My parents separated when I was ten years old.
Up until then I had been a daddy’s girl. I knew how to make him laugh when he was angry with me, he took my colouring-in competitions as seriously as I did and so he became my chief colour-advisor, and we sang Beatles and Harry Belafonte songs together in the car. He was creative, gentle natured and lived in his own world a bit, and this allowed me the space to live in mine.
And then when I turned ten my parents parted ways and, whilst it doesn’t have to happen this way, my mother became the central figure in my life. She was there day-to-day to deal with stuff. You know. She made sure life stayed balanced and stable.
It was the 1970’s and divorce wasn’t the ‘conscious uncoupling’ that it is today. It was pretty ugly and sad and messy. And it was hard to be in the middle, and even harder not to have a point of view on what we were witnessing, however naive.
We stayed with my dad in the country on alternate weekends and during school holidays, and life was really different there. It felt like my part-time life. We roamed free, ate what we wanted, did our own washing, and could watch as much tv as we wanted (and excluding The Exorcist which was on high rotation on Saturday mornings this novelty soon wore off).
We had lots of space at my dad’s. They felt like our weekends off. We were largely unsupervised and we could make and play or do nothing for hours.
Whilst my dad mostly did his own thing, building and fixing stuff around the house, he always got involved when we wanted to undertake a project. He never questioned driving for an hour into town to get fabric or wool or to go to the library to get some how-to books (remember those days?).
His let’s see if we can make this happen kind of attitude made me feel that he saw value in what I was pursuing. And this helped me to value my ideas also.
Not everyone believed in his parenting style but my dad’s ability to tolerate our boredom meant that we had to find our own way out of it. And once we did he was there to help us follow our inspiration. The empty space that he provided usually became a container for my imagination.
Now, all these years later, empty space is an integral part of my life. I comfortably create it for myself because I have been given permission and shown how. It is where my creativity has room to blossom.
In turn I offer it to my children. I give them space. I support their inspired ideas. I help them to realise these dreams, just like my dad did for me.
Someone I loved believed in me and it helped me to believe in myself. I think that’s what makes a good dad.
(top image: me, my dad, his afro and my little sister)