“You’re a father, aren’t you?”
When I was asked this question, I was momentarily confused. No word for a lie, for a moment I forgot I was indeed a Dad. It took me a few moments to snap back into reality and respond, almost coyly, that I was a father to a lovely daughter.
After this encounter, I oddly felt weird and began to question myself. How could I forget I was a father? Why don't I immediately self-identify as a father, the same way a mother might?
Am I a bad father?
The dichotomy of being a young, millennial father
My daughter was born when I was around 26 years old. Mind you; it was not a planned birth. As is often the case with these types of pregnancies, myself and my former partner hadn't taken any precautions to avoid the possibility of her falling pregnant (to be young and dangerously in love). Still, when she fell pregnant, we just decided to roll with it.
Given the above circumstances, becoming a father didn’t exactly make me more ‘mature.
Instead, it split me in two.
I suddenly had two separate lives.
On the one hand, I was this 26-year-old young man living in London, who liked to party every weekend while also being incredibly ambitious. If I wasn’t out in Shoreditch, dancing to the early hours of the morning, then I was at home reading novels or writing one.
Once my daughter was born, suddenly I had to become a responsible father. It was no longer about what I wanted but what my child needed. As a man, I had to take it upon myself to make sure my child was well fed, well clothed and, most importantly, well-loved.
There is no shame in admitting that I failed, quite spectacularly, to balance the two lives: the two parts of my character. And I didn't want to sacrifice one for the other.
I didn't want to lose one half of me.
What does it mean to be a good father?
After my daughter’s mother and I split up, I spent a lot of months agonising whether I had failed as a father already? Was I a failure because I had failed to "step up?" Had I ruined my daughter's life by allowing myself and her mother to end things between us? Was I responsible for my daughter now growing up in what was essentially a split family?
Over time, as I eased into this whole co-parenting scenario, I began to realise that the definition of what it means to be a good father is a lot more complicated than merely being one who provides and sacrifices for the sake of raising a child.
In the age we are in, the role of a man in western society has changed drastically. There has been a steady increase in the rise of stay-at-home-dads, and more millennial men are demanding more extended paternity leave.
Also, in a society where younger, millennial women are earning more than us millennial guys anyway, that traditional provider role once expected of men is no longer so crucial. Co-parenting is on the rise, with women mostly being the ones initiating it, and so us younger men have had to reinvent the role we play as fathers.
To that end, in my opinion, being a great father is about having an active presence in your child’s life. To be emotionally present and not just financially responsible.
I still party most weekends and I still use most of my spare time to read and write. However, I ensure I spend quality time with my daughter by playing with her, reading to her and holding her close. Above all else, she must feel that her father loves her, so when it’s my time with her, she has my undivided attention.
Once I started behaving this way, I realised that I wasn’t a bad father just because my method of being a father is not in the traditional or African sense. Love is at the core of parenting, and that is what I provide.
So to any young fathers in my position who feel as though they have failed because they aren’t with their child’s mother anymore and are now co-parenting, you haven’t failed. So long as you love your child emotionally and you give what you can financially as a manifestation of that love, then you're a great father.
Being a good parent does not mean sacrificing everything for your child.
It means an abundance of love for your child. And for yourself.