Giovanni Dennis shows what it takes to be a father
GIOVANNI Dennis is no stranger to local media, but apart from his television work, his role as a father to two girls is not a popular story.
Dennis, 30, became a father at age 21 during his final year of study at the Caribbean School of Media and Communication (CARIMAC), The University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona Campus.
For Dennis, the birth of his first daughter, Suevanni, would serve as the driving force in his life.
“Her mother was my high school girlfriend. I was going to university and she got pregnant. I remember the Christmas when she was conceived and how nervous I was,” Dennis said at a time when the globe is marking Father’s Day today. “I remembered mommy saying ‘yuh better guh look wuk’. I was entering final year at university and I remember feeling the burden of being a father. It affects you in two ways: You either become a cruff and shun your responsibilities or abdicate your duties, or you say this is going to be rough for awhile, I am going to take on this responsibility. It nah go be easy, but it’s another step,” Dennis said.
He added: “In the back of my head, at that time, is that I never grew up with a father. Even though her mother and I broke up, I made a promise to myself that I would always be there for my daughter. It wasn’t hard to decide some of the things I would have wanted for her. It would have been everything that I did not get while growing up. Suddenly I wasn’t living for myself anymore. Everything had added meaning.”
However, this journey was initially no bed of roses.
“For the first year of her life my girlfriend was at my house in St Catherine. After that initial first year she decided to move out and move on and whenever she wanted to go out or go somewhere or do something, she said, ‘hey, you have to keep the baby for sometime’ —even though I was going to school. I’m not going to say no. It’s a responsibility, it’s not like it was an option,” Dennis said.
This meant that his little girl would occasionally live with him while he boarded at Taylor Hall.
“I took her up to UWI and had to learn the hard way how fi change pampers and how to bathe her. Then she’s on the block crying and it was illegal. You’re not supposed to have a baby on the hall with you. At the time I was lucky to have friends around who would help out. Camara would come, Sherona Forrester, Dr Alayna Toyloy, the twins Amoy and Amoya Smith. They would keep her while I went to work or did the mentorship programme as the external affairs chairperson at Taylor Hall,” said Dennis, also a former deputy hall chairman at Taylor Hall.
“I remember one night, for the whole night she wouldn’t stop crying. I ended up dropping asleep with her and one of my close friends, Camara, came and took her, she went and stayed with her. I remember going by Camara’s flat the morning and seeing her smiling with Camara and she prepared breakfast for her. I remember those moments and remember the little changes, when she began getting teeth and even seeing her being shaped in my likeness. She wasn’t there every single day with me on hall but whenever she came, it was always a learning experience.
“I also remember a time when I had to call my cousin to come on hall with me for a week to help. He didn’t have any children and neither did my friends. That was a rough week, but we survived. Thankfully, no one rat me out to the hall warden. Most people knew, but I was just trying to get my degree. I knew it was against the rules but fortunately for me I got over that period,” Dennis said while chuckling.
When Dennis’ daughter became two, he was again thrown into the deep end as he became the primary caregiver, allowing his daughter’s mother the opportunity to go to university.
“It was rough but I wouldn’t say no. I walked away from everything on hall at the time. I had just became an umpire at the time. I was a student leader and things were shaping up on campus, but I had to leave with my new girlfriend and rent a house to live with the child while her mother decided to go to university. I never wanted it to be a case where I got her pregnant and ruined her life and I was doing my thing and moved on. I never wanted to be a part of that statistic. I know what that felt like. I watched my mother raise me and my sister pretty much alone. I know what it feels like to see her (mother) wanting to do certain things but couldn’t get the chance because there was nobody there. I never wanted to be that bad memory for someone else. We might have parted ways, but I wouldn’t make her alone go through raising the child,” Dennis said.
During this period, Dennis grew closer to his daughter and though he struggled with the responsibility of grooming her hair, he said the greater reward was that it made him a better person.
“I couldn’t see myself leaving her. It was just a rough patch, but I made it. She made me a better person.She made me settle down, become level-headed and achieve that balance. Now I won’t hurt a woman because I have to be responsible for her. I won’t, for example, drink until I don’t know myself. It forces you to be more considerate,” Dennis said.
He admits that the journey is still hard but he remains committed.
“There are times I had to carry her to work while at NewsTalk and have her in the office or having to go on air and have her in the studio and saying ‘shhh’ while I read the news. Some weekends she is with me at TVJ as well,” he shared.
When Suevanni was six, now eight years old, Dennis learnt that he was going to become a new father and again the pending birth of his now two-year-old daughter Ghem-Miah again drove him to seek out better opportunities.
“I decided to apply for a scholarship to be in a better position to look after my two girls. They motivate me to work harder. I want to make a name for myself, not for self-aggrandisement, but for them to have a father to look up to,” said Dennis, a 2018 Chevening Scholar.
Dennis, who also considers himself a staunch disciplinarian, says he enjoys watching his girls grow and cooking with them. He is thankful to people like Errol Lee and Fae Ellington who supported him through some of his roughest periods as he tried to navigate being a father and a young professional.
“Both my girls live with their moms but I wouldn’t have been so driven if it wasn’t for them. They are the reasons behind why I am so driven to better myself to take care of them. It’s one of the greatest responsibilities. You are moulding the future of Jamaica, the future of the world. Turning your back on your child is not the option. A lot of the success I have had is from having that driving factor in my daughters. If you want to be a successful DJ, big movie star, actor, lawyer, having a child won’t stop you from doing that. What does having a child stop you from doing? It really does add meaning to your life,” Dennis said.
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