Depression, lack of self-esteem, a distorted self-image, lack of confidence, suicidal thoughts and a misplaced craving for masculine love are just a few of the things Esther has had to deal with growing up without her father. She was totally oblivious of the source of all these things, which unfortunately shaped who she was becoming. She knows better now.

Admittedly, this is one of those situations that have been normalised over the years and considered to be of no consequence for many reasons. Esther’s story, however, points us to the reality of many girls growing up without a father figure – a reality that is a bitter pill to swallow.

Esther’s life took a turn for the worst when her dad unexpectedly left. Soon after, he settled in a different town with a new family. To this day, his reason for leaving remains unknown to Esther and her mother. She was only two years old at the time and her mother had no source of income, as her father was the sole breadwinner. Poverty came in like a whirlwind, exposing them to harsh circumstances.

“There are days we slept hungry and other times we picked things from outside, in a bid to stay alive,” she narrates.

Shattered Dreams

She knew from a tender age that her dreams for education and a better life for her mother and brother was just that – a dream. This reality, however, became even more real when one time she sought help from her father.

“I needed school uniform and some money for school, so I reached out to him with the help of my grandmother. His exact statement was that I was not his child, but his brother’s child,” Esther continues.

Unlike her peers, she started school late and this was after pleading with the school director to allow her to study, as her mother worked to raise her school fees. “The director was kind enough to give my mother a job at the school as a cleaner, which sustained us for a while,” she says.

Esther’s performance stood out from the beginning, so much so that the director offered to take care of her school fees throughout her primary education. However, during this time, her self-esteem began to slowly fade.

In 2009, Esther performed exceptionally well in her KCPE, scoring 412 marks out of 500. However, her inability to transition smoothly to high school only amplified the gap that existed in her life. She was shortlisted for the Equity MasterCard sponsorship, but she did not qualify on the grounds that she was not an orphan. This situation set her off to bitterness and depression and she even contemplated suicide.

“I felt condemned for having two parents, yet I didn’t know where one was and my mother was unable to cater for my school fees. It was one of my lowest moments,” Esther explains.

Luck in life

Luckily, her mother was able to raise some funds enabling her to join Limuru Girls High School. She purposed to keep her grades up as an encouragement to herself and her mother. Her hard work eventually paid off, as the school board offered to cover her fees for the remainder of her schooling.

As is the norm for many teenage girls, Esther began drawing conclusions about what men are like from the men in her life. For her, the closest were those she interacted with at school. In fact, her career choice at the time was influenced by some of the board members who she felt inspired her.

“I really wanted to study engineering, because many of the board members who paid my fees were engineers,” she notes.

Without a yardstick on what fatherly love is like, many girls are left at the mercy of uncaring men. She joined campus in 2014, and during this time a new kind of craving developed. “I was naïve and I unknowingly committed myself to people who did not exactly see my value,” she says.

Esther’s outlook on family and marriage has inevitably been shaped by her experience. “I really fear men,” she says, “It’s only recently that I began to slowly let go with the help of my friends from church. I love children and I would want my own family someday but I’m not there yet,” she offers.

Looking back, Esther realises that many of the things she went through were influenced by the gap in her life she did not know existed. Has she forgiven her father? “I’m slowly getting there, and we’re working to rebuild our relationship,” she says.

If Esther’s life is anything to go by, there’s more to a father’s role than meets the eye. She is currently a fourth year student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) studying clinical medicine and community health. She has gracefully risen above that situation in her life and to the many in her situation, she shows how possible it is to be the best and stand out even without a father.