There’s a long list of risk factors associated with fatherlessness — poverty, incarceration, crime, teen pregnancy, child abuse, childhood obesity, drug and alcohol abuse, disrupted education, suicide, and more. But probably the biggest hurdle for children without fathers is a lack of self-esteem.
Local author Shade Ashani tackles these issues in her new book, In Search of My Father, a coming-of-age story about her own abandonment by her father and how she beat the statistics. In her search for her father, Ashani discovers, she finds herself. The Columbia University and Tulane University Masters in Public Health graduate, the Goodwill Ambassador to the Gambia, the founder of Kids International, the published author, and, most remarkably, the well-adjusted, confident young woman no longer tries to fill her father’s void with self-destruction and unworthy suitors.
In sharing her story, Ashani hopes to help others shed their traumas, discover their identities and find the same freedom that she has. I had the opportunity to sit down with her and discuss what led her to share her most personal stories.
What made you decide to write your story and share it with readers?
Children without fathers are more likely to get arrested, do drugs, be sexually assaulted … the statistics are baffling. Living out many of these in my own life, I decided to write the book in hopes that other people might be inspired to heal sooner than I did and realize where their relationship with their father was affecting their own self-image and other relationships … it doesn’t have to be this way. You can find love; you can find healing.
Have you had any backlash or negative feedback from those who are represented in the book?
I had a close friend ask me if I really wanted to put myself out there like this. I knew she was only looking out for me … what would my future employers think about the suicide attempts and promiscuity? But ultimately, this isn’t just my story and I didn’t feel that I had the right to censor it. Ultimately, the people I want in my life are those who are brave enough to love me when I do put my secrets on display. I chose to be courageous over shameful in hopes that others can relate to my struggles and overcome them as I have.
Can men relate to your book as well?
Yes. Fatherlessness happens to boys as well as girls. Sexual assaults happen to boys. Not only can they relate, (but) I think it is knowledge for a man to know — how important being a father is and that it goes far beyond financial responsibility.
Has the book changed the relationship you have with your father?
He passed away before the book was published. I remember acknowledging the consequences of him not appreciating his portrayal, but was willing to face that to tell the truth. At the time of his death I had already come to terms with our relationship. People have asked me if I regret not saying goodbye to him, but I had said goodbye to him in letters I wrote him while in therapy. Even if you never send the letters it is the best way to get those feelings out.
In Search Of My Father is available for purchase online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. It is also being sold at local bookstores. Associated with the book is a blog (shadeashani.tumblr.com) where people can share their letters to their own fathers.
Rachael Kostelec writes about New Orleans people and places for NolaVie.