They say a girl’s first love is her father but what happens when he decides that he does not want to father that child?

My fifth birthday party remains a vivid memory in my mind. It was the first birthday I spent with both my parents present, hosting a party for their only child in the company of their families and friends.

All that I could dream of having as a child, I had on that rainy Saturday afternoon at my paternal grandmother’s house in North West. From colourful balloons, cake, sweets to being showered with gifts, the perfect picture of a nuclear family played out right before my beautiful eyes as they glistened with innocence.

I look back on the day and I see the little Violet (my paternal great-grandmother’s name that I was traditionally given) chasing a balloon in the mud with a whole life ahead of her and a father’s love felt. Little did I know that I would spend the following years yearning for that very love especially after his first marriage ended.

It has taken me up to 17 years from then to give up on ever being on the receiving end of my father’s love even though I have seen my younger half-siblings warmly receive it.

On my graduation day on April 25, all I got was “Congratulations are in order. Continue to rise” in a WhatsApp text. This is after several months loaded with stress leading up to my big day. In these months, I waited for an offer to assist me in the purchase of either my graduation regalia, outfit, or even the small costs that go into a girl looking her best for all the hard work she had put into acquiring a Wits degree.

This may have been my final straw and the exit point to any hope of restoring my first love experience, but it was not the only time when its elusiveness was clear.

Already, I was grappling with the fact that he had promised to help settle my undergraduate outstanding fees only for him to avoid any talks of this. As usual, my mother saved the day just as she would when I was a child and would get turned back from pre-school for owing fees.

In hindsight, I don’t think I would have had a smooth schooling experience altogether had my mother not taken over from him in primary school.

As of May 2021, statistics showed that more than 60% of children in South Africa grow up without fathers; I was part of this statistic until my stepfather took up the challenge when I was 15 years old. In a country that has the second highest rate of absent fatherhood on the African continent after Namibia, several people battle with childhood traumas from this.

It didn’t throw me off until my teenage years when the transition to adulthood required me to find my feet in relation to the opposite sex. For the most part of it, I thought I had cracked the formula – that I would look for the first love experience from strangers who showed interest in me.

At 16 I had my rude awakening and had to walk about five kilometres in the scorching hot Pretoria sun because I felt too filthy to board a taxi home – the formula had failed, and my innocence had been snatched away.

May 12, 2022, marked six years since the rape incident and although I am in a much better space now, my emotions become turbulent on the days leading up to or after this day annually. Would I have put myself in that compromising position if there wasn’t a void I was trying to fill in my life? Probably not, but I don’t regret that it has made me a purposeful, ambitious, and resilient woman.

It forced me to grow up, be intentional about my future and most importantly, halted my quest of seeking validation from the outside world. With this, I have also unapologetically asserted my worth in romantic relationships. I’m always ready to leave a table that does not serve me.

I may not have come from a nuclear family, but a nuclear family will definitely come from me. As for the first love experience that I missed out on, it will never be as wonderful as my greatest love experience that I’m yet to fully explore with my future hubby.

FEATURED IMAGE: Keamogetswe Matlala. Photo: File