiding questions about him, and my host, Sinead, had invited her over so I could interview her. There was not much to say because she had no details about him. It is rare to speak with someone who knows so little about their dad, not even a name. It felt important to think through, "Is fatherhood necessary?"
Claire continued, "We’re from the Philippines, and I think my mom had me when she was 18. 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 there for my first period.
"I came to Australia and I didn’t know a word of English. I just stood there not knowing what these kids were saying. I met another Filipino girl, and she used to translate what they were saying to me. She told me what I needed to do and the books I had to have. As I started year 7, I started to learn English, but I was bullied at school. Back then, there was a lot of racism with Asians 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 and started 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 our first one then our second one two years later. He started to develop depression, and we moved from one house to another. He just started to get quite violent verbally towards me so I had to take out some intervention against that. He tried to hurt us, me and the kids. We got divorced when Benjamin was only 6. They couldn’t understand – they were so upset. With their dad, it’s safer not having him around because he was quite abusive towards me, and I think, as Benjamin grows up, he’ll realize why things were happening or why they couldn’t see their dad because of what he’s done towards me. 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’s supposed to have supervised visits and the last time he saw them he just said abusive 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 on a lot now. He’s missed out on their achievements and how much they’ve grown. My kids are growing up now, one’s 11 and the other’s 13, and it’s hard not having a father-figure for both of them, especially for Benjamin being a teenager.
"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 Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum on 2 November 2017. This report essentially tracks gender disparity all over the world. Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, 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. She would not have equal opportunities or recognition. There is the potential for gender-based violence and sexual assault most likely by a man. There are all these ways she would be discriminated against, not only as a woman but also as a black woman. I also thought about how important it is for a father to teach children to respect women. These children will become adults, and who will interact with women; with daughters. Perhaps my daughter. Perhaps your daughter. 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 took me to the court where he plays basketball with his friends. Even though Benjamin is probably 6 inches taller than me, he only scored 4 points our first game. However, in 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 them as 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. However, I am happy that I have begun to recognize that I should think more about it. If you have any ideas, feel free to reach out on the Contact page of this site.
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