Single dad raising daughters

BY CANDIECE KNIGHT

Monday, June 17, 2019

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WHEN Errol Brown's common-law wife, Iona Thomas, passed away in 2005, he was left to raise four children on his own. At the time, they were all under six years old.

In fact, two of his four children are girls, and Brown knew then that they would have been the most difficult to care for as a single father.

“When she passed off, I got so nervous, wondering which way I was going with the children after losing her,” the father told All Woman from his home in Kingsland district in Kitson Town, St Catherine. “She was such a loving and caring person. She was a good mother who took good care of them while I went to work, so when she drop out I didn't know where to turn.”

Thomas, who died after a battle with a heart condition, hypertension and stroke, left Brown — who is a tiler by profession — with Shauna-lee, who had just turned five; Kemali, who was almost four years old; and fraternal twins Randy and Sandy, who were only two years old.

“And all of them were born at around seven months, so they were very small,” he recalled. “You had to take care of them and be very gentle. The largest one born at only about four pounds.”

Brown had to not only be the sole breadwinner for his family, but he also had to take his children for their scheduled health checks and frequent hospital visits in their earlier years, as two of them are asthmatic.

“Sometimes it was so hard for me to go to the clinic and hospital as a man, because it's not easy to hear the women there talk certain things about men,” he confessed. “It kind of breaks you down to a level, like you aren't a real man again to be doing those things. But I just had to stay quiet and get used to certain things, because they didn't have anybody else.”

Brown said at times he felt unprepared and overwhelmed.

“I contemplated carrying them to a [children's home], but I knew that if I did that it would just be me here, and I would miss them too much, and I couldn't manage that,” he confessed.

Just when the father of four thought he was out of the woods, as the children were older and had entered the primary school system, he realised that raising girls was a more difficult task than for which he was prepared.

“Certain things I learn how to do as a man, but like combing of the hair and so on, I couldn't do those things. I would ask my nieces in the yard to do it from time to time, but they weren't always able to help, so at one point I had to bring the girls to the barber, too, and just trim them,” he reminisced.

“When it came to washing the clothes, and ironing and cooking and all of that, it was very difficult,” he said, shaking his head. “Because that's five mouths to feed, three times a day, and five suits of dirty clothes every day to wash, and red dirt isn't easy to wash — so sometimes I would have to pay my way out.”

Perched on his verandah, Brown recounted how he would have to pay a domestic worker to come by and help out with laundry, while single-handedly finding “lunch money” for the four outstretched palms of his children every day. His faithful motorcycle, which he drove to work, could not accommodate all his children at once, so he would often offer the girls a lift to the main road from their home, which is connected by a red dirt track, to spare them getting their shoes dirty.

“Sometimes I would have a female companion around, who would make things a little easier, but sometimes you can't even rely on them 100 per cent of the time, because if you talk too loud or the children start act up you might not see them in the yard when you come back,” he said, adding how difficult it was to date as a struggling single dad of four.

“And you know that sometimes, even if you find somebody long term, they might not get along well with this one or that one, and it causes a problem in the relationship. Sometimes you have to just give up someone for the sake of your children,” he explained.

As his daughters approached puberty, Brown realised that he had to do less for them physically, but more emotionally.

“I'm not scared to say anything to them, but because I'm firm with them, I realised that they might find it hard to discuss certain things with me,” he admitted. “But I try to remind them that their mother isn't here, and if they get pregnant before time, they won't have anybody to help them with their children, so they have to hold out and keep their heads up until they're in a better position for themselves. Because I can tell you, I'm not in a position to raise any grandchildren.”

Now that his eldest, Shauna-Lee, is 19 years old, and the twins will be 17 next week, Brown said he is pleased with how he raised them. He admitted though, that if he were to do it again, he would try to be more affectionate, especially with his daughters.

“I think most time when me murmur pon them, I think I would try to be a little more tender; and when I quarrel about certain things, I could try to find some different ways to get the point across,” he shared. “I might bash them, but I know that they are better than a lot of children who have both mother and father to look up to.”

While admitting that the journey to this point has not been an easy one, Brown said he believes raising his children was his divinely appointed duty. He tried his hand at many things to make ends meet, and Brown believes he is a better man because of it.

“I don't go looking for handouts, and I like to rely on myself. So when things get hard, I try to do other things. I'm a tiler, but sometimes I did a little masonry, carpentry and even plumbing, just to squeeze a dollar. I also do farming here at home. I raise goats and pigs, and plant crops like yam and banana — so even if I don't have the money right away, there is food in the house at all times,” he said as he gave the All Woman team a tour of his backyard farm, showing off his pregnant pig.

He shared, too, that he has high hopes for his children's futures, especially his daughters.

“I'm not a big fan of working for people. I want them to learn skills so that no one can fire them. I bring the boys with me and teach them the trade when they don't have school, so if anything else doesn't work out, they have something can fall back on. The girls are interested in cooking and [cosmetology], and I support them 100 per cent because once you know a skill, you have to make it,” a proud Brown said.

Now 52 years old, Brown said he struggled with his daughters in the hopes that they won't have to struggle like he had.

“I want them to think big and go places, and I want them to remember that although I'm not rich, I try my best with them and never let them out of my sight. Anybody on the street can tell you that they went to school every single day, and they were always clean. I want them to remember that I tried my best,” he said.

Both Shauna-Lee and Sandy, as well as their brothers, are doing well.


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