An issue of parental responsibility
Sunday 17June 2012 is the day officially set aside to celebrate Father’s Day.
Some might say that they don’t need a special day to celebrate their dad – others might not have a father they consider worth celebrating. Whatever your view allow me to give you a traditional background on fatherhood.
We are emerging from a time when the concept of fatherhood was to ensure reproduction of the next in line of the family stock – there were no condoms back then. There was a strong sense of family although many great fathers lying in their graves will never have never have heard the words from their sons and daughters saying, “Happy Fathers Day.”
I am talking about fathers who taught their sons how to whistle, how to milk a cow and above all how to stand up tall in a crowd, not because it was their right, but because they had nurtured the gift of a unique inner strength, peace and integrity that the world could not take from them.
These are men who sat around the fire with their sons at the kgotla and shared with them the traditional secrets of their culture.
That is not the case in modern day fatherhood for a generation caught up in transitional change. Today fathers are racing against the currents of time to raise children who will survive the pressures of modern life.
Let me take you to a case at the kgotla to illustrate my point.
Suping arrived at the Kgotla in the company of an aunt, the woman who had raised him since his parents had died. Before Suping could settle down to talk his angry aunt was already muttering something about (basadi ba gompieno) ‘modern women.’ Suping gently said to her (iketle mmangwane) ‘please wait aunty.’
The young man spoke of his marriage to Tseleng and how he had married (kgomo le namane) and went on to legally adopt Tseleng’s two children. He insisted he had done everything according to culture and had sent people to consult the biological father about the adoption, and that the father had not raised an objection.
Now seven years into a happy marriage, Tseleng had out of the blue announced that Tsotsi (the father of the children) had made a request to have the children visit him during the holidays.
Suping was surprised and hurt by the way Tseleng casually said to him (kana rraagwe Bontle are o batla go bona bana ba gagwe) meaning the father of Bontle wants to see his children. Suping was particularly offended by his wife’s nerve to call Tsotsi (Rraagwe Bontle) when as a matter of fact in the village he was the only Rraagwe Bontle people knew.
Their effort to discuss the subject ended in a physical fight that resulted in Suping having to spend the night in a police cell. The unfortunate incident then turned the whole family against him.
Tseleng and her family were invited for reconciliation but Suping asked the kgotla to call Tsotsi to order for wanting to see children who had been fed by another man for the past seven years. He did not want any reconciliation process to begin until Tsotsi was brought before the court, but in the end I persuaded him that this would not help the situation.
Tseleng and her parents arrived on the appointed day, and
Suping was given a chance to outline his grievances before his wife and in-laws. He told how during the past seven years he had struggled to raise his adopted children – a process that had cost him financially, emotionally and psychologically, only to have Tsotsi appear like a Tsunami to shatter his happy home.
Tseleng did not dispute all that her husband had said and apologized for the trauma he had suffered. She explained that she had to deal with the reality before them and that it was not out of malice that these things had happened. As Tseleng was trying to explain, Suping stood and charged like an angry buffalo towards her saying (hee wareng lonkapesa jase for 7 years kenna seberekela sa lona) ‘So you made me an idiot for 7 years sweating for you and your children.’
He was called to order and sat down again. As clam was restored I could feel the pain of his frustrated dreams.
Composing himself, Suping then stood up and a question and answer session followed.
“Did you ever tell Tsotsi that I had legally adopted these children?”
“Yes I did.”
“Did you ask him where he had buried himself for seven years before resurfacing like a phane?”
“Yes I did and he said it was his mother and sisters who had actively discouraged him from looking after the children.”
“Has Tsotsi’s family now declared they want you and my children”?
“Yes kana his mother has died and the sisters are less powerful.”
“Jaanong a sepoko se sagago setla a mpha ditsame ke mo sutele” (Will this ghost of a man compensate me and let me move on with my life?)
A cough then, “Mmmm tota gake itse?” I don’t know?
“Does Tsotsi just want the children or has he suddenly recognized that you are a woman because I’m taking care of you?
“I am not sure.”
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE
As Tseleng’s words disappeared into the silence that followed, all eyes were now on me as I weighed up the issues.
I considered that as a rule it was imperative for children to be re-united with their fathers, but it should not be at anybody else’s expense. In this case I recognised how painful it had been to adopt children and then have a tsunami hit you in the middle of the night, threatening to take away all that you had struggled to build over seven years.
I had also to consider the definition of adoption and its implication for the rights of the men who adopt children.
The matter was actually resolved by Tseleng’s parents who took it upon themselves to discuss the matter with Tsotsi’s family because they felt it was not right for Suping to suffer such embarrassment.
To help him deal with the emotional strain of all that had happened, an appointment was made for Suping to see a psychologist and to talk with his pastor for spiritual healing. It was a process designed to help him come to terms with issues that lay beyond him.
In the end the shock proved to be too much and he filed for divorce.
As we celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday think of the children, maybe even your own, who have never been given the love they deserve. Children who have been denied the time to just sit on their father’s lap and feel wanted – children whose fathers have turned their backs on innocent lives.
The time it takes to make a baby may just be the time it takes to make a cup of tea, but I urge all potential fathers to help this nation give fatherhood a meaning by planning to be a parent when you know you are ready for this noble call. Only when you are committed to giving the role the dignity it deserves can you call yourself a father and know the joy of a Happy Fathers Day.