Single parenting isn't for sissies. But I am not the first, and certainly won't be the last.
When my son, Luca, was younger, he didn't ask many questions. His father was pretty much absent from the beginning, so it was just us: his three aunts, one uncle and my mom. His one aunt and her husband live in the UK, and so our family unit is super, super tiny.
We got used to just being us, but I have always made a point of having solid male role models in his life, and every one of them has stepped up to the plate.
I tried to keep his bubble going for as long as I could. But, I knew questions would come soon and, when he started school, it became impossible to avoid.
Nuclear families mean one thing to a lot of traditional schools. Dad, mom and children in that order. Daddy-son days and mother-daughter days are pretty much the norm.
But our nuclear families have changed so much. Families can have one mom or dad, two moms or two dads, black parents with white kids, and white parents with black kids: a rainbow family.
The list is endless. Yet, so few schools, unless it’s private schools such as Montessori and Waldorf, are mindful of this. And it is a problem; a serious one I believe.
I got my first taste of this when Luca was in Grade R, and I received a notice for a father-son braai evening – a bonding time for fathers and their sons. They would play touch rugby and be, well, manne (men) around the fire.
Luca was a bit young, so didn’t quite click what was going on. A very good friend of mine, Thurlo, took him in the end and they had a ball. The next day he forgot about it, and that was that. I breathed a sigh of relief. It was a hurdle I managed to leap over.
Fast forward a year later and the annual father-son evening raised its head again. Only this time, uncle Thurlo could not make it. The big difference, however, was Luca's excitement. It was epic. And all the Grade 1 boys had been talking about it since the notice went out.
I remember picking him up from school one afternoon and him talking non-stop about the braai.
His school is well aware of his home situation: I am not one to beat around the bush about that. But when I looked at his teacher and asked, "er, what now?" I kind of got the sense that, "well, you need to make a plan. Get an uncle or something to come. Find someone." Telling him he couldn’t go was just not an option. The disappointment would devastate him.
I went home and cried. This kind of thing makes you feel helpless and wholly inadequate. Rationally, you know it is ridiculous to feel this way, but you do.
I would have no issue taking him to such an event myself, but it’s frowned upon. And kids can be cruel, he would be teased.
So after my meltdown, I dusted myself off and called in a favour. Bugger it, I was going to go for broke. I called in uncle Siv. To many, he's the Siv Ngesi. To us, he’s just Siv: friend and brother from another mother.
And I knew he was busy, so when he responded almost immediately, the relief was immense. It was an emphatic, "How could I not?" His two favourite things: meat and not disappointing a child.
Once again Luca had a ball. He glowed for days afterwards. The street cred was a bonus.
A few days after the braai, Siv posted this on his Facebook page: "A friend asked me to take her son to a 'father-son braai' last night. Great fun was had with many fathers and sons, but what touched my heart the most, this little man kept bringing his friends to our section to proudly introduce me: 'This is my dad, guys.' He did this six times. It was so cute, I didn't have the heart to correct him. I remember my dad letting me down, time and time again ... Glad I could share the night with him."
It made me immensely happy but at the same time also broke my heart for a myriad of reasons.
Why are we so fixated on how nuclear our families should be? Do schools realise what effect this has on kids when they realise their family is a bit "different"?
We should be celebrating our diversity in all its forms, and that includes what represents a family.
By enforcing family stereotypes, we are creating a minefield of insecurities that aren't necessary, and can become a destructive crutch later on in life.
For the record, I still feel inadequate, but god knows, we do the best we can!