Learning Positive Lessons From A Negative Situation
Learning life lessons from being in foster care might sound unbelievable to many people but it is the triumphant story of 18-year-old Theo Booysen.
Born in Greenpoint, Theo was raised by his mother from Manenberg and father from Cameroon. He says that he does not remember much about his early years but does remember a move with his parents that changed his life.
“I was five and we moved to Johannesburg, I was really excited to explore a new place. Unfortunatly, my two older siblings that my mom had before she married my dad, stayed with my grandmother in Cape Town.”
Shortly after moving, Theo’s mother secured a job in London in the telecommunications industry. His parents decided that it was a good financial opportunity and she moved away.
“My mom was struggling to find work after we moved so I remember my parents being happy about the job. They decided it was better for me to stay with my father while my mother worked in London. I was really young at the time, so I don’t remember that much but I do remember feeling sad when my parents told me that I will be staying alone with my dad.”
Describing the relationship with his dad Theo says: “I remember getting toys and anything I really wanted, but my dad was cold, we would never spend time playing together. Something I remember clearly about my father was that he was like a perfectionist, he liked everything on its place and would normally shout at me and hit me if anything wasn’t the way he liked it.”
“I never felt free at home, I was always scared I would do something that would upset him. I could not touch anything at home without permission from my father. Things like taking an apple from the kitchen or playing with a toy that he bought me would end up with me getting a hiding. I missed my mom so much.”
Even though Theo’s mom would visit at least once a year, and called often, Theo felt like he could never tell his mom about what was happening.
“I wanted to tell my mom, but I couldn’t. I don’t know if I was scared to say something that would create an argument between my parents. I was also afraid that my dad could hurt her.”
A time of his life Theo remembers clearly was the year he turned eight, his father beat him so hard that he was taken into foster care for nine months.
“We lived in a block of flats and my best friend Brandon lived a few flats away from ours. We often played together and mostly inside. On that day he was at my house and my father asked us if we wanted to watch tv or play on the PlayStation. We had some movies so we said we would watch those. My father then left. After an hour we changed our mind and tried to connect the PlayStation with the AV plugs. I remember thinking that my dad would be mad, but at that time he was beating me everyday, so I didn’t care.”
Theo says when his dad returned home after a few hours, he noticed that the plugs had been moved around.
“He asked me what happened to the plugs and I lied the first time because I was too scared to tell the truth. After he raised his voice I told him the truth – that we had swopped the red and white plug. I remember he looked at me and I just knew what was going to happen. He sent Brandon home. And locked the door after my friend left. As soon as the door closed, I ran away and tried to hide from him. But he caught me and just started beating me. First with his hands – that were triple the size of mine – then with the buckle of his belt. Hitting me again and again on my back, arms and legs.”
After the beating,Theo’s dad left the flat and locked the door.
“My friend Brandon came to our place, but I couldn’t open the door, so he sat outside the door talking to me. He kept asking me if I was okay and saying that he was going to call someone but I kept telling him no. After a few hours I told him to go home.”
Left alone inside, Theo was struggling to stand and was feeling very sick.
“I kept falling. So I stood by the window in the bathroom looking for someone, I saw one of the neighbours and asked her to call the lady who looked after the flats – I would talk to her often so she knew who I was. When she got there, she opened the door and took me to the lift. I remember wearing a white Orlando Pirates soccer t-shirt that had turned red from the blood coming from my body. I remember this because it was my favourite top.”
After going to the police station and telling them what happened, Theo was taken to a doctor who treated his wounds.
“They arrested my father and I was taken into foster care.”
Theo remembers being driven a long way before arriving at a foster home for boys. He joined 20 boys who were living there and he felt overwhelmed.
“There were hard times, I was bullied and I was forced to learn how to handle difficult situations. The older boys would push me around, steal my food and make fun of me.”
“I know that foster care prepared me for life. It gave me the chance to meet so many people and learn from them. Like meeting Charles, a boy that had been abused and ended-up in a wheelchair. He would tell me almost every day that I must be grateful. And until today, I always remember that. I saw kids who had it worse than me. I can’t explain why but I know that place taught me that I must not give up.”
“Before foster care I would think nothing of myself, because my dad made me feel like I was always wrong. In the home, I started helping the other kids with different things like soccer, dancing or even school work, this made me believe I was worth something.”
Theo spent nine months in the foster home, before being returned to his father. After three days, his mother returned to Johannesburg.
“I learned afterwards that my father had told my mother that he sent me to boarding school as the reason she couldn’t talk to me when she called. She came back because she didn’t trust my father any longer.”
After his mom found out, they moved to Manenberg where they stayed with his maternal grandmother and older siblings, leaving his father in Johannesburg.
Manenberg was a completely different environment to what Theo knew. Living among high levels of crime and poverty challenged Theo again but the lessons from his past kept him straight.
“I keep thinking that there is no way I went through all that hell with my father to end up like a gangster or to drop out of school. My younger brother (8) also motivates me to not fall in the trap of my community norms.”
“He is totally different to me, I want to teach him to be bigger than what he sees in the area. He hasn’t met his father, so I’ve taken that role in his life. I talk to him often about how different his life can be and I am always with him. I take him to school, fetch him after school and take him to play soccer. I want to protect him but also teach him how to look after himself.”
In closing Theo says: “I have learned we are not defined by our parents. In my role, as a father figure to my younger brother I choose to be active in his life and love him always, regardeless of what he does. I can break the cycle by choosing not to follow the footsteps of my father, by learning from his wrongs and deciding to behave differently.”
Theo is a Leaders’ Quest participant, an intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.