I was raised in a household with both parents present. Just like any other family, there were struggles such as economic hardships, the usual bickering between parent-child, sibling-sibling and parent-parent. Although I was raised in an urban community, the household was dominated by two Ghanaian-born immigrants.
From as early as elementary school to as late as undergraduate school, I was surrounded with my peers who lived in one-parent households. All of their circumstances were different, of course. Many of them had absent fathers, either having transitioned to the next life, or leaving them at a very young age. I’ve noticed it was generally the father who was not present in their lives. Others had no biological parents present and lived under foster care, some other relative or a family friend. Some, however, lived in households where their parents were divorced and had to go back and forth between houses. I remember saying to myself “I’m lucky my parents live together”, because I couldn’t imagine living in two homes. It was already a hassle to travel from school to my very far residence.
And still, with absent parents, from old friends to new, they were head of their classes, the most involved in student activities and the most prepared for jobs and careers, while I struggled to pretend to enjoy being part of after-school clubs and other indoctrination programs.
My parents, being semi-traditional Ghanaian, were also semi-strict. I was raised in a residential area in between two train stations and multiple bus stops. In between the residential area, was of course commercial areas, which were frequently visited by the pigs/police because of gun-related incidents. Being one of two daughters, my parents feared us being a victim of crime, which could be considered common in New York City. Because of that, we had limited opportunities to hang out as the rest of my friends were so freely able to do. I was jealous of my friends who had minimum restrictions on where they can go and what time they can go.
Looking back now, my parents only wanted to protect us from the things they were the inevitable. Mugging, sexual harassment/abuse, police brutality, seeing crime against others and the possible stalking, are all things that they tried their very hardest to protect me from, but once outside of their field of vision, was unable to stop the actions of others.
I did not enjoy living there. It was far from everybody and even within the house, we were distant.
When I was lucky, I visited the households of friends. The dynamics from the outside looking in was poor, but still looked enjoyable as a teenager in NYC. I remember being asked “You have both your parents, why are you so miserable?” I wondered the same.
There is a misconception that the only kind of broken homes, are homes that are single-parent, no-parent. This, however, is untrue. I have both my parents and still felt as if I was missing something. A pet? No. We had 2 parakeets, 50 fish, 3 hermit crabs and 2 albino frogs. If that wasn’t enough, my sister and frequently volunteered at the pet shelter and made friends with the abandoned cats and dogs. Friends? I had a few, though wasn’t able to visit them as much as I wanted. What was I missing, in a house filled with pets and family?
I am still carrying this burden of incompleteness. Wherever I go, I yearn for something and can never pin-point what it is. Was it a hug and a kiss from mommy or daddy? Or maybe even a hair/nail session with my sister. Still, I am not sure what I am missing. Though many will say I am blessed to have a “complete” family.
Family is more than just having siblings and parents in the home. It is about consistent communication, unconditional love and commitment and loyalty. It is more than just having a bed to sleep on and a table to eat on. It is to be able to speak to your family without fearing negative feedback or even worse, no feedback at all.
That reminds me, I should call my mom.
Tell the people who you love, that you love them. Tell the people who you appreciate, that you do. Sometimes, that is the glue to hold a broken family together. And if it is not, it is certainly a start that does more good than harm.