A black parents love is tough, and having lived the life that I have thus far, I get it.
You didn’t want the world to be able to crush our spirits, all while knowing that it was highly unlikely that we would get to pass through this journey unscathed. I have touched on the fact that both of my parents worked for the NHS for over 70 years combined before retiring. Dad was 20 years old when he left Grenada, the only island he knew as home and moved to England to get a degree in nursing. He eventually retired as a senior charge nurse within the mental health sector. My mother came to England aged 2 on the passport of her grandmother in the midst of the wind rush era retiring from the NHS 8 years ago due to ill health.
I grew up hearing stories from him on life back home, how he walked miles for school, how strict his own father had admittedly been with him. He used to tell me how he promised his father that he would one day come back home before he left Grenada for good over 45 years ago. His father passed away before I was born, but it gave me the most amount of joy that his mother got to see him settle back home before she passed away in 2015. Im possibly the closest to my parents and the most distanced from them, out of all my siblings. Our similar temperament and nature sees me clash with them all the time. The same stand firm attitude that they raised me to have wars with the sentiment that you should obey your elders and parents no matter your age. Arguments with my father often find me having to remind him that yes its obey your parents, but had he obeyed his, he never would have made it to the UK.
Growing up I never felt like my parents were happy with or proud of me. School was easy for me, I didn’t like it, but I got great grades. Honestly I coasted. If you have read some of my previous articles you will know that I did not have the easiest time in school. In fact, I have often likened my Catholic Christian primarily school to the gates of hell, and its fires having been what forged me. I am one of five children, the second youngest. Both my parents worked full time as nurses/nursing assistants for the NHS throughout my whole childhood and youth. I never wanted to add to any burden they had and consequently spent much of my childhood feeling alone and misunderstood. My anxiety and need for control manifested into an eating disorder, but thats a story for another day.
My parents did an amazing job, i’m sure their only desire was to provide their children with a life better then they had. I believe that they did that, often sacrificing their own wants and needs for ours. They raised me to love myself, first, foremost and always. I never needed for anything and when they could satisfy a want of mine they tried their best to do so. My father’s catch phrase throughout most of my life has been “Who upset my Teen?” I wear my heart on my sleeve, forever battle worn because of how soft it is, my compassion and empathy are limitless and surprisingly untarnished all things considered.
A conversation with my mother last week, had me reflecting on the upbringing that they gave us. She told me that had my father had his own way he would have raised us West Indian.
This confused me. They raised me so West Indian that I have spent much of my life straddling a line never quite fitting in. I called the Caribbean home, had the fortune of spending summers with my grandparents in both Grenada and Dominica before they passed. I didn’t get to eat Western food, so much so that I cried when my parents finally allowed me to eat dinner around a class mates house only for them to research and attempt to cook me a West Indian meal. It was water logged and looked totally unappealing, so much so that I cried when presented with it as I had been raised to not waste food and to finish my plate when I am a guest. They ended up calling my mum who informed them I had been hoping to finally get some burgers or pizza, not a rather poor attempt at a meal I was very used to. Mum still maintains that without her intervention, it could have been much worse for us and I agree.
My father is a complex man, and whilst I may love him all the time, there are many times that I have not liked him very much. I often refer to him as Thomas as he automatically doubts EVERYTHING I say from the get go. As a child he would play a game with me and my little sister, whereby he would put money in one hand, and an insect (often a grasshopper) in the other. We both had to pick a hand and the winner got to keep the money, the other faced the bug. The absolute most and I couldn’t tell you exactly what he was trying to teach me, maybe that nothing in life comes for free?! But I think we were too young to fully understand or care about that lesson.
My father is also the man who asked me when I came home to discuss my year 2 SATs results where I got all 7s, why I didn’t get 10s. No congratulations or well done, my mother had to tell him that I had got the highest grades available to me, 10 didn’t exist. Much of my childhood went like that. I found that I was always having to work twice as hard as anyone else (siblings included) to no avail. In fact, while I freely hear him tell his grandkids how much he loves them I can count on one hand or even a few fingers the amount of times I have heard him say that to me in my life. I KNOW he loves me, he has shown me in a myriad of ways. From driving or walking me around my paper round route aged 13 when I had decided I wanted a job and the shop wouldn’t let him quit on my behalf. To purchasing whatever I wanted to wear as uniform when I changed schools for Sixth form (My teacher called me chic in the year book), to sending myself and my little sister home to the Caribbean at the expense of not being able to go himself.
But our relationship is complicated. When I wanted to take religion as an A Level option, he told me no because I wasn’t going to be a nun. Fast forward a year and my little sister was allowed to take RE as an option with no conflict or intervention. When I wanted to study English and creative language at University, he told me that I had to study Law or he would not pay my tuition fees. Now this was no hard choice, I had always loved the law, loved to debate and from the moment i could comprehend that as Adults you needed to have a career, I proclaimed that I would be both a writer and a lawyer. My younger sister came along and was allowed to study English and Drama at university, I admit that this left me a little bitter but Dad didn’t pay her tuition fees. I toed the line as a child as I never wanted to upset my parents. I never missed a day of school, no matter how much I hated it, earning the 100% achievement awards for every year of my education. I was always held apart and to a higher standard to my peers and my siblings.
My childhood was sprinkled with debates amongst my parents, who would argue which island I would go into politics on. They had high hopes for me. My mother would argue that I should go into politics in Dominica as my cousin was Dame Mary Eugenia Charles, the first woman lawyer in Dominica and the first and only female prime minister to date. My father on the other hand would just as fiercely fight his corner, having left Grenada as a young adult he had his own ideas of the things he wanted to see changed on his island and how I could be the vector for that. I never understood the drive that they had to see me effect change in their own islands, until now, as I move through my forth lockdown month in the Caribbean.
A black parents love is the toughest that you will encounter on this Earth, how the world treats us leaves no room nor allows for anything else. My parents love has taught me to think ‘So what?’, anytime that I may wallow in self pity at the inequalities of it all. It has given my core a teflon strength that has weathered all storms and holds true to today. As I think back to all the things I disliked or wanted to change about my childhood I am firstly grateful. Life will not get any easier unless people take action. My parents love has taught me that even when I get knocked down 10 times, I must still get up 11. So while a black parents love is tough, know that my love, the love of a black child they raised, is not!