By Miajah Spriggs
My mother always wanted my brother and me to live without needing a father. She took on both roles and sacrificed to give us everything we needed. We grew up without lots of money, but we always had the main necessities that we needed to survive on our own. My brother is three and a half years older than I. For those four years, he spent little time with our father-which is more than my father spent with me. He was in and out of jail for most of that part of my brother’s life. My brother was able to spend nine months with our father; he came to live with my mother and brother in 2003. When I was four months old, he was sent to prison for being involved in gang-related activities that he never mentioned to me.
As a younger girl, I never realized how much I was missing out on not having a “dad.” I had always looked to my brother and my mom in certain situations, and my mom made it feel like it was normal to just have a mother. There were times when I was about eight years old that I questioned my identity. I don't look like my mom. I'm mixed with black and El Salvadorian heritage; my complexion, as well as my brother’s, is are far lighter than my mother and closer to my father’s color. Unknowingly, my father helped me find my origins.
I visited him about six times in prison before he got deported; during those visits and in letters he wrote us, he would always say that my mother is doing a great job raising us and that he was happy we had her. When he said those things, I appreciated my mother more for being involved and present in my life. I felt, and still feel, that her being present made the difference in who I grew up to be.
No matter how present my mother was, however, the fifteen years I grew up without a father really hurt at times. I noticed other girls with their dads, doing activities and enjoying the time they had together. I felt lost and left out because the only father I knew was behind a prison cell.
Although I found myself looking towards my brother in situations, I needed a father; sometimes I tried to do things on my own. I internalized everything I could, not wanting to put any extra stress or worry on my family. We were already going through so much, struggling to keep food on our table, let alone a roof over our head. I never wanted to put my mother in a position that would cause her even more stress.
These are thoughts that a child so young should never have to think.
I had no father; I became mature at a young age. My childhood was short-lived, and I realized the hardships of the world early on. Instead of relying on others, I became independent. I had to learn to live without having a father to protect me and without causing my mom to worry. I had to face challenges by myself, ones that I should have gone to my mom about--but I didn’t.
The thought of not having a father did not impact me as much as a child as it does now. As a teenager, there are milestones when I long to have a dad present. I just recently turned fifteen, a milestone in the Hispanic culture of becoming a woman. Although it’s hard for me to relate to my El Salvadorian culture, after all, I grew up with my African American family, it was still an important date to my mom and my friends who wanted me to celebrate this coming-of-age. In the end, I celebrated my birthday with my friends, and although my dad’s side of the family reached out, my father never even said hello.
Since being deported to El Salvador in 2012, he has started his own family, a new life. He takes care of my little sister in El Salvador. He is there and present in her life. When I learned he had a new family, I thought that I would feel a sense of jealousy. Instead, all I feel is hope—hope that he gives her the attention and guidance she needs and that he protects her and shields her from everything that he didn’t protect me from. Growing up without a father has taught me to be a strong independent woman who loves and cares deeply about the people who have cared for me.