I asked Mr. Blain if he had any fatherly advice. “Never go to bed with something on your mind,” he responded. At night, Mr.Blain’s wife would go upstairs to their room to bed. Before joining her, he would make tea and bring a cup upstairs to the bedroom for his wife. He smiled telling me that if he offered her tea and she accepted then “all is well.” Mr. Blain’s disappeared and he looked at me over the frame of his glasses, “But if she says no to the tea then something is on her mind and you have to do something about it.” When he got his message across, he returned to staring out at the ocean.
I met Mr. Blain in Ocho Rios on the northern shore of Jamaica. After 4 buses from Kingston, I landed in Ocho Rios Bay Beach. Mr.Blain was on the beach with his church, when I sat down on the picnic bench with him to eat my lunch. He turned tome and asked where I am from. During our chat, I learned that he is 89 years old and grew up in St. Catherine, a parish south of Ocho Rios. “My father was wild and a Baptist preacher. He had many kids with different women.” Mr. Blain said he is different from his father because he was married to his wife for 58 years before she passed last June. He was working here in Jamaica when he first saw her back in 1955. She was in school at the time, and he waited 3 years before asking her mother to marry her. Mr. Blain told his daughters, like he and his wife, they should not rush into marriage. He laughed when he told me he warned his daughter about her first husband. She later split with this husband for the same reasons her father warned her about. Now his daughter and her other 6 siblings are each happily married and living in England. Mr. Blain leaves for England this month to go see his children.
I hear several stories about great fathers like Mr. Blain because I met so many people who were interested in this study on fatherhood and its impact. In the airport where I first arrived, I approached the customs officer with my passport in hand. He was a middle-aged man with a strong build, and he asked me for the reason of my visit. He inquired about my research and pulled out a scratch piece of paper and pen. He told me to write down the website where he could read what I found while in Jamaica. There was a line behind me waiting to get their passports stamped, so I did not get the chance to ask this man for an interview. There was an interest in this topic from the start of my stay.
With 8 days in Jamaica, over a dozen people in Montego Bay, St. Elizabeth, Kingston and Ocho Rios spoke with me about their father and the fathers they knew. While Mr. Blain embodies my idea for a father, Suzette told me her father did not have these qualities and he should not have had kids. I met Suzette my first night in Jamaica. She was my host’s cousin, and she offered to come over and tell me about her father.
When she was 13, Suzette’s father was arrested and he died three years later in prison. “He was horrible,” she said with a chuckle,“We had good times with my mother but not him.” When I asked her if she learned anything from him, “Yes and it wasn’t anything good.” She said that he was aggressive and had anger issues so she became vengeful and quick to fight. “All of his kids are like that,” she said. Suzette met a friend in Kingston who became the first person she really spoke with about her problems. Her friend helped her not to be angry anymore. In contrast to her own father, Suzette admired her older sister’s husband who lived next door growing up. “He treated his daughters well, yeah. He was a very good father. He never beat any girls; every discipline for them was left to my sister. Never once did he hit his daughters, and yet they were good girls.” She paused for several moments, and the crickets outside filled the silence. “You have a lot of good fathers out there. You have a lot of punks,” she added as she nodded her head. I asked her if she had any advice for her father if he could start over with his family. “I think he shouldn’t get any children. I think that would be the best thing. He shouldn’t have had any in the first place.” She repeated this point as she expressed her frustration with his decision to have kids only to abuse them and not take care of them. Suzette says that fathers provide for their families and make sure their kids have better opportunities such as education. She thinks her father did not give his kids the chance to live a better life. To all the fathers in this country, she offered this advice: love your kids, and if you cannot then do not have any.
The impact Suzette’s father had on her was all bad in her eyes. When Suzette was 13 years old, he was arrested for murdering her mother. Her family in Spanish Town thought she was inKingston, and her family in Kingston thought she was still in Spanish Town so they started looking for her. At the time, Suzette and her brother lived in a place in Spanish Town called Red Shop. She was carrying water home where she found her brother and sister waiting for her. “Get in the car,” said her little brother, who was 9 years old at the time. In that car ride, she learned her mother was missing. Later, she found out her father had chopped up her mother and buried the remains under the house. Suzette said today she stills blames her father for what he did, but she has forgiven him.
I was in Jamaica where my father and grandfather were born, which means that this culture influenced both men. My father, Rohan, could have been more like Mr. Blain, who raised his kids to show respect and to have a knowledge of how a man treats his wife. Rohan also could have been more like Suzette’s father and forever damaged how I build trust with others because of the horrifying way he treated his family.
My time in Jamaica has been wildly different from Cuba because I met more people who were critical of the fathers they knew and their failure to handle their responsibilities. This reminds me of what Agueda and Maria explained to me at the Catedral de La Habana: many fathers are not what their children need them to be. Although some of the people I met in Jamaica said they did not have a good father, everyone knew what makes a good father. Some of them looked at uncles or cousins or neighbors as an example if they could not look to their own father. Jamaica demonstrated the way communities can step in with father figures when needed and this communal fatherhood gave these children not only values but also their own idea of what a father should be for his family. Communal fatherhood has given Suzette examples to delight in and cherish, such as her brother-in-law. These father figures serve as examples not only to the boys but also the girls so they can get bits of wisdom, like the advice Mr. Blain shared about his wife.
When I told my friend, Arianna, about my fatherhood study, she said, “You aren’t missing much.” I did not mean that I felt like I was “missing” something, but I do feel like I have a lot to learn. Mr. Blain grinned ear to ear as he told me about his experience with his family. Suzette and my host, Jennifer, were excited to tell me about their neighbor, David, who they agreed was “father of the year.” These fathers and their communities swell with pride when the father fulfills his role to the family. My father did not, but I have peace with him because my mother made sure I did not miss anything I needed from a father figure growing up.
Many people I met in Jamaica described fatherhood as an influence on how children grow up and decide to raise their families. While men priorities providing a stable source of income for their families and their families priorities providing an example for values and a presence of authority for the household. Fathers reconciled this disconnect by spending time with his family and talking to his children about education and values to look for in a partner. These families consistently saw their children attend a university and they expressed an abundance of gratitude for their father, regardless of his income.
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