I remember my 21st birthday well. That coming of age day which most of my mates had celebrated by going out for a pub crawl and probably forgetting how it ended. I spent it with my three-year-old daughter, changing her nappies and making up stories as she went to sleep. But I didn’t regret it for a minute.
Being a father saved me from the life that might have been. I can imagine a social worker’s report as I grew up. I don’t remember meeting my dad until I was 10, and then not much after that. I spent time in children’s homes, was in constant trouble with the police and then at the grand age of 17 managed to get a girl I met at a party pregnant. I made the decision that I was definitely going to be a big part of the life of my daughter, Ainslie, although when she was born I wasn’t aware of how big a part that would become. When she was 15 months old her mother walked away from our relationship and yours truly was left to bring her up with help from her maternal grandmother.
The amount of praise that I get for sticking around and being a full time dad is crazy considering millions of woman worldwide do this on a daily basis. But I guess it does highlight and reflect the low expectations the world has of fathers after relationships involving children break down; when they turn their back it’s no surprise, which is both embarrassing and weak but more importantly so sad for the children disowned. My father chose to tour with a rock band rather than spend time with me. This isn’t strictly a class nor money issue either as I have read of many well known men who abandoned children, often born before they were rich and famous, sometimes claiming that he just never got around to it, that they never found the time. With the money they earned they could have hired a team of scientists from NASA to invent more time. How must those children have felt seeing their fathers in newspapers, magazines and on television often omitting to mention the child born in their earlier life? I know exactly the emotions that would go around their heads, because although my father never found headlining fame, it seemed that I was a part of his life that he wanted to forget. It becomes difficult for a child to try and make contact (indeed it is really not up to them to try) with the main reason being the constant questions going around in our head – “Why doesn’t he want me?”, that feeling of abandonment and the thought of even further rejection paralyses any motivation to reach out.
Being a father isn’t about being a strong male role model that’s full of wisdom, advice, knowledge and guidance. Whilst that stuff does help it’s more about just being around. If I recall, I was around five when I started to ask my mum questions like “who’s my dad?”, “where is he?”, “why doesn’t he want to see me?”, “doesn’t he love me?” and “is it my fault?” And I’m certain these are the thoughts of all children that grow up not knowing their dads, little understanding that he just couldn’t be bothered to put in the effort.
Of course, there are millions of amazing fathers out there, many of whom even take on other men’s children as their own, but there are still far too many men who simply walk away, convincing themselves it is for the best. I’ve heard so many absent dads say “they’re better off with the mum.” How can they be so arrogant to know what is best for a child that they cannot be bothered to get to know better? Others say that the mother just made it too difficult for them to visit. Did she call them a few rude names or make up stories to her friends? Come on man, suck it up, take it on the chin, she’ll soon run out of breath. Seeing your child grow up is more important than your ego or any short term pain that you’re feeling.
Ainslie now has a daughter of her own, which in true Glaswegian style made me a papa before I was 40. Unfortunately, the relationship with the father has now broken down and once again I am changing nappies and sitting as virtually the sole man in the doctor’s waiting room. Not that I mind, and I feel so lucky that they both live with me so I can spend every moment I can with my little Gracie. Pushing her around in her pram reminds me of doing the same with Ainslie. My chest is puffed out with pride as I look down at that little thing created by what I created.
Her father has not seen her for at least six months and although, due to his current life situation, he can only have weekly supervised visits via a contact centre, he just seems to have given up. Needless to say, I don’t want Gracie to experience those same thoughts of abandonment as I had when growing up so hopefully he wises up soon.
Bringing up Ainslie gave me something and someone to live for and I’d like to think that had she not come along I’d have survived, but I’m not so sure to be honest. I finally had someone that I didn’t want to let down, someone that I hoped would be proud of me and be that person she’d come to regardless of what she needed. I got a steady job and gave her a good home – without sounding too big headed, the way she’s turned out lays testament to me. It may sound clichéd, but the memories stored in my brain of simple things like her first day at school, the first time I let her have a sleepover (and the carnage that ensued), the time I talked her into smashing an egg off her forehead, or the time she cried after spilling her dinner over her bed all make me smile and are with me forever.
On Father’s Day she’ll give me a card and I shall put it in the drawer with all the others, from the hand drawn smudges to the cheeky ones I get now. I feel sorry for those fathers who don’t receive them. I’m pretty sure it is never too late and you can still try to make amends, not just for your kid but for you. Your kid deserves better, they deserve a dad.
Gary Meikle will be performing Before All This at Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre from 2-26 August, www.gilded balloon.co.uk