Growing Up Without A Dad

(Source: Pixabay)

(Source: Pixabay)

Jack never knew his dad or what it was like to have one in your life. In this deeply personal essay, he talks about growing up with a single mum.

According to the BBC a million kids are growing up without fathers. As one of that million, I’ve been thinking about my own childhood and how I felt growing up without having a father, and how I feel about it now that I’m grown up.

‘The Centre for Social Justice report says lone parent families are increasing by more than 20,000 a year, and will top two million by the next general election’

This is for me to try and tell you a story. About my mum.

So is this just a platform for me to rant about how much it sucks to grow up without a father, or a message to those who grew up privileged enough to have had one? (good or bad.) No. It’s a song of praise to the single mothers who adopt both roles.

So here’s my story.

When I turned 11, I decided that I wanted to meet him and find out more about him

I only met my dad a couple of times when I was really little and then he moved to Denmark with his new wife. Since then, he has had almost zero involvement in my life, which to be fair isn’t entirely his fault. Denmark is 811 miles away, after all. When I turned 11, I decided that I wanted to meet him and find out more about him. Up until that point, all I’d had was my mum and grandparents.

I flew to Denmark with my half-sister, who I didn’t know all that well at the time, and then jumped on a train from Copenhagen to a town that I can’t even pronounce. Upon arrival I met my dad and my three half brothers and other half sister, who barely spoke any English.  It was a tough experience, but being only 11, it was a novelty to have a father for a few days. He even bought me a Swiss Army Knife. Afterwards, I thought it would be a new connection in my life, but of course it wasn’t. We barely spoke after that.

It wasn’t until I got a lot older that I started to feel the effects of never having had a father figure or a male role model in my life.

My mum did a great job of not only raising me entirely by herself by doing some of the stereotypical dad jobs, like teaching me to ride a bike, kick a football or how to shave (not that I ever do).

It’s hard for me to try and talk about the things that make me different from those of my friends who grew up around dads, because how can I talk about what I missed out on when I simply don’t know?

I guess the only things I never learned how to do properly was ‘be a man’. Looking at traditional gender roles and the nature of masculinity, I didn’t see myself as anything like that. I never learnt how to fight, fix a car, play football, chat up girls, or have a masculine demeanour, whatever that is.

One of the most common things I’ve heard when trying to talk about what it’s like not having a father is ‘sometimes it’s better to not have had one than to have had a bad one’, which I am not in a position to say is right or wrong because one needs to have experienced both. However now with the age of Facebook it’s harder and harder to ignore a section of my life that I feel was taken away from me before I had a chance to experience. I see my half brothers and sisters all over Facebook being a big happy family and I can’t lie and say it’s fine, because honestly it’s not. I’m an only child with a single mother who’s never remarried or had a boyfriend…it’s just been the two of us. She worked so much just to keep us a float and having enough money, that I ended up quite lonely.

One of my biggest fears is about being a father myself.

(Source: WordPress)

(Source: WordPress)

What am I going to do when I have my own children? I’ll have no idea how to be a dad.

Knowing how to be a good dad is far less important than knowing how to be a good parent, and I got the best lesson in that from my mother. Not only did she raise me well with good ethics, my own personal moral compass and a strong attitude to my own beliefs. She also taught me to be open minded and to accept that my story is no different to millions in the UK who come from single parent homes, but also all sorts of parental arrangements and even those with neither.

I may not be able to ever fully appreciate what I missed from not having a father but I will 100% be able to forever appreciate the amazing life lessons my mother bestowed upon me.

She worked a full time job, kept a roof over our heads and food on our table alongside saving enough to be able to show me the world. I may not have had the latest Playstation or Xbox and there was even a period when we were still using dial-up whilst the rest of the world had moved onto broadband. But I gained other things of much higher value, like holidays in different countries from her saving every penny. Those holidays eventually influenced my outlook on the world and showed me that there are so many places to be explored.

My mother worked long hours and for a long time I was angry about spending so much time in afterschool clubs, but in our situation, there was no alternative and I appreciate that now. My mother showed me how to be self-sufficient and determined enough to achieve what I set out to, as well as accepting that life is a series of sacrifices and hard work, but by making those sacrifices and putting in hard work the rewards are great.

I learned about the importance of independence and also the strength of women. I have held strong opinions of the feminist movement that were passed down to me by my mother. My mother is one of the strongest female characters I’ve ever come across.

She didn’t just tell me about the strength and importance of women, she showed me by being a living, breathing example of it.

So in the end what can I say I’ve missed out on by not having a dad? Nothing. I can’t ever know what I missed out on, and I’m fine with that. I’m a strong, intelligent individual who struggled growing up, but that struggle hardened me and taught me to value things in life that are important and stick to my guns on what I personally feel is important for myself and those I care about. Once you get to a certain age no matter how hard your childhood has been, it stops holding you back and becomes your fuel to push you further. So long as you keep trying, you will never know the difference of what you didn’t have, all you will know is what you did have and you will hopefully be grateful of that like I am.

You’ll be surprised at how many successful people grew up without a father. Here’s a list of 37 famous people raised by single mothers

If anything that Jack has talked about in this article feels relevant to you, or you want to speak out about your own experiences, let us know on Twitter @Rifemag or Facebook us.

Action For Children want to empower children and young people to overcome the things that hold them back in life. Find out more on the Rife Guide.

Support more young people to have their voices heard

Rife is Watershed‘s online magazine created for young people, by young people.

We offer paid internships and publish work by young writers, photographers, illustrators, and filmmakers from all sorts of backgrounds, helping them get into creative careers. Rife has reached over 8,000 young people through our workshops, over 220 young people have made stuff for Rife on topics ranging from mental health to identity to baked beans, and last year, over 200,000 people visited our website.

In these complex and uncertain times hearing from and supporting young people who are advocating for social change and contributing fresh perspectives has never been so important. 

Through supporting Rife you can ensure that this important work continues and that more young people have their voices heard.