My father died when I was 3 years old. I have no recollection of him. The most vivid memory I have pertaining to him is being in a room I assume he was in too, a bunch of people whose faces I cannot make out in there as well, a tiny heater sat in a corner stuffing up the tiny space (I suppose that is where my hatred for electric heater stems). The next is a blurry one: being carried on someone’s back, bawling my eyes out at what I assume was his funeral. I do not remember his face, do not remember seeing him. I have never even seen a picture of him carrying me. To this day, I do not think that I have ever fully confronted how impactful growing up without a father has been- not for a lack of trying, but more because I have never really known where to begin or what the end goal would be.
I suppose a good place to start is this: that to try to grow into a man without ever having a father has been an immense task for me, one that I am not sure I know how to properly navigate. This is not to discredit any of the work that my mum has done. My mum is incredible. She has done an impeccable job at playing the role of both. Everything I am and everything I will ever be, I owe to her. She has taught me to be kind, respectful, hardworking, taught me to be a great human being. Even though I can attest to the fact that she truly is a real-life superhero, she could not then and cannot now teach me to be what she is not: a man.
I think that the worst part of this has been that even though I know how to be a good person, I might not know how to be a man, that I might not even know what it means to be a man, let alone a good one. I suppose that is the most prominent one among the insecurities that have haunted me my whole life. Because I have never had an example to follow, because I have never had anyone in my life who epitomizes masculinity, anyone who was the very definition of that to me, because I have never had anyone to set on a pedestal and say, “That is the man I wish to become like,” I have never really been certain what it means to be one. So, from where is a kid like me meant to learn all this? After whom is he to model himself? How is he supposed to know when he is man enough?
I know that we to live in a world that claims to be progressive so that all the roles of men and women are interchangeable. Now while that may be true in theory, the balance of things in practice is only attained when we each play our respective roles faithfully. Things will only ever work when a man knows how to be a man, and a woman knows how to be a woman (don’t ask me what that means; I equally do not know). That is not to claim that one is superior to the other, but to say that the roles are different yet equally essential... just different. And that is okay. But all these lines have never been clear to be because I have only ever witnessed a woman be a woman, never a man be a man. So, I’m not very certain that I have ever really known what role I am to play in this world, what my exact duties are to be, what my part is. I’ve just gone through life pretending that I do.
And I think that has had me spiraling for the longest time, never really knowing if I am man enough, never properly understanding what that even means, especially in a world that is so apt to defining what that should mean. Because there has never been anyone in whose footsteps I could follow, no one to define it for me, I have had to define it for myself, to be my own example. And that can be confusing for a kid. So, I have lived my life trying to fit into those brackets, trying to meet those standards. If someone said a real man jumps left, I hopped two steps that way. If they said a real man does A, B and C, I went ahead and it did it all and then some in an effort to make sure I was nothing less. I have gone through life overcompensating for my uncertainty, and I cannot overemphasize how exhausting that is.
I wish this was one of my victory laps in which I detail how I have overcome. But the truth is the cloud of doubt still lingers large and consumes me. This very post was born of me questioning how much of a man I really am, questioning whether or not I am a man in the eyes of others. It was born of me wishing I had a father who would say, “Son, you are growing into a fine young man.”
It was also born of me wondering if my masculinity is one that needs a stump of approval, whether or not it ought to be validated from the outside. I have, however, recently begun to entertain the idea that perhaps I am enough, and I have always been, that I am man enough. I have begun to think that perhaps I have made, and I still am molding myself into the best version of a man I could possibly be, with the knowledge I have at my disposal. I am doing everything the best way I know how. Shouldn’t that be enough?
Who really prescribes what masculinity is and what it shouldn’t be? And why are they the ones qualified to do so? Up to whose standard of masculinity must we live? Am I less of a man if I am not a certain way because I was raised in a different environment that did not require me to be what some men are? Am I less of a man if I am not what you are because you were exposed to the things I wasn’t? Is masculinity so generic that it is a one-fits-all shoe? Is there no room for each of us to be man enough based on we are, on what we have experienced?
Besides openly discussing my own daddy issues (I honestly don’t know why I do this), the point is that a lot of us have grown up without essential figures in our lives, without people after whom we can properly model ourselves. That’s applicable to both ends of the gender divide. It’s a more common theme than you realize. While it does not excuse any irrational behavior, for it is everyone’s duty to get passed all this and fix themselves, it is still reason enough to be kind and forgiving towards one another. We are all just trying to figure out how to properly navigate our respective roles without any role models. We are all still learning. So, if we mess up, just cut us some slack. We are learning.
It's also to say that this is a norm. We all have issues such as this, just in different shapes and sizes. So it’s completely okay that you are here too, that you are still trying to put yourself together. It is, however, imperative to confront them, to fix yourself, to learn. At least I know I am. I am taking my issues head-on and learning my way around it all.
And most importantly, it is to say that you ought to be comfortable in your own skin. It has taken me a long time to have this epiphany. I have never really felt enough, always feeling the need to change 7billion things about myself to fit the bill. My skin has always felt a size bigger. But recently, I have spent time with myself and noted all the things I am good at and those I am really bad at, the things that I am okay with being bad at and the things I ought to work on. I have gotten comfortable with being who I am, and my own skin finally feels like the right fit. And the vision of who I wish to be has never been clearer. So learn yourself, be comfortable with yourself. Although you have edges that ought to be ironed out, you are now and have always been enough. You are enough. And with time, you will fit right into the roles that God would have you play. You are enough.
If I got to speak to him, I'd say, "Dad, am I man enough now?"