Interview held on 22nd October 2022
Dad: How Old Are you?
Dad: Do you go to school?
Dad: Are you working yet? Are you working?
Dad: Why not?
Daughter: Because I am still in Year 2.
Dad: You are still in Year 2. OK, and do you like going to school?
Dad: What do you like most about school?
Daughter: Knowing that sometimes we get golden time and I like playing with the Lego.
Dad: You like playing with the Lego in golden time, do you?
I remember being at an online workshop during the lockdowns here in the United Kingdom, attending a group for fathers. During one of the sessions, I recall ‘virtually meeting’ a black man, a fellow father of colour, who was in obvious distress. This was a black man, who was maybe in his early 30s, whose access to his children had been severed by his ex-partner. This was a black man who looked like a skeleton. He seemed a shell of something, and I was honestly afraid for this man’s mental health, given that he obviously loved his children and was obviously distraught by their absence (Sher, 2017).
The second part to this is that I know that kind of story. Having endured a separation from my own child, and a fight for the right to be a father in my daughter’s life, I understand the depths of despair that being alienated from ones child can plunge one towards. During those earliest of days, there were times when walking over the cliff at Beachy Head became very attractive, when the pain of her absence became too much.
I’ve written about the role of fathers on many occasions, both in these blogs, and also in academic papers (Turner, 2007). I have explored the depths of psychological wounding that emerged out of slavery, the absent father, the defeated man, the emasculated masculine. I have also connected that to the smoke that thunders, the archetypal power which sits within the black masculine, and which radiates up through the black father. This blog today though is to offer hope and/or solidarity to all those black fathers out there, whilst also showing up the richness of our connection and our influence upon our beautiful, brave, loving children.
Dad: OK. What is the best thing about spending time with Daddy?
Daughter: That we get to go to lots of places and have fun.
Dad: And have fun, OK. And what sort of fun things have we done together?
Daughter: Well, we have done the morning walk
Dad: Oh, that’s right, we did, didn’t we for the Samaritans, yeah. What else did we do?
Daughter: Well, we used to ….
Dad: Did you like it when we went swimming?
Daughter: Yeah, I actually did.
Dad: You did like that? What did you like about the swimming, was it the swimming or what we did afterwards? What was your best part?
Daughter: The best part was when I was swimming a lot and I nearly swam without you holding me.
Dad: Without me holding you, oh were you feeling very brave then, were you?
Dad: Yeah, you were feeling very confident, OK.
In life, in psychotherapy, the idea that we internalise so much of our knowledge of self from our experiences of our primary caregivers is nothing new (Ogden, 2004). Recognising the importance of my role to therefore empower my daughter to be who she wants to be, has become one of the highlights of my life. I take great joy in following her lead and inspiring her to do the things she wants to be, taking her to places I think show her opportunities, treating her in ways which mean she feels valued and will internalise that value. One of the best times of the year for myself, is our Annual Daddy Daughter Day. On that day, during the afternoon, we both get dressed up. My daughter will do her hair herself (I am not allowed to by now), and she will pick an outfit she wants to wear for the afternoon. At the same time, I will bring out a suit, or jacket and trousers. Then I take her out to one of the nicer hotels down here on the coast either for a cream tea or for lunch. She chooses the music played in the car on the way, and I make sure we have a walk along the seafront as well afterwards. This type of activity means a lot to us both. They are a bonding time for us. They allow my daughter to see another side of life that she should not be afraid of should she wish to enter it. They show her that she can be and do anything, much like her father can and does (almost) anything. This one example, which sits alongside our yearly Reggae Festival, our Take My Daughter To Work Day, our Father’s Day meal, our Road Trips, and our days on the beaches of East Sussex, are ways for us to bond and find happiness and silliness away from the destructive depths we have both endured.
Diary Entry – 31st July 2022: Tonight, I watched England defeat Germany, 2-1 (AET) in the final of the Women’s European Championships 2022. I didn’t watch it alone. I had my daughter with me. My daughter is 6, and given these games have been on for the past month or so, I felt it important to take her to watch one live, so we went to watch Austria versus Norway in Brighton. My daughter loved being at the game. She loved seeing the women on the field of play. She loved the crowds full of families and in particular young girls. She loved fantasising about how she might one day have the chance to play football with other girls. She asked me to buy a toy of one of the players from the England Women’s Team, and she was so proud when she showed it to her mother the next day. It was a pleasure to be there with her, to expose her to representation, to show her what she could, nay will, become.
Dad: And do you like it when we go on road trips?
Dad: What do you like about the road trips?
Daughter: That sometimes we get to talk.
Dad: We get to talk?
Dad: What on the road trip?
Dad: About stuff?
Daughter: About stuff
Dad: What sort of stuff do you like to talk about with Daddy?
Daughter: Well, fun stuff.
Dad: Fun stuff?
Daughter: And sometimes we talk about interesting stuff.
Dad: Like what? What’s interesting?
Daughter: I forgot.
Dad: You forgot. So, what do I get to teach you stuff? Or do you teach me stuff?
Daughter: Sometimes I teach you stuff and sometimes you teach me stuff.
Dad: Ah, so we learn from each other, don’t we?
Daughter: Mmm Hmm.
I think the thing I forget most of all though is that even when I am not with my daughter, I am still an influence. I won’t ever claim to be a perfect man, but what I will own is that I do my best for myself, my daughters, for others around me, and for those who I can help along the way. My daughter has been present when I have spoken at online workshops, or when I have done keynote presentations at online conferences, and she has even shyly appeared online to some of you reading this blog I am sure. She listens in to me when I talk to, or when I talk for, the other. She hears my words, she feels my passion and my heart. So, as much as I do what I do for as many as I can, I need to remember that I also do so in earshot, in psychic feelingshot, of a young child.
Diary Entry: 1st Oct 22: Was talking to my daughter today about school and she told me a story about one of her friends. Apparently, there is a girl in her class who does not hear that well. My daughter and her friend, knowing that this child sometimes feels excluded from playing with the other children because of her other ability, makes a point of including her as much as possible in their games. My daughter also said that sometimes they have to speak to the other child in a clearer way so that she understands what they are saying, but that she doesn’t mind doing so. I told her I was very proud of her for doing such a kind thing, but I wanted to know what made her do that? My daughter simply replied, ‘because this is what you would do, daddy.’
Dad: Yeah? Is there anything you don’t like about Daddy/Daughter time?
Dad: No? You like all of it?
Dad: What!? So you are saying Daddy is kinda cool?
Dad: Is he!?
Daughter: Uhh huh.
Dad: No. Is he supercool or just cool?
Dad: Oh, OK, OK, I’ll take that on board. And if you could have any other person as your Daddy in the world who would that person be? Or would you choose anybody?
Daughter: I would choose nobody except you.
Dad: You would choose nobody except me?
Dad: Ah, that’s very sweet of you to say so. You want to say that?
Dad: It was very sweet of you to say so. It was very kind of you. And I think that is the interview. Shall we say goodbye to everyone?
Ogden, T. H. (2004). On holding and containing, being and dreaming. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 85(Pt 6), 1349–1364. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15801512
Sher, L. (2017). Parental alienation: The impact on men’s mental health. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 29(3). https://doi.org/10.1515/ijamh-2015-0083
Turner, D. (2007). The Smoke that Thunders : A personal perspective on how the absent father hinders the growth of black men in the new millenium. Journal of Critical Psychology Counselling and Psychotherapy, 15(2), 85–91.