Growing up, I don’t remember giving my dad a present. Or breakfast in bed. In fact, I never gave him so much as a hug on Father’s Day.
Because I don’t have my father. At least not one that ever loved me enough to stay. Or quit his addictions. No. He used drugs and other women and fists on my mother to cope. And the inky preschool memories are spoiled by my imagination, steeped in a single photograph, and smeared by a very messy family history I know too well.
It’s why the education world has quietly helped students make family cards instead. Or none at all. Because Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are commonly problematic for many kids. They endure the day emotionally charged, but not in the way teachers hoped, especially since some schools have as many as 10% of their students in the foster care system.
I was a kid when I first heard about broken homes and about cords not so easily broken. We were broke in money, that much I knew, but love too? It didn’t seem fair.
It’s no coincidence that we give ties, traditionally, on Father’s Day. More than office opulence, it’s about the ties that bind us. Figuratively. In Continuity. Connection. And Courage. A fray in any of these three and the cord is broken. The ‘he’ and ‘we’ no longer.
And so when imagine1day asked me to write this piece, I knew it might hurt.
Because at 33 years old, even the people who know me forget. They give ties and plan picnics. And truthfully, sometimes I forget too. Because most years, the only thing that matters is that my sons have their father. As well as the men before him who’ve made the hard choices my own father couldn’t. It’s men like them that are the difference to an in-law like me: a once abandoned girl, found.
Like Mebrhit, a little girl nearly married away four years ago in northern Ethiopia. She was eleven. Her father, 51-year-old Mezgebe Gebregziabher from Guangua, a town in the state of Tigray, supports his three daughters and four sons by tilling the arid land for sorghum grain. An industrious man, he values hard work and peace. But too, burdened with many responsibilities and too few resources. The marriage was purposeful.
And promising. The fiancé quickly sent gifts of clothing and shoes. Next would arrive oxen and goats. “By culture, if the husband gets the bride he has to help the girls’ family,” says Mezgebe.
Mebrhit, the last to know she had been given away, ran to her school, scared and alone. Yohannes Kidanemariam, her former school vice principal, remembers the day Mebrhit unravelled in his office. And he made a choice. “For one month, me and the other teachers we bought her exercise books and pens and she never went home.” And after weeks of repeated visits, Yohannes and others in the community helped Mezgebe reconsider the marriage. Mebrhit’s parents eventually conceded and the wedding gifts were returned. A once abandoned girl, found.
It’s been four years and next year, Mebrhit will start high school as one of imagine1day’s Class 2018 Graduate Fund students. Because men like Yohannes chose courage. And men like Mezgebe chose his daughter’s education over dutiful engagement.
And not because it was easy. “I was angry then. Now I am happy,” says Mezgebe. Mehbrit’s contribution is already significant. She says, “I can read the instructions on the fertilizer. I tell him how he should take his prescriptions.” Although she won’t be at home to help in September, the family will reap more than aid. Mezgebe will be trained through imagine1day to be self-sufficient in goat fattening and breeding. In a year, his business should be enough to support Mebrhit’s educational and living expenses. Her education, once a loose end, now a lifeline.
“With such an opportunity, I cannot be sad. It is grace and success and I will do everything to contribute to her graduation,” says Mezgebe.
It’s supposed to end well, right? The video in your head is supposed to fade to black on Mebrhit’s smiling face. But just four months ago her mother died, leaving Mebrhit, the eldest daughter, with all her household responsibilities. And a strand missing in the ties that bind her. And her siblings. A broken home?
No. The men in her life have shown her how to be brave. And make the hard choices. Even when she was worried that the challenges would stop her from finishing grade eight, she says, “If I had been married I would already have kids. Now I am educated-now I can have both. I can’t express my pleasure.”
Because it’s between the rocks and hard places that we right the passages of our histories and write the passages of our futures. To Mezgebe and Yohannes and the men of courage, thank you.
You’ve roped us in. And taught us that you won’t let go.
It’s not a typical Happy Father’s Day story, but that’s why it needs telling.
As an official Creatributor to the imagine1day fam jam, I’m proud to say that all donations made this week will fund community and training programs in Ethiopia – to spark more courageous conversations on gender equity in the classroom. Everywhere.
Because the little things are the big things.