I have some wonderful friends, contacts and associates. Amazing people, who are doing amazing things. Activists in the truest sense of the word, these are strong, passionate, energetic human beings who are out there changing the world for the better. They are making differences in people’s lives, through direct tangible change. And not just that, but they are inspiring others to do the same. Including baby activists, like myself.
One of those individuals caused a big fuss in the media recently, over a local television show that glamourised and promoted the instituted rape culture that is endemic in South Africa. The purpose of this post, however, is not to delve into what constitutes rape culture, or where it comes from, or why it is such an evil, or how to address it. Of course, I think that all of those points are very important, and I think there’s a
much-better-than-even slightly-more-than-one-hundred-percent chance that I will speak about them at length, and probably on multiple occasions.
What I wanted to talk about today was a post that one of my friends made on Facebook, shortly after one of her many media appearances. Her status said:
“When my mom called me to tell my father would have been proud of me, I couldn’t help shed a small tear.”
I couldn’t help but shed a tear either. Not because I’m proud of her, though of course I am. I think what she’s done is amazing and remarkable and fantastic.
I don’t believe in comparing oneself to others, but sometimes the temptation to do so is irresistible. I too consider myself an activist – and though I don’t yet have the reach or the platform that my friend does, I know that perhaps some day I will. I know that many of the issues that I campaign for are considered a little more niche by “mainstream society” who still have a problem with anything that isn’t simultaneously cisgender and heterosexual (though my friend and colleague is also a fantastic ally and proponent of LGBTQIA rights).
But those comparisons are not the ones I was making.
What I wondered, instead, was
Would my father have been proud of me?
And I knew the answer, but I asked myself the question anyway. He would not have. Not for one single fraction of a moment. I was always his great disappointment. I was always his never-good-enough. Sure, I possessed some academic prowess in my school days, and I enjoyed my fair share of achievements in that sphere. They were achievements that I fought hard to earn on my own, but that didn’t stop him from feeling entitled to some of the credit. And yet, that never bothered me. What bothered me was that, despite the successes that I did have, there was one failing for which he could never forgive me.
I was my mother’s child.
And he didn’t hesitate to remind me of how little he thought of her, or her side of the family. At every opportunity, he’d belittle and berate and castigate. Vitriolic and venomous and unrelenting. And where did that leave me, as her child? As a product of her maligned loins?
He resented me for it and he punished me for it. I walked on eggshells, while he waited for me to slip up. And he had no qualms about using me – his child – as a weapon against her. Was it an unreasonable lesson for me to learn from that, that his hatred for her outweighed his love for me?
But I did my best, throughout, to calm his temper, to placate his anger, to avoid his wrath. It exhausted me, it frustrated me, it made me sad, and it made me angry, so very angry. But I did it, and I did it perhaps for far longer than I should have. And still, he pushed me ever closer to the edge, until finally I stood up to the tyranny that I’d suffered under for more than two decades.
To cut short a much longer story, this confrontation did not have a happy ending. It would be another year and a half or so before he died, but in truth I lost my father that night. In greater truth, I had never had him.
The irony, and it is a story that I often relate, is that before I was born, my father had longed for a little girl. And here I am today, a strong and confident and outspoken woman, one who has faced, and who continues to face, all kinds of adversity. One who stands up boldly for what she believes in, and one who fights tooth and nail for equality, justice and compassion. One who knows how to love and how to be loved, and who has learned to recognise that allowing herself to be vulnerable is a testament to her true strength. One who is not scared of her own empathy or her emotions, one who embraces her humanity. One who has learned to love and respect herself, despite all his best efforts to teach her otherwise.
I never came out to my father. It took me years after his death to understand who I was, before I would finally be ready to acknowledge my true nature and to start living honestly and with authenticity. And today, I am proud of myself. I am proud of what I have achieved, and I am excited for what I still will.
Sometimes, I still wonder if he ever did love me. There was a time when I wanted to believe that he did. And perhaps I wonder, for a brief moment, if he would have been proud of me. And then, a second later, I remind myself that it doesn’t matter. I love me, and I am proud of me.
Who needs to be daddy’s little girl, anyway?