Where Do Dads Go?

Rosa stood at the balcony watching John play with the other kids. You couldn’t tell that he was raised by a single mother by looking at him. The absence of a father didn’t make him walk with a limp, laugh with a snort, or stand with a hunch. The only time you could tell something was wrong was when the gate was opened and one of the kids ran towards it, singing, “Daddy, daddy, daddy.” Then, his cheeks fell and sadness engulfed him.

She had thought of buying him toys and telling him they came from his dad but she had thought it would only raise difficult questions. Besides, she already couldn’t answer simple ones like, ‘who his father was’ or ‘where he had gone to.’ She had thought of telling him that his father was a good-for-nothing bastard but she found it unwise because at some point in her life he was exactly what she had wanted. She instead resorted to dancing around the truth and telling him that his father left to find them a better place.

Watching him play she couldn’t help but puzzle about how much he resembled him: His afro of a hair, his dark-brown skin, and a face that made you want to take dozens of photographs of him. She watched him running around and making a ruckus and thought that he also had his father’s sprightly spirit. But she worried, she worried that her son would grow up to have abandonment issues because he didn’t have a male figure to teach him how to kick a football. Someone to show him what manhood meant and give him the tools he needed to build ambition and drive.

She worried about the confusion and rebellion of the teenage years ahead. She worried about who would talk to him about girls; how to interact with them, how to respect them. She worried that he would end up being vulgar—treating women the same way his father had treated her. His father had called her a whore when she told him about her pregnancy. He out-rightly denied her and said he didn’t know where she had been or who she had been with even though they had been seeing each other exclusively for more than a year.

She had thought she could count on uncles and cousins to be father figures to John but a lot of them looked down on single mothers and the few who could be counted on were rarely around. She had dated a few men but the feeling had been that of lust, nothing that could be extended to her son. The worry came in flashes but then it decapitated when she looked around and saw that a lot of fathers were fathers by name. Leaving early in the morning and coming late in the night and disappearing on weekends.

The worrying came back on John’s seventh birthday. She had made it a habit of getting him grand gifts for his special day. It was her way of overcompensating for being a single mother. On his previous birthday, she had gotten him two bicycles after he came home running, saying his friend had been bought a cool, new BMX bike, with two gears by his dad. His eyes were a bit red and she suspected that he had been teased about it so she got him a yellow and a blue BMX bike. “Now you have four gears,” she told him with a painful, proud smile. The one after that she got him an entire collection of toy cars after he was all agog about what a big car his friend’s father drove. She found these acts harmless but she knew she was spoiling him. Her actions were telling him that he could get away with anything if he learned to put the word “dad” in the right sentence.

She was wondering what to get him for his seventh birthday and she had decided on a PlayStation. On that day she invited her family, a few of her friends, and John’s playmates. They cut the cake and afterward, she asked him to guess what mommy had gotten him, but he had grown sad. “Where do dads go, mom?” He asked, his palms sitting on his cheeks. The noise of cheering kids stopped. Her friend who was holding a bag of crisps between thumb and forefinger put it down and the room grew silent, a silence that seemed to stretch time and John’s question lingered around the room like thick fog.

Rosa felt a heat flash and her skin paled. She wanted to change the subject and shout “Happy birthday” but her throat felt sore. She kissed John on the forehead and her lips parted—her voice was shaking. “Dads don’t go anywhere. They are in sitting rooms reading newspapers while their kids grow. They are in butcheries eating meat while their kids go hungry. They are in their lovers’ houses while their kids learn to walk. They are in bars listening to trite from insecure men who they call friends while their kids wait for them at the dinner table. Dads don’t go anywhere because a lot of them were never there.”

Happy father’s day to all the fathers that have been there.

***

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