TW: This blog post has disturbing details of domestic violence, animal abuse, and hebephilia. If you are easily triggered by any of these topics, stop reading.
I was a daddy’s girl.
My mother was the disciplinarian. She meant business, and her word was law ― well, when it came to me anyway.
My father was fun, silly, and irresponsible. You don’t recognize how problematic this is and how much stress it causes the other parent until you get older.
Older came a little too early for me, I think. I was nine years old when I first saw my father strike my mother, and I never forgave him. I jumped before her, shouting that he shouldn’t dare hit her again.
He stormed out and didn’t return for days.
What’s your earliest memory?
When I was a teen, a cousin asked me what my earliest memory was. I had never thought of this before, but for years, it was a question I would return to. Every so often, when insomnia kept me awake at night, I would try to reorganize my memories chronologically to see which one was the earliest.
I reached my early 20s before I finally had an answer to the question. But the memory confused me, and for years, I wondered whether it was true or whether hatred had distorted the details.
Here is mine.
I remember my second birthday vividly. Two things about the memory struck me as confusing. But I’ll share the moment first before picking away at its flaws.
It is evening or late night, maybe 8 pm. My mother walks into the room with my birthday cake. She lights the candles, sets the cake down on the bed, and sings me happy birthday.
I am excited. I haven’t a care in the world but the fact that this is my moment of celebration. And, of greater importance, my cake!
So, what’s wrong with the memory?
- Who waits until after dark to celebrate a toddler’s birthday?
- My parents were married, and my father lived with us. Why could I never remember him being there?
My mom had the answers.
I wrestled with this memory for several years before finally asking my mother about it. The year was 2014; it was her first time back in Jamaica since she moved to Atlanta a decade earlier.
I lived in a studio apartment in Montego Bay, and she had chosen to stay with me in the city. One evening, while she washed the dishes, I started thinking about the incident again, so I asked her.
She burst into tears. “Why do you even remember that?!” she said. “You were so young. How do you remember that?!”
“So, he really wasn’t there?” I asked her.
“Why did we wait until so late to cut the cake? That’s way past toddler bedtime!”
When she had regained her self-possession, Mom told me:
“I thought he was working late and that he would come home. How could he forget it was your birthday? So, I waited and waited, and waited. But by around 8 o’clock, you were starting to get sleepy, so I lit the candles, and we celebrated your second birthday alone.”
What she said next, I have no recollection of:
“He didn’t come home that night ― or the next. After waiting a few days, I packed our things and went to his family’s house. Eventually, he showed up looking for us ― you know, this was before cell phones.”
He only got worse as a husband and father.
When I was eight, we moved from my hometown. My parents told me it was because my biological father had gotten a transfer to another school ― six hours away.
When I got older, I learned that it wasn’t some new opportunity that led to our transfer. He was a teacher at a trade school, and he allegedly had an affair with a student and knocked her up.
Moving across the country was no upgrade. We left behind a three-bedroom, three-bathroom home in the countryside with a washroom, den, small gym, two patios, and a driveway.
In its stead, we found a one-bedroom shotgun-style apartment. For the first time, I didn’t have my own room. Instead, my bed and the dining space ended up in one area.
You learn a lot more about your parents’ relationship in tiny spaces.
It got so bad; we had to leave.
He was always “working late” and often wouldn’t come home at all. But when he was home, he could easily burst into a temper. Whether it was beating the landlady’s cat to death in the wall, throwing a plate of food across the kitchen, or slapping someone, he was unpredictable.
I didn’t know which one was worse: wondering whether he would come home or the fact that I was kinda happy when he didn’t.
Everything came to a head when mom found him at his co-worker’s house while he was allegedly working late again. He walked out sweating profusely with this shirt unbuttoned, zipper down, and belt off.
Shortly after, we packed our things and moved back to my grandmother’s house. There, we had peace and quiet. He would visit a few weekends out of the month, but my grandma was around, so he had to behave.
He came back with chaos, fury, and fire.
Eventually, he got a teaching job at our local high school and moved back. Grandma allowed us to move into my late great-grandmother’s home, and we fixed it up as best as we could and called it home.
The plan was a disaster from the start. And, as time went by, things only got worse. I was thirteen when I woke up to him trashing the house and breaking our things.
Mom was in a hot, tear-filled fury. “I can’t do this anymore!” she shouted. “I can’t stay here every night, wondering if you’re going to kill me in my sleep!”
Soon after, she was on a plane to Atlanta. A decade would pass before she ever set foot on the island again. And by then, she had divorced him.
When Mom left, in truth, I was happy. The beauty of having an irresponsible father as a teenager is that they don’t really parent you. He was busy whoring, and I could live my life.
But something snapped in his head when I entered puberty.
He became very hyperfocused on me.
Now that he is dead, I can publicly say things I have never uttered to anyone but my closest confidantes. I don’t even know how to begin this section, so I’ll let it spill however it rolls out.
