The Mr. Mum Who Takes on both Parental Roles
When imagining the home of a single father of four boys, I picture vaguely organised chaos, an explosion of messy boys. Instead, when I arrived at the house of Yinka Sapara, my presumptions are immediately proved wrong.
After pressing the doorbell, which plays a sweet sounding tune, the door flies open, revealing a cheerful smiling face, which welcomes me with a huge hug.
Stepping inside, I’m instantly asked to take my trainers off at the door and I walk into a spotlessly clean, well-arranged living room and through to the kitchen, where the smell of fresh linen overloads my senses. Yinka offers me a cup of tea and I am invited to make myself at home. The pictures on the walls illustrate images of a very happy family in the smiling faces of four young boys.
This isn’t what I was expecting after hearing about Yinka’s childhood and upbringing. Yinka, whose family hail from Nigeria, was fostered from the age of just one-year-old into a white family in East Anglia, where he stayed until he was 17. This was when he moved out and first experienced independent living and more importantly, freedom.
Yinka’s foster family “weren’t culturally educated at all, and so I faced a lot of struggles in relation to my own cultural identity” he says. There was no escape from racial abuse, he dealt with it at home where his foster father was both verbally and physically abusive while his foster mother stood by and allowed it. He says: “My foster mum was very old school, the man was the lord of the house and basically whatever he said was never questioned, so she would back whatever decisions he made.” says Yinka. Schools in East Anglia in the 1970s and ’80s were predominately white and racism was rife, which meant he also he also had to handle it at school. “I suffered racism on a daily basis, I became one of the problem children and was constantly in fights, I wasn’t going to stand for racial abuse from anyone.” Why would someone so uncaring and hateful dedicate a huge amount of their time to foster someone you may ask? “purely and simply for the money, if I look back now, that is the only conclusion I can come to” says Yinka.
From the beginning he was curious about his birth parents and wished to find them, however, he was told by Hackney Social Services that they were nowhere to be found. “I just had to deal with it and accept it”, he says, but when he was old enough, he carried out some research of his own and was lucky enough to find his birth family, living coincidentally close by in Hackney! The excitement was short lived however, as unfortunately, his birth mother had passed a few years prior and relations with his natural father were strained from the start. He said: “I sort of created this image, this picture of a perfect dad. “unfortunately he didn’t fit the picture, but I’ve dealt with rejection my entire life so I got over that pretty quickly”
When he was in his early 20s he requested to see his birth and foster documents but according to the local authorities, they’d all been lost. This fuelled a challenge by Yinka against Hackney Social Services in relation to possible neglect, a case he later won. Despite the legal victory, he remains unsatisfied, feeling that Hackney Social Services haven’t truly yet been held to account.
Yinka’s foster parents fostered two girls alongside him, one mixed race and the other Caribbean. Both sisters knew their birth parents and their cultural heritage, further contributing to Yinka’s feeling of isolation. As well as his two foster sisters, there were two birth sons, who were treated entirely differently in comparison to the foster children. He said: “It was quite clear for me, I worked out very early on that I wasn’t a part of the family, I didn’t see myself as part of the family.”
I imagine how dreadful Christmas must have been, being treated so differently to the other children in the house, but to my surprise, he described Christmas as “brilliant”. He said: “We were all treated the same. “On Christmas, we all got what we wanted. It was almost like Christmas and holidays were seen as amnesty. I don’t know if it was about keeping up their appearances.” But the magic quickly faded, and when the holidays were over “everything would go back to normal”.
Yinka decided to cut all ties with his foster family, “I just wanted to leave that life behind. “I had to kind of be a bit ruthless although that wasn’t the intention”, he said.
He later moved to London where he worked with 16-25-year-olds helping them with family issues, school, drugs and alcohol. He described the job as “one of the most challenging but rewarding jobs”.
Yinka went on to adopt four young boys. Billy who is now 25, Kane who is 16, Harley who is 11 and Nathan who is nine. He said: “It hasn’t been easy, it’s been a real battle, but we’re all now in a place where, I don’t like the word normal because what does normal mean? But yeah normal. “We have our ups and downs, sibling rivalry, the kicking off, I hate you dad. “I love it when they tell me they hate me”, he said, “I think its funny because it tells me I’m doing my job.”
His children all know about his childhood. He says: “When they are moaning about stuff, I say take a look around you and think about what you do have. It’s just me, one, doing this by myself.” He makes sure the children see their birth parent at least twice a year, as he believes the children should know who they are and where they are from. “The birth family isn’t a threat to me”, he says.
Yinka and I talked a lot about the struggles that he still faces being a single father. “You get a lot of scrutinies” he said. “Everyone always asks where is the woman.” It’s crazy that gender stereotypes still exist in the postmodern society we live in. Nuclear families are disappearing, single fathers are becoming more common. To be masculine isn’t to adopt the instrumental role, it isn’t to be the ‘bread-winner’, traditional masculinity is fading and Yinka Sapara proves this.