I Wish My Single Father Taught Me About Heartbreak

Photographed by Sarah Harry-Isaacs.
Single-parent households are a common thing to me, and I regard the dynamic in the same manner as nuclear families; with respect, and the knowledge that 1) life happens 2) every family and home is different. Growing up I had a wealth of friends — most of whom I’ve carried into adulthood — who came from single-parent households; all homes with single mothers and absent fathers. I, on the other hand, came from a variation of single-parent households that appear less common: single father and absent mother. I would come to learn through adulthood conversations with said friends, that many of them struggled with the trauma of being raised without fathers. At this point, I had attended and wept in enough therapy sessions to have identified my own trauma, which, according to the prognosis of my therapist, originated from my mother’s abandonment. Therefore, whilst present for heart-to-hearts with friends about our upbringings, I often felt alone in my experience. 
As someone who has always preferred the social company of my own gender, the conversations I had during childhood were peppered with our reaction to the world as we grew from girls to women: periods, sex, and heartbreak. Before I had my first period, I was aware of what was to happen. Yes, biology lessons taught me the science behind it all, but my friends were the ones who delivered personal accounts of what it felt like to menstruate for the first time. The stories were always the same: a friend would rush to school with news of starting their period, and we would congregate in a group of whispers and giggles to hear all about it; the main similarity being the “talk” that each friend had with their mother about 1) what menstruating meant 2) how to navigate this chapter of adolescence. It wasn’t long until I realised that my experience of starting my period wouldn’t be the same. For context, I regard my relationship with my father as being close, and loving, but with generational differences, typically brought on by the fact that he is a Jamaican man socialised to view life through a lens not prescribed for my eyes — so there were many things we simply didn’t and don’t talk about. By the time I started my period, it was clear that this was one of those things. I remember getting my first period at school, anxiously stuffing my knickers with tissue in the toilets and then using my lunch money to buy pads on the way home. That was it. No talk. Just a period that saw me hiding feminine hygiene products in secret places around my bedroom until I moved out. It would be years, well into adulthood — once my therapy sessions had proven effective — when I’d feel comfortable speaking about periods with friends; it was my best girlfriend who taught me how to put in a tampon. I was twenty-five.

My father and I worked our relationship around never talking about anything pertaining to me becoming a woman.

This particular experience set the tone for how I navigated my womanhood. My father and I worked our relationship around never talking about anything pertaining to me becoming a woman. However, I talked at length with my therapist about how the anxiety and sadness that became more and more apparent as I got older (especially when I started taking an interest in men) came from feeling like I was missing something due to my mother’s absence. 
My first sexual experience followed a similar fashion to starting my period. It was prologued by stories of friends who had popped their cherry before me, and then an epilogue of mostly blank pages and silence as I didn’t know how to talk about such intimate experiences. At this point in life, I sought out acceptance and a sense of mothering from the men whom I dated. To talk about any experience in isolation would be an insult to the progress that I’ve made through therapy, however, there was a time when I allowed men to take advantage of me in the hopes that they wouldn’t leave. Truthfully, I felt less alone in my experience of dating and having sex with men. Although all my friends came from homes with present mothers, almost all couldn’t speak openly about sex due to cultural and religious pressures. So instead, we congregated once again to whisper and giggle about everything from sexual partners to pregnancy scares, mostly. And regarding my father, I assume that he knew, or at least suspected, that I became sexually active; there’s nothing about my now-self that screams twenty-six-year-old virgin.
The relationship dynamic of not talking to my father about my struggles navigating womanhood came with obvious and not-so-obvious by-products. The most obvious being that I transitioned from girl to woman not knowing how to have uncomfortable conversations. The not so obvious being that I felt unconditionally and irrevocably alone in all my relationships, whether familial, platonic, or romantic. When I experienced my first heartbreak, I longed to be comforted by my father. Unlike my experience with sex, and similar to my first period, my friends sought out their mothers when heartbroken. And once again, I became familiar with the secondhand mothering that helped me deal with puberty all those years prior. I remember a friend sharing that her mother soothed her with reassuring words: he’ll regret it and he’s not worth crying over. At that moment I wondered what my own mother would say, as well as what I would say to my father if I ever had the courage tell him such things. 

The experience of being raised by a single father has made me who I am today. Whilst he didn’t know how to teach me about periods, sex, and heartbreak because of his own discomfort, he taught me many other lessons that I continuously use in my adult life.

My first heartbreak was an experience that I thought would stay with me forever. On one end, it reaffirmed all the terrible feelings of unworthiness that I inherited from my mother’s absence. On the other, I wanted to tell my father and receive whatever comfort he was capable of giving me, but I just couldn’t find the bravery or words. Alternatively, I just didn’t talk about it until I started going to therapy — several failed relationships and heartbreaks later. By then, the sadness and rejection that became my life’s script acted alongside my Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), abandonment issues and unhealthy communication skills to make me a very sad and withdrawn person.
In retrospect — reminiscing from a healed version of myself — the experience of being raised by a single father has made me who I am today. Whilst he didn’t know how to teach me about periods, sex, and heartbreak because of his own discomfort, he taught me many other lessons that I continuously use in my adult life. But truthfully, I would hate to relive my adolescent years and early twenties. Another round of the emotionally turbulent and perpetually broken trenches? No thanks. And when it comes to the maternal affection that I feel like I have missed out on, therapy reminds me that I’ll heal from that wound in time. 
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