I was very embarrassed about my body as a teen. Put simply, I was busty, with a small waist, wide hips, and a butt. You can’t ask for much else as a Jamaican girl.
There was only one problem. I was a tomboy, and having my guy friends suddenly express sexual or romantic interest in me was traumatizing. I went to an all-girls Catholic School to steer clear of boys as much as possible.
But there was one overgrown boy I could not escape.
The one I lived with.
Let me take some deep breaths before writing this.
I had zero interest in boys or dating, so it was in my early 20s that I looked back on these interactions with adult eyes and understanding.
How do I even begin?
I guess I could start by saying my biological father enjoyed taking me to clothing stores. The attendant always looked uncomfortable as he picked out outfits with navel-low “necklines” and mini skirts that barely covered my ass cheeks.
Most girls my age loved clothes like this, and I thought: well, I guess he’s trying to make me girlie, but this really sucks, and I want to go home.
In Jamaica, it’s normal for your parents to buy your clothes and underwear without consulting you. When Mom left, I thought nothing of him taking over this role. When I got some with zippers in the crotch or the crotch completely missing, I shrugged it off.
I guess, this is what adults wear, right? I’m almost an adult.
One day, I passed him in my towel. I was on my way to my room after showering. I shut my bedroom door, but it had no lock. He pushed the door open and stood in the doorway watching me with a smirk.
I was furious.
I threw something at him, shoved him out of the room, and kicked the door closed. It took a long time for me to calm down. When I finally did, he told me that my anger made him fear for his life.
I said, “Good.”
He never tried it again.
I started to sleep with a butcher’s knife under my pillow.
After this incident, his acts of aggression grew worse. I started to get beatings for things I didn’t even do. He became obsessed with whether I was sexually active and searched the garbage cans for used condoms.
On one occasion, he drove me to the doctor to have my hymen inspected. The doctor was an hour from our house, and when he ordered me out of the car, I sat there defiantly. Finally, he had no choice but to take me back home with a warning.
Hilariously, I had no interest in boys until college and didn’t have a boyfriend until I was eighteen years old.
Nevertheless, his aggression grew to violence. It was so bad, I got the nickname Black Jacket Demon at school. I wore that velvet jacket no matter how hot it was. It covered up the cuts and scabs on my arm for beatings with belts, belt buckles, and “switches”.
Hilariously, he has never disciplined or punished me for anything I actually did. All my beatings were just for fun.
I wasn’t his only teen interest.
I was around fourteen or fifteen when he started “dating” a girl at my high school. I’m not sure if she was at the age of consent, which is 16 in Jamaica.
He would drive to school to pick her up, honk to let me know he had seen me, and then take her home.
I took the bus.
One day, someone who knew my mom spotted his car at my school. She asked him if I had been ill and why he was there. And why did I take the bus home that day if he had been there when school let out?
After that, when he came to pick up Farrah, I was allowed to ride in the back. Then, he would drop me at the house and go home with her.
Not long after that, a teen girl saw him honk at me on the road. “Do you know that man? Be careful of him!”
“Why?” I asked her.
“He likes young girls,” she warned me.
I was sixteen when he lost custody.
When I was fifteen, Mom finally found the courage to end the marriage. Mom had always been quiet and obedient, never fighting back when he hit her, maintaining the peace at home while he roamed. She had even left her church to attend his.
She wore the old frumpy clothes he instructed her to wear as the wife of a “Christian” man. Meanwhile, he chased women dressed as harlots in the streets. Though, as you can see, “women” is relative.
Now, Mom was in Atlanta by herself. It was the first time she was not around her husband or mother. Mom had to learn to stand up for herself, and along the way, she found her voice and recognized that she was better off alone.
When she ended the marriage, he retaliated by calling ICE. The case was so strange that ICE ordered the head of the department to cut his vacation short and pay her a personal visit.
They wanted to know why any husband would call ICE on his wife. They also said he sounded desperate and unhinged in the phone calls, and they feared for her safety. Mom received clemency with no court appearance, and they allowed her to proceed with her paperwork.
In Jamaica, he took away my passport and banned me from seeing my grandmother.
Mom’s decision to leave ramped up his unpredictability and vengefulness. The police were called to our home on several occasions, and they let him off with a warning each time.
Finally, he stole my passport and moved us to his family’s home in another town. I was banned from speaking to my mother, and he threatened to have someone hurt me if I returned to the house or visited my grandma.
Before we left, I found the passport, gave it to my grandma, and didn’t say a word. When he found out it was missing, he had my uncle call me to tell me I was a fool. My mother was manipulating me, and I should return the passport to my father.
I asked my uncle if he had even stopped once to ask me what was going on or to hear my side of the story. And that if all he was going to do was accuse me without asking me anything, he should get off the phone and never speak to me again.
