Tuesday, 16 February 2016
MISSING FATHERS & MATCHLESS MOTHERS
In the London of the late 1960s bringing up a child alone was, at least in-so-far-as my then flat-mate and I understood, rather avant-garde. At the time solo parenting primarily applied only to women because in those distant times men did not go in for it.; in fact the father’s role in these sad sagas was generally largely ignored. So we, living in the then shabby suburb of Paddington saw ourselves as a part of the huge city’s innovative and ground-breaking group of women. Unashamed of our unmarried state, we were trend-setters, pioneers even and quite apart from all that we were simply superlative mothers. We did not want to ever appear to fall down on the job and consequently we took our mothering very seriously indeed. Our children - Sarah’s three year old daughter, Chloe and my son, Daniel, fresh from the Premature Baby Unit, were going to grow up enveloped in love, girdled with emotional security. We had not totally forgotten fathers of course and we discussed their role from time to time, in overly bright and cheerful voices, invariably coming to the rapid conclusion that as long as a child had a dedicated and devoted mother, one who kept herself fully acquainted with the modern trends of dietary and educational needs, they were probably superfluous, little more than sperm donors. Sarah paid the greatest attention to Chloe’s diet, and made copious notes in a spiral bound red notebook, from her pile of library books on health issues. One of the reasons for this was that Chloe, despite a diet top heavy with fresh fruit and vegetables and awash with protein, was clearly not thriving as she should. Later this turned out to be because she was suffering an autoimmune disorder caused by severe intolerance to gluten. I don’t think it ever crossed Sarah’s mind that this condition might have originated from the genes of the long dismissed father of her child. Although we had been very close friends since our teens and shared our innermost hopes and fears, we did not overly concern ourselves with those who fathered our greatly cherished children. The absence of Chloe’s father was not a problem; he had not even become a small elephant in a big room. We just regarded him as insignificant. His daughter did not need him because she had Sarah, and me and Daniel, and all she really knew about him as she got older was that his name was Tom and he was an artist. On the other hand we discussed Daniel’s father more frequently and this was because he had most determinedly made it clear that he had not wanted to have a child and in order to be able to preserve Daniel’s life, I had left him whilst pregnant in stressful circumstances that undoubtedly led to the baby’s extreme prematurity. He was furiously angry that his unwanted son had not been aborted and for the first year or two of the child’s life I lived somewhat anxiously, wondering if the man I had been so devoted to would actually carry out any of the more outrageous threats he had made against us. He did not and so after those first apprehensive years, he too could be relegated to a place closer to the missing Tom although he was never totally dismissed from my consciousness. As I have said, as mothers, Sarah and I were unrivalled and I have very fond memories of the pre-school trips to the library, the birthday parties, the afternoons in Kensington Gardens and the walks along the towpath to the zoo in Regents Park. It was a time that was idyllic. It was quite a while before the children began to ask questions about their fathers although Chloe was under three when she first demanded to know why she didn’t have one. I can still hear the slight edge to Sarah’s response in tones that were just a little too loud: `Of course you have a father – everyone has a father – it’s just that yours doesn’t live with us that’s all. Now, what do you want for tea?’ Later Daniel was given the same kind of reply to the same kind of question. It did not occur to us to question our own judgement, so utterly convinced were we of our ability to bring up our children alone. I now wonder how we two intelligent women could have harboured attitudes that were so blinkered. A few years later I left London and married a New Zealand doctor. Daniel was ecstatic at the thought of the huge adventure and all these years later, now a middle aged man, he still tells me that he was elated to find that he then acquired a father by default, not a `real’ one perhaps but a father nevertheless. Rather more unhappily though decades passed, he was never accepted by his biological father who died some years ago, still utterly determined to reject him totally. Over time Sarah was unable to provide her daughter with any tangible information about the father who once seemed so irrelevant. The pain of not knowing anything about one half of herself doesn’t really go away for Chloe. Neither does the distress of being so wholly rejected by his real father ever diminish for Daniel. Despite their superlative mothers the repercussions have been significant for these two children of the sixties and now I wonder if a peep into the future would have served any useful purpose. Probably not!