Posted 17 February 2020
Jemma lives in Linlithgow with her 8-year-old son Archie and when not trying to juggle childcare, housework and writing, works part-time as a web editor for the University of Edinburgh. Jemma won Gingerbread’s ‘One in...
Posted 14 January 2019
I became a single father to my son in 1989. Prior to his birth, my girlfriend had decided that she wasn’t going to stay with us. She left when he was one week old and we haven’t heard or seen her since.
Anyway, we named him Suneil – Sunny for short. He was a beautiful baby, weighing 6 lbs 11 ounces. Within a few months, we learned that he had eczema and asthma. To the uninitiated, these conditions might seem relatively innocuous but they were to consume our relationship.
In fact, his eczema worsened, severely affecting all aspects of his life. Most importantly, it affected his education and schooling. Parents’ evenings were often excruciating and torturous. The general census was always that he wasn’t trying hard enough and falling behind. If that wasn’t enough, he was admitted to hospital on a number of occasions – more than I can care to remember. By Year 11 his attendance was a mere 43%.
For me, it meant a time of stress, anxiety, worry and sheer helplessness about his future. The doctors/consultants had more or less given up on him – attributing his skin condition on the steroid creams and ointments which they themselves had been prescribing.
As a single parent, you are constantly worried about what the child is missing out on. I certainly worried about Sunny, about whether he was a well-adjusted boy; whether I was doing enough for him.
I felt that there were two routes Sunny could go down: either he falls into the ‘wrong crowd’ and becomes wayward, causing mischief and trouble for himself; or he can absorb himself in his own world of reading, art, sports and creativity. Sunny, however, drifted into both in equal measures: fighting, getting in trouble with the law, taking recreational drugs and even being locked up a couple of times. But, he was also incredibly bright, very artistic and had a flair for languages, music and sports. He didn’t read stories or poetry but he loved encyclopaedias, books on ancient history, mythology, science and anatomy. During his later years at secondary school – which he couldn’t wait to leave – his skin condition meant it was almost impossible for him to follow a regular sleeping pattern. This left him wide awake at night, time he used to feed his appetite for knowledge.
Today, despite the range of difficulties we’ve had in the form of illnesses, personalities and the struggles in coming to terms as a single father-only child unit, we’ve managed to salvage a decent relationship.
People ask me how I managed as a single parent, holding a fulltime job and becoming a writer. In this regard, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have made it without the love and support of my immediate family. They’ve been there for me – all those times when I’ve been held up at work or have had to go away for work.
My way of recompensing my son had been in the old-fashioned way: by spoiling him and giving him all he’s ever asked for – money, designer clothes, watches, even a couple of residential courses with AC Milan. Was this wrong? Probably. Did we both feel better as a result? Yes. Could I have spent more time with him when he was growing up instead of thinking of my own career? Yes, I think so. I do also believe that our experiences together meant that today Sunny is someone who is incredibly independent, confident, highly intelligent, gifted and ambitious.
The thing is as a single father you are always going to make mistakes – that’s the nature of single parenting. It can leave you with a dull pang of guilt and regret. Questioning the way you do things, should I have done more of this, more of that; less of this, less of that other thing. I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule about what you should or shouldn’t do as a single parent. Essentially, you do your best – and that’s all you can do. Of course, you’ll make mistakes but more often than not you’ll do a good job, and that’s something to be proud of.