RELATIONSHIPS ARE WHAT REALLY MATTER
Nearly 25 million people in South Africa live in debt. Financial stress and fearing for his family’s safety from the devious practices of a loan shark* was what triggered Aaliya Jones’ father to abandon the family.
Sixteen-year-old Aaliya was born in Cape Town to a family with both parents, two older sisters and a brother. “I was the youngest and probably a bit spoiled. My family lives in Athlone and as far as I can remember, everything was good. My mom was a receptionist and my dad worked for a security firm.”
However, when Aaliya’s grandmother fell ill, her mother resigned from her job to tend to her ailing mother, who subsequently passed on.
“I thought everything was rosy. My dad became the main breadwinner. My parents never argued in front of us children and things remained as normal.”
However, when Aaliya turned four years old, life as she knew it changed.
“My daddy was on his way to work. I was used to seeing him working shifts. He would work the night shift which was 5 pm to 6 am the next day. This time I noticed he took a bigger bag with him. He normally took a backpack. He usually carried his food and jacket in the bag. I asked him why he was carrying a big bag, and he said he needed to return his uniform. Then he left.
“So, the next morning we were expecting him to come home at breakfast time. I asked my mom where my dad was and my mom said maybe he was in a meeting. But then it got later and later. I wasn’t worried, but she started calling his work and asked where my dad was and they said that he had resigned the night before. It was already after 1 pm when she called.
“My mom’s facial expression changed. It really changed. My mom has light eyes, they teared up and glowed and that gave her away. She seemed very distressed.
“My siblings and I were inquisitive and we kept asking, ‘where is daddy? Why isn’t he here yet?’ My mom would just repeat ‘not now’ and then she said get out of her room. We all went out and my siblings began discussing what they thought was happening. My brother started crying. My mom came to us and told us that my dad resigned from work. She was in tears and then we all started tearing up. I asked if I could call him and she said, it’s pointless because she had tried. I asked, ‘let me try just one last time’ and then, just like that, he answered the call.
“I said, ‘daddy?’ Then he said he found my broach in his bag (I had put my favourite broach in his bag as a present the previous night). I said daddy, ‘where are you?’ He said, ‘I’m in Durban, my girl.’ I asked him, ‘where is that?’ He didn’t reply and my mom took the phone. Then my mom went into the room and spoke to him. My siblings and I continued discussing, where was Durban and why was daddy there.
“My mom came out of the room and said my dad left, and that he was by his family in Durban. My brother asked if my mom could fetch my dad and she said she would.
“We have this rule in the house that kids can’t chime in the adult business and that’s why we didn’t ask why he was in Durban.”
After a few days, Aaliya’s mother travelled to Durban while Aaliya and her siblings were cared for by their mother’s cousin and his wife. Her mother came home first because she had flown to Durban and back. Her father arrived afterwards, as he had made the journey by bus.
“I ran to my dad. He looked different. He had a full beard. My brother cried. He bought us bananas and mangos. We thought he went there to buy us stuff. So that’s the idea we had. We were so happy that our dad was back.”
Life went back to normal and Aaliya’s dad began working for a different security company.
“My family was back together and it seemed my father’s trip was not an important fact. Things looked the same as before and life was good again.
“However, after two years my dad did it again. He was working night shift once again and he didn’t come home the next morning. Initially, we weren’t bothered because we thought maybe he was delayed with extra work. But after some time, my mom checked his wardrobe and everything was gone.
“She came out of the room and told us, ‘your dad is gone again.’ She had tears and she was shaky. That’s when it hit us. ‘Why did he have to go again without telling us?’ This time my mom booked a flight to Durban. She didn’t even call him, she just went. She just knew where she would find him. I remember my mom’s cousin came over again to take care of us. This time, as siblings, we were very quiet. I think we struggle to understand him.
“A few days later, my mom arrived home. And my dad followed, but this time he had his brother with him. My dad, my dad’s brother and my mom went into the room and they were discussing something. I and my siblings were listening at the door, trying to hear what they were saying. We could just hear whispers because I think they knew we were listening.
“Us siblings – we all went to my sisters’ room. My mom started shouting, they began arguing and we could just hear my mom saying, ‘is it about money?’ She kept repeating those words. My dad’s brother was saying, ‘why did you have to leave your family for that?’
“I don’t think as siblings we could fully make sense of what was going on. We couldn’t speak to my parents about it. What we took out of it was that my dad left because of money, but we couldn’t understand what that meant. That same day my dad’s brother left. All the siblings slept in my sisters’ room, we all fell asleep together. I think we were emotionally drained.”
This time, the second abandonment, had a far greater negative impact on the children.
“Even though life seemed to go back to normal again, the experience left a hole in me. I began to believe that if my father could leave me, any male figure could do the same. I thought, ‘men will leave me and just run away.’ Me and my siblings stopped showing affection to my dad. I stopped telling him ‘I love you’, I guess because I was afraid he would leave again.”
Aaliya grew up with a distrust of men and it took a few years before she gave anyone a chance to get close.
“When I turned 16, I began talking to a boy who I really liked. It felt strange to be planning to tell him how I was feeling when I was unable to have a proper conversation with my dad. It daunted me, and I knew I should do something to resolve it.”
Aaliya used the opportunity of a religious holiday, during which forgiveness is sought, as a means for her family to clear the air.
“It’s an important day in the Muslim calendar and my mom called a family meeting. All the siblings and my mom and dad were there. I took it as an opportunity to ask my dad for forgiveness. I said, ‘daddy it has been a couple of years that I’ve been neglecting you and I just want to ask your forgiveness.’
“I asked him why he left and I was sobbing. He told us that he ran away because he was in a financial crisis. He owed money to a loan shark. He had paid what he had borrowed, but he could not afford the interest accumulated. Because he didn’t have the full amount to pay, the man threatened to come to the house. My dad felt like he needed to get away.
“Then, my brother asked why he had had to go twice. My dad said that he had worked out an agreement that he would pay the interest. But over the two following years, the interest kept growing. He couldn’t keep up with that and that’s why he left again the second time.
“My dad was crying when he was telling the story. I had never seen my daddy like that. I’ve come to terms with him leaving us, and I have forgiven him.
“I can say now that we have a typical father and daughter relationship. In the evenings, we talk about our day and when it is time to go to bed I do say to him, ‘I love you, dad’.
When Aaliya was asked her final remarks, she said, ‘I think I wasted many years of a relationship with my dad for a silly thing. At the time it seemed so important and so right. But now it just seems a waste. Be aware of what is really important to you. Our loved ones will make mistakes. After all, they are humans. But the effort we put into forgiving their mistakes and nurturing our relationships, I think at the end that is what really matters.”
Aaliya is a Leaders’ Quest participant.
*Loan shark – a moneylender who charges extremely high rates of interest, typically under illegal conditions.