When I was 2, my mom and father got a divorce and shortly after, we moved in with Luis. It’s been 19 years and I still can’t quite put the words together. But here goes nothing…
Growing up, those who knew my family history knew that when I referred to “my dad…” I was speaking about Luis. And on the few occasions that I referred to my bio-dad, he was tagged, “my real-dad.” This was an easy way for me to differentiate between the two but now, in my adulthood – I realize my mistake.
Admittedly, we aren’t really family portrait material and I hope to never make you think that we are. But we are a family: a dysfunctional, crazy yet loving family.
I can’t bad mouth my bio-dad. From what my mom tells me, he was a pretty decent guy. I can’t make this a juicy story by saying that he hit me or my mom, he never spoke badly to me or treated me differently. It was just that, he is no more than my bio-dad. He seems like a great dad to three other girls, but to me – I don’t really know him, other than seeing him on two different occasions.
Recently, I have let go of the many bio-daddy-issues that I once held, locked up inside and found freedom. Freedom to make my own choices and decisions about my adulthood. Decisions like; studying, getting married, paying bills, getting a job, diet fads, service providers, brands, pets and having children. While, kind of free because the framework laid by my bio-dad, factors heavily into my choices.
It’s no secret that a young person, especially a daughter, needs the ongoing influence of a high-quality parent. Especially a father.
Since becoming a parent, myself, I have learnt that once your child arrives life can become overwhelming; wonderful and terrible all at the same time. I have realized that it comes down to choices. The choice to either be a high-quality parent or to just be a parent.
It couldn’t have been very easy taking in and bringing up a toddler, when you are still figuring out the ropes of life. Luis was in his mid-twenties when he found himself trading the night-club scene for singing, “Never Smile at a Crocodile” with Disney’s sing-along-songs. He adjusted to parenthood with ease but like most things, there were speed-wobbles here and there.
My dad, Luis, held high expectations for me, expectations that seemed impossible at the time. Looking back, I see how his expectations have helped mould me, by constantly challenging me and pushing me to become better. When Luis saw me struggling with something, he would drill it into my head, leaving me with zero excuse to forgetting it or getting it wrong.
Roman numerals, multiplication tables and kid’s scrabble sums up my childhood, not to forget “A Word-Or-Two” challenges. If I came home, bragging about a 70% average, I was quizzed as to why I didn’t know 30% of my work. Sure, it seems rough… but honestly, SA allows you to pass matric with a 33% grade average – that is disgusting and you should be aiming higher – I was constantly pushing myself harder, to achieve more and to prove to my dad that I did, in fact, know my work.
Teen years were tough – real tough – I was yo-yoing between depression, facing the divorce of my mom and Lu and figuring out life, like teenagers do. School was filled with bullies and home wasn’t really home at all.
By 2010, my mom packed our clothes into the boot of her car and we said our goodbyes, before leaving back to Jo’burg. It is a time of my life that I hate to revisit as I often wonder how much more could have gone wrong. I am sure that if I were to ever divulge the truths of that period, we’d be able to write a best-selling novel but people would need to be told it is fiction, for their own peace of mind (and sanity).
Before the world cup began, I was left feeling frustrated and called Lu, to ask if it would be alright for me to return. If you think bringing up a toddler is difficult, wait for the teen years! I guess people found it strange that I was moving back to my dad, who isn’t really my bio-dad nor was he my mom’s husband any longer – but he never fluttered his eyelashes. Moving back was difficult as I had never really been without my mom, who forms my other half, and my relationship with Luis was on rocky ground. We lived in separate rooms and saw very little of one another, we stayed out of each other’s way and avoided the awkward mention of the past.
It was my first day at a new school and we came home to a house of nothing. No, we weren’t robbed. Usually, people don’t like to speak about these sort of things, but good came from it – so I don’t care, and I don’t think my dad would either. The repo-man had made a stop at our house due to my dad’s company drowning in debt. All that was left was the cold empty rooms with nowhere to hide from the awkwardness and lack of relationship between the two of us.
We started filling up our spare time by sitting on a picnic blanket, in our empty lounge, and playing cards. I was allowed to keep my PC as I had paid for it myself, so we would spend the evenings watching One Tree Hill on an old CRT, together. Pretty soon, I had him hooked to the series and each night, we’d find ourselves hiring the next disc for R10 and Friday nights… meant 2 discs! With no distractions, we were forced in a corner to speak, to forgive and to learn about the other.
Sure, it wasn’t the most convenient of times. Having to keep your food cold in a basin of ice or not having a washing machine, can be a real B#@%H, but I wouldn’t trade that period for the world.
Somewhere between the days my bio-dad left and my mom said her “I-dos” to Lu. Luis showed up. He showed up and made that choice. He met me when I was 2, as Luis (funny story, one day I asked if I were allowed to call him dad and he responded-trying not to add pressure to me- “Meg, you can call me anything except fat b#stard”) and now, at 21, I realize that he is my “real-dad”.
Because, while my bio-dad was skipping out on regular messages and phone calls, holding grudges and finding excuses. Luis was teaching me things like how to hand-rear injured birds, pump for prawns and find pencil bait before tying them on a hook. Teaching me to cook, the pains of an ear-tickler and that when there’s nothing to do, there is nothing quite better than catching forty-winks. He watched Vampire Diaries marathons with me, left Toblerone by my bedside when I was left heartbroken and encouraged me to pursue dreams which I thought were unobtainable. Luis taught me to love, laugh and listen to those who mattered – not to worry about the rest. The only thing more consistent than his love and support is the ticking of time itself.
I realize now, that genes have nothing on commitment. A quality parent commits to the good, the bad and the ugly. There are days that he will love it, marvel in it and brag about it but there are those days that leave him frustrated and even hating it. He renews that commitment daily. Long after the nappies and teen-tantrums – there will be an adult. An adult who will look back and remember that you, dad, were there through the thick and thin. And those times will be the touchstones along that grown-up’s path that help her navigate through: studying, getting married, paying bills, getting a job, diet fads, service providers, brands, pets and her own parenting choices.
If it were up to you, would you pick another father? I never had to, because Luis, chose me.
So thank YOU, Lu. Thank you for never giving up on me, for believing in me and being the dad, that I so badly needed it. My words will never be sufficient in expressing my gratitude for having a man in my life, like you. You are and always will be my dad. XOXO