I’m a Johnson.
By name only.
In real life, I’m a Gainey.
Such is the dichotomy of my life and the life of countless other people who were raised by single mothers.
Not a co-parent (a term that I abhor and cringe whenever I see it). I mean full fledged, 100% single motherhood.
Last month, I was informed by my younger brother that our biological father (or “sperm donor” for the sake of this article) had passed away. Death is never easy for anyone; this death is no exception.
First, let me explain how I got here.
My mom and “sperm donor” were married when I, Dion, was born into what I guess was supposed to be a pretty normalized life, including my mom, “sperm donor,”and my older sister. Not very long after I was born, there was a separation and, eventually, a divorce. We (Mom, Sis and I) went one way, “sperm donor” went his and I guess that was that. No sweat off my mom’s back though; she persevered and raised her two kids the best way she could. My mom is the strongest woman I’ve ever known. She never made an excuse, never whined about “that piece of shit father of yours,” none of that stuff. We didn’t grow up in the best environments, but I never felt like I went without anything I needed. I got a lot of love from my mother and my sister’s dad (who I HAPPILY call my dad) took me in as his son from day 1, possibly realizing what a prick “sperm donor” was from the jump, and raised me as if I was his own until his untimely death when I was 16.
Because I was raised in a home full of love, I never felt I needed “sperm donor” around. His absence left no void in my life. My uncle lived in the next building in my neighborhood, so he became the everyday fatherly influence I subconsciously searched for. Besides my uncle, I also had a lot of older males in my hood that took a liking to me, showed me the ropes. They were my Big Homies.
Big Homies mean a great deal to fatherless boys growing up. No one on the outside looking in really understands why, but I do. The Big Homies tell you all of the stuff that your dad would normally teach you, but they understand your situation and although they tread lightly, they are very firm in what they are telling you, which basically amounted to the do’s and dont’s for survival in these streets. Without my Big Homies, I would probably be either dead or in jail, having made the same mistake countless other young boys make trying to survive without the proper guidance.
It’s hard to quantify exactly what I missed growing up without my “sperm donor.” Was I jealous when I saw my friend’s relationships with their fathers? Hell yeah. Even to this day, those relationships make me extremely jealous.
Lucky dudes, man.
One thing I look back and know for certain I missed is the ability to receive and cultivate love in relationships. In all my relationships as a younger adult, I basically kept any female I dealt with at arms length, not willing to fully open up my heart, because, deep down, I didn’t want to be hurt again.
Funny how I can admit that today, when, looking back at those moments, I would never admit that my heart was indeed hurt before, especially by someone I never knew.
In my older years, I started to open up, and love more…and love hard. I tended to overcompensate for what I’d been missing by trying to make sure everything was 100% perfect, not giving any consideration to how I felt personally, hiding behind the age-old lie, “I’m good.” Not saying that it’s a bad thing per se; just stating that this is something that I’m sure many other men raised without their biological fathers have experienced. I’ve loved and lost and the losses have piled up over time, and I don’t have an explanation of what I’ve done in those instances. I don’t know whether to say “damn…I fucked up” or to admit to myself that I don’t know how to love the correct way.
I find myself being very aware of what my “sperm donor” didn’t do as I’m parenting my child.
Again, a man with whom I never had a relationship has somehow affected how I navigate raising MY kid….how dare he have that much of an affect on my life?
I was also deprived of being a big brother to my younger brother.
For over 30 years, I never even knew I had a little brother running around. The day my baby bro “found” me three and a half years ago was one of the greatest days of my life. Over the years, despite the 1,500 miles between us, we have developed a helluva bond that grows stronger day by day. It shouldn’t have had to be that way. Life isn’t fair, though, and I’ve lived through enough to understand that. We are just going to live the rest of our lives strengthening this bond we have, as brothers.
I’ve had friends tell me that somehow, as the product of a single mom with no college degree, my living as a productive member of society with solid employment, makes me a “unicorn.” In some instances, people have stated that I have “made it,” when that is nowhere near the case. I’m just a man who was raised the right way, by the right woman, who tries to do right by his family, who lives everyday NOT to be “sperm donor”.
So thank you, Charles Johnson, for not being what you should have been, because your leaving my mom to struggle and fend for herself inevitably made me stronger.
I wouldn’t be me without it.
And I think I’m a pretty swell guy.
You mighta been proud of a nigga.