Illustration: Laurence Ware / laurenceware.tumblr.com
Driving alone, I’m on my way, contemplating what to tell my son, Danny… Hmm… that I never had a Play-station? That I couldn’t afford a TV licence? Will he be proud? I doubt it. Could I tell him, I was arrested on numerous occasions for practising my own culture, which if ever harmful, is only harmful to myself, and that to me it felt like I was stopped by the police all too often for being black? Do I tell him, I was once stopped twice in Chapeltown, with only seven minutes in between? Yet I was working as Youth Worker, trying to get to work at the time, trying to set an example, and to help young people progress so that they might not have to go through what I did.
Do I tell him, I’m an honourable man? That I lived a street life, a poor person’s life, and a victim’s life? A life of pressure? Do I tell him the truth or fiction?
Do I tell him, I like football but could never afford to go to a game? That I don’t have Sky TV? That I may have been denied opportunity due to lack of friends in high places? Do I say, I couldn’t be with him when he was a baby because I couldn’t afford to keep him, according to his mother, and the system that backed her one hundred percent? In the world we’re in, I don’t expect things could be any different. Although, it’s all out there, on the net, and in the music. Some truth that is.
But what do I tell him? That I’m not religious but I believe in a higher source? That I believe in peace, and war when it’s justified? That I believe that most wars today are unjustified? That I’m a pessimist? That I believe his mother has betrayed us both? That ninety percent of my friends turned out to be enemies, through selfishness and greed? That in my view, some people really can be sinners to avoid? And that I hope and pray one day, he gets to meet his grandad on my side? That I still need love in my life? What do I say, the truth or fiction?
If he happens to ask, I’ll say…
I’ll tell him truth because although his world will differ from mine, he needs to know what it can really be like. It’s my responsibility. He needs to be armed with knowledge and understanding. He needs wisdom and guidance. And he needs to know why I was never a perfect father.
I haven’t seen him for over a year. As I park up, I wonder how it will go. I meet him in the Visiting Centre and being only seven, to be honest I can’t do it to him, not today. His eyes are blameless and innocent. I thought he might be upset, but I seemed more afraid than him. We play some football with a tennis ball, and Black Jack. And I feel like we’re being watched because we are, literally.
He’s a Liverpool supporter, but likes Chelsea. I’m happy with that. I tell him he has an Auntie that plays for Leeds, and he’s pleasantly surprised. Then I ask him about school, then his friends. All good there. He tells me his favourite colour is blue, and so is mine. Then we smile mutually like that’s the most important thing in the world. I give him belated birthday and Christmas gifts and he’s as happy as can be, with no bad vibes I can feel. He is getting on with things, and that makes me feel the same. Oh the truth matters, but not too much, too soon. And the truth is, I love him as a father should, and that will have to do.
When our hour is up, he looks at me sternly and asks, ‘Why can’t I live with you?’
But I really don’t know how to answer. ‘I wish you could,’ I say, ‘but sometimes…Sometimes, life isn’t how we want it to be.’
‘Okay, daddy,’ he says. He gives me back the gifts. ‘Can you look after these for me?’ he asks.
‘Of course I can,’ I reply. It’ll be my pleasure. I’ll bring them next time. And I hope next week will be just as nice, all truth, no fiction, with good vibes.