So this picture was taken in 1972. This is me and my Daddy. My role model. Dapper. Disciplinarian. Dry Sense of Humour. Loves empowering children. You can see where I get it from then. I am quite blessed that both he and my Mum were ever present role models in my life as a child. Shaping and moulding my values and creating boundaries as best they could. Of course I hated the physical side of discipline but I did like the fact that they saw discipline as leading by example. They felt the need to protect me until I was of the age to step out into the world on my own and make my own choices. Truth be told for my Mum I will always be her boy but you see where I am going.
Setting of Boundaries
Growing up my parents were very clear about what could or could not be done in our house. We were encouraged from a young age to read loads. TV and junk food were exceptions not the rule. I never slept over at friends houses unless my parents knew and liked the parents. If I got in trouble at school I got in as just much trouble when I got home. Considering I got caned twice was not the most pleasant of memories. If I messed up or misbehaved in public it was all about shaming the family name, my Dad and Mum would be calm, and look over at me with a smile but with that look of steel in their eyes which said “We will sort this out later”. I wasn’t aloud to date until I left school with a fistful of qualifications. Growing up in the early 80s there was also a real strong sense of racial identity and the need to study and work hard and not to bend to the stereotypes some people had of young blacks growing up. My aunties and uncles through family, church and the wider community also reinforced these boundaries in their presence and their absence. If you think the internet is fast, you should have seen how quick news travelled back in the day.
Even though these boundaries were in place I can’t deny that I pushed them. Surely this is a rite of passage for teenagers. Whilst I never dated I did “go out” with a couple of girls before I left school. All on the down low. I actually remember the terror of my Dad finding a letter from a girl who declared explicit love for me. It always shook me when school friends would tell me how they spoke to or treated their parents. I actually remember running from outside a friend’s house when he told her to f off right in the middle of the street. Subliminally I reckon I was scared my Dad was in earshot and would probably come and sort my mate out with a tongue lashing from hell. Yet for all the strictness my parents imposed I was so grateful for a safe place to act within. An environment of love and learning and as I got older and as my parents changed and adapted a great space for dialogue.
I can see how this upbringing has affected my own parenting. My daughters have no TV in their rooms. OK so they have iPods and phones, but they are monitored. They are voracious readers. My wife and I have declared no boyfriends until they finish school. Already an interesting conversation. No staying over at friends house unless I know and like their parents. A strong sense of identity both in terms of their heritage and femininity. Godparents, uncles and aunties who will reinforce and remind them both of the values we share and boundaries we have in place. A strong focus on learning, travel, appreciation of other cultures and ambition. Here is why this is so important to me.
Lack of Boundaries
I have been working with young people for the last twenty five years. From mentor to detached youth worker, counsellor and now to youth speaking, coaching, training and consulting. In this space of time I have worked with individuals from various walks of life from those who are academically gifted and needed that extra push to those who are incredibly emotional and physically fragile from a host of diverse reasons. One of the things that has often reared it’s head is how easy it is for adults to take advantage of young people that are emotionally fragile.
When a young person has not had love or affection from people around them, it is very easy for them to become attached and dependant on those who do show care or interests in what they go through. Long before I was even aware of child protection laws it became clear to me that a line had to be drawn as to how we communicate with young people. I am a hugger. Yet I had to learn very quickly that no matter how innocent I think a hug is from me it can be interpreted very differently by others. Those who know me will know I hug in public. Simple bump fists if we are in private will suffice. Extreme it may seem but I have seen so many times when this could go awry. Indeed there have been times I have witnessed inappropriate behaviour and have called people on it. I also remember a culture that often turned a blind eye and said I was blowing things out of proportion. This is why cases like Jimmy Saville and others are no real surprise to me and am sure more will surface.
When I worked in church with teens I realised that I had a duty of care for young people to speak out and challenge this. In a couple of instances I had to physically square up to mostly men who overstepped their boundaries. I came across many a young person who underwent some form of physical or emotional abuse as a result of not being aware of the boundaries. When I worked in music I came across many young people who came to me scared that they had contracted STDs because they had slept with their idols. Often way too scared to go to the police, parents or be perceived as loose to their friends. In many ways this has made me even more determined to create boundaries for my own children and empower them about decisions they make well before they reach adulthood.
My wife and I talk very openly with our daughters. On faith and beliefs, race, sexuality, identity, money and life. We allow them to challenge us if they think we are wrong. This can often be very interesting especially as the youngest is very determined to get her point across if she believes she is right. Wifey has a remarkable way of shutting this down though. You have to see it to understand! One of the issues I raised last night on Twitter was about dating and boyfriends staying over. Now I have no problems with my kids going cinema, theatre, shopping with a male friend before the age of 16. Totally kosher. I have to meet the dude though because they know it’s worse if I see them on the road. I have perfected embarassing Dad to a fine art. If they have boyfriends when they are adult (18+) who do want to stay over at our house anytime they are more than welcome. He will be sleeping downstairs. Also if they come round to the house there is an open door policy too. None of that shut door shenanigans. That’s how it is. If you wanna shack up go and get your own house/flat and knock yourself out. Of course there maybe the opportunity that when my wife and I aren’t there, and they are young women they may come home with said boyfriend with desires to more than just read Plato or watch the Discovery Channel, but then I have said to them “Are you willing to risk it if you don’t know where the cameras are?”
On a serious note though I reckon as a father we have equal but different roles to rearing our children. Yes I am speaking from a heteronormative angle but I can only speak from what I know. I know my role is to provide benchmarks and security. A source of comfort and guidance on their road to becoming a woman. Not only to my daughters of my birth but to all those children in the community who have looked up to me as a father figure. I will be (over)protective but am not afraid to be challenged on that too. Love my kids. End of.