I hung up.
I have not spoken to him since.
He was my favourite uncle.
When Mom called, I had to pretend it was a friend from school.
I couldn’t call her mom or give her the kind of deference one gives to a parent. We had to use the same casual way of speaking that I would use with another sixteen-year-old. That has shaped our relationship to this day.
One night, my biological father finally grew suspicious and accused me of talking to my mother. He ordered me to give him my cell phone. He was correct, so I took off running instead.
He chased me down the hill, and it hit me how fucking awful my life was. There I was, pretending to talk to some random person from school just to let my mom know I had done well on a test.
I threw myself into a giant pothole in the road. I wallowed and screamed in the gravel until the neighbours came out. If he was going to be an asshole, I was going to embarrass him tonight and get some help.
“I just want to talk to my mom! I just want to talk to my mom! Don’t make him take my phone! I want to talk to my mom!” No matter what they said, what they asked…I kept saying the same thing over and over.
When they finally got me to calm down, my words were no better. I told them I was sick of this shit, and if he took the phone, I would drown myself in the sea. That sea was directly across from us. We lived by the beach.
An aunt overheard this. She had lost her son in those same waters, and it broke her. She begged me to remain calm and promised to intervene so I could speak to my mom.
The neighbours said it was wicked that he would stop a young girl from talking to her mother. Worse, they remembered my mom, and everyone liked my mom. Eventually, other family members nearby got involved and made him promise to let me talk to her.
The worst part? My mother was still on the phone the entire time. Crying while she listened to me beg and wail and wallow for the simple right of speaking to my parent. Crying because she felt it was her fault for calling.
This incident prompted my mom to exercise her only other option.
Mom filed a petition in court to terminate his parental rights and requested a restraining order. The police served him at school in the middle of his class, according to him.
Because I was still a minor, I wasn’t allowed into the courtroom until the reading of the final judgement. The judge said my case was so unique that she didn’t know what to do.
Jamaica had no rules in place for emancipating a minor. She acknowledged that there were no legal grounds for what she was about to do but could not think of any other solution.
I was emancipated by the family court and allowed to live as an adult. But the problems didn’t stop there.
My college had an evacuation protocol for me.
My biological father continued to show up unannounced at my school. He did it so often that my college had an evacuation procedure just for me. They would tell him they didn’t think I was at school, but oh, wouldn’t he just wait right here in the office while they sent someone to check?
The counselor would send a student to my class and then keep him occupied. The student would arrive with a note telling me my father was on campus and that I should leave immediately.
Once the student confirmed I was off campus, she would return to the guidance counselor and let her know. The guidance counselor would then tell him I was not at school, and politely escort him back to his car.
In one instance, he went off on one of the other guidance counsellors. “I won’t even repeat the things he said,” she told me when I asked what happened. She, too, was estranged from her biological father and understood.
Even the saddest stories have a happy ending!
A lot more happened after college that I won’t get into, but I succeeded in removing him from my life. Healing took a long time. I passed through night terrors where I would relive one particular instance where he tried to kill me.
Sometimes, Mom and I trade stories of his attempted murders. The times I slept with a metal rod by the bed in Jamaica. The pepper spray she hid in the nightstand in Atlanta.
A few years ago, he contacted me saying he wanted his daughter back. I told him I already had a dad and didn’t have space in my life for two.
I reminded him that there was a restraining order and that if he continued to contact me, I would return the favour he did my mother, by notifying U.S. law enforcement.
His hospitalization and death happened quickly.
I was visiting Atlanta in February when a family member messaged me to say he had suffered a stroke. He was unconscious, and they didn’t think he would make it.
I had been in the middle of a conversation with my mom. I paused to tell her that her ex-husband was dying. She thought I was joking, so I showed her the message.
She asked if I was okay and whether I wanted to see him. That’s the crazy thing about my mom. She has always supported my right to maintain contact with him if I want to, even at risk to her person. Lucky for both of us, I had no such desire.
A week later, I had just arrived in Spain when I got a second message. He had died. His death meant so little to me that I forgot to mention it in therapy for two weeks.
When I finally told my therapist, he didn’t seem surprised. Neither by the death nor my reaction. We do not often speak of my father in therapy, believe it or not.
“He’s been dead to you for years,” he said to me. “His passing was only official confirmation.”
We have not spoken of him since.
They buried him in April.
A part of me feels bad for not feeling bad. Maybe he was mentally ill and needed help. Maybe he never learned how to cope with his emotions in a healthy way. But it was never my job to raise my father.
Nevertheless, someone out there loved him. Someone somewhere is mourning their loss and weeping from his absence. Their grief may last for years to come. It may never fade.
Better them, than me.
As far as I’m concerned, my daddy is alive and well in Atlanta.
And if I lost him?
Nothing in the world could fill the void he would leave behind.
That is the father who chose me and who I chose.
I have no need for another one.