Kyshon Johnson’s first experience with paternal love didn’t come from her father.
At age 17, she watched her host father cry on the day she returned to Philadelphia from Andalusia, Spain. The two became close during the 11 days she spent with his family as part of a high school study abroad trip.
“I’d never seen a man cry before,” said Johnson, a senior international business major. “So to see a man cry for me and how much he cared about me was life-changing.”
Johnson’s own father hasn’t been a consistent figure in her life. He was incarcerated when she was born, and has been in and out of prison ever since.
“I wasn’t special,” the Philadelphia native said. “My best friends didn’t have their fathers around either. We all thought it was normal. As we got older and started dating or just interacting with guys platonically, we realized that we’d been missing something fundamental when it came to our relationships with men.”
In August, Johnson launched “100 Other Halves,” a dialogue-based project, with the goal of talking to 100 women about their relationships with their fathers and the effect this “love or the lack thereof” has on their lives, Johnson said.
Johnson has already spoken to 63 women, 17 of whom are Temple students or alumnae. She said these conversations reinforced a lot of what she already knew about the impact of positive, negative or non-existent father-daughter relationships on girls and women.
“Absence can also be a relationship,” Johnson said. “People don’t understand that even if your father was absent from your life, that still defines your experience with him. Relationships centered around absence can create lasting issues related to neglect, abandonment and worthlessness.”
The absence of fatherhood in the Black community has become normalized, Johnson said.
“We’re used to the ‘superhero Black mom who does it all’ trope, and we don’t talk about the impact that has on mothers and kids enough,” she said.
Johnson said she often hears girls say that not having their fathers present didn’t really affect them.
“I can see how that could be easy to believe at times, but as you mature you might realize that you attract emotionally unavailable men, or you tend to feel neglected easily,” Johnson said. “Being involved with someone who isn’t available to you, emotionally or physically, can continue a cycle of absent relationships that started with your father.”
Sophomore sociology major Yasmin El-Zaher reached out to Johnson to be part of the project via social media. She recognized some of the faces featured on the the “100 Other Halves” Instagram page, where Johnson uploads photos of her with participants after she interviews them.
After her conversation with Johnson, which she described as “overwhelming and enlightening,” El-Zaher reached out to her father. Before that day, she said she never really had an intimate conversation with him.
“It can be hard to acknowledge that you’ve been hurt by or feel resentment toward someone you love,” El-Zaher said. “After talking to Kyshon, I was able to really open up to my dad about things we’d never discussed before, like my sexuality and my mental health. He was way more understanding than I ever imagined him to be. I cried.”
In the caption under each photo she uploads, Johnson includes each woman’s response to the question, “What positive characteristics did you develop from your father?”
She said the question usually challenges those who have unhealthy or absent relationships with their fathers to examine how it has shaped the women they are today.
“Most women think about that question for a bit and then blurt out ‘independence’ or ‘strength,’” Johnson said. “It makes sense. They grew up in single-mother households and watched their moms work and raise multiple kids, often without enough additional support. They may have learned not to rely on other people and to work hard to provide for themselves. ”
The project has also allowed her to explore the benefits that come with having a healthy paternal relationship.
Rabiyah Mujahid, a 2017 Arcadia University international studies and pre-law alumna, was the 61st person to share her story with Johnson. She currently serves as a fellow at the Education Law Center, an organization in Center City that tries to ensure equal access to quality public education for Pennsylvania youth.
Mujahid, 22, said she draws her confidence from having a strong bond with her father.
“My dad is very in tune with his emotions,” said the South Philadelphia native. “He’s a crier and unapologetically expresses how he feels about everything. So in my relationships, I love when people are comfortable expressing who they are and how they feel with me.”
For Johnson, “100 Other Halves” isn’t simply a collection of experiences, but a celebration of healing. When she completes 100 interviews, Johnson plans to host a celebratory event with all 100 participants.
Johnson said each story and interaction is special to her.
“These women may not realize it, but they pour so much wisdom and knowledge into me,” Johnson said. “It’s a powerful exchange of energy. For those of us who need to heal, we can start to heal together.”