THE POWER OF TODAY
According to Statistics South Africa, most South African households are run by single mothers. In 2014, over 1.1 million births were registered, but 64% had no information on fathers. 16-year-old Chriswin Stevens from Bonteheuwel spent most of his youth thinking about the father he had always wished for, but never had. He tells us how a wish come true turned into a living nightmare.
“My parents divorced when I was three years old. I can’t remember my father from that time, but I remember growing-up with many questions. Where is my dad? Why does he never visit me? Despite that I never got the courage to ask my mom.”
“I was raised by my mom who was a nurse, and by my aunt who worked in a hotel. I was a quiet and short-tempered child. It was only at eight, that I realized that the absence of my father was having an effect on me.”
At eight years old, Chriswin and his best friend made it to the athletics provincial stage to compete in the 100 meters sprint.
“I was excited; we had made it to the provincial level. In the stadium, I remember thinking that it did not matter that I did not have any relatives watching me. My mom was working in order to provide for us and even if she had the time, I knew transport to the stadium would have been an issue.”
“To be alone on such a special occasion did not ruin my experience; I think what got to me was seeing my best friend and his dad. They had a beautiful relationship; his dad was his biggest fan. After the competition he took us to have ice-cream and we all kept laughing.”
“At school every time my friends talked about their dads I always withdrew from the conversation as I had nothing to say. However, to have had a glimpse of what a real father is, had disturbed me. I went home and for the first time I asked my mom, ‘Where is my dad?’ At first she did not know how to answer but I insisted. She then told me about my father and what had happened to them. I was too young to understand what she was telling me, but she realized that the fact that my dad never checked up on me was having a negative impact. I secretly felt ashamed and believed that it was my fault that he was not around.”
Chriswin’s mom tried to do everything she could to fill the gap, but she soon realised she was unable to replace the void. She contacted Chriswin’s paternal grandparents and reignited the relationship with them, in the hope that Chriswin and his father would reunite.
“I started visiting my grandparents in Delft. They were friendly and I enjoyed meeting that side of the family. One weekend I visited, the whole family gathered to build a church. Finally my dad showed up; he saw me and walked towards me. He said, ‘Don’t you greet? Do you know who I am?’ He pulled my cheeks; made a few jokes and left to do the work.”
“I remember sitting on the ground looking at him for hours. I was so proud. That was my dad; he looked great and he seemed like a hard-worker. From that time I saw him occasionally when I visited. I finally felt I had a dad.”
At the age of 11, Chriswin’s dad moved to stay with him.
“My mom told me that my dad was having trouble with the police and he needed a stable home to live in. I have a feeling she said yes with the hope that I would finally have a relationship with him.”
“My dad had four children with his partner. He moved in with three of them (13, 12 and 5) and left the youngest (2) with their mom. At first, it was strange for me to have so many people around, but my mom and I connected immediately with my siblings.”
It did not take too long for Chriswin to find out his father’s true habits.
“He had been in the house for a few days and one day when I arrived from school I smelled something strange in the garage. I recognised the smell. My dad and his friends were inside, so I confronted him. I asked how he could be doing drugs in the house with his children around?”
“He replied that I should get lost and mind my own business. My mom was too kind and never confronted him, but his addiction to mandrax and alcohol made the next few years a living hell for all of us.”
At first, Chriswin felt responsible for what was happening and would try to talk his father out of using drugs.
“I would challenge him each day about why was he doing that. He would reply angrily and shout, ‘You do not know what you are talking about, who do you think you are? Go and mess with people of your own age.’ He would end up saying that he was my father and I should just shut up. I would get so mad that I would say ‘Where were you all my life to call yourself my father?’ The arguments would go on and on, until I would give up and go to my bedroom.”
“I couldn’t stop thinking about why my mom had chosen someone like him; I was angry with her and hated him. At the same time, as crazy as it sounds, I secretly continued longing for a relationship with him.”
Chriswin would observe the relationship his father had with his siblings each day.
“When my dad was high, he would be mean to everyone, but he would be a happier and extroverted mad man. When he was sober he would be quiet and angry. From time to time he would be kind to my siblings, but with me he was angry all the time. He would pick on me for anything: he would criticize my way of dressing, my music, anything I would do… he would always scream that I was so stupid.”
“For a while, I tried changing who I was, hoping he would accept me. I stopped confronting him, playing and listening to music and I became more careful with my clothes. I made an effort to sit next to him, trying to have some kind of communication. But my efforts were in vain; nothing I did was good enough.”
The tension between Chriswin and his dad kept building, despite any attempts he made to amend their relationship.
“I was 13. We had been arguing about the same subject for a week, and on Saturday morning the argument got worse. He was infuriated and walked towards me as if he wanted to hit me. I ran to the kitchen, took a knife and came back for him. He looked at me and dared me to try. I was so mad that I just wanted to stab him so he could go away.”
“My mom heard me crying and asked me to stop; I remember feeling so ashamed. I dropped the knife and ran out of the house.”
At the end of that month, Chriswin’s father left the house after having had a serious conversation with Chriswin’s mom.
“I can’t explain the weight that was lifted from my shoulders. The freedom we regained at home was amazing. At the same time, I knew that to have had him in my life for a few years and call him dad was important for me as a young man. But I was blessed he was out of my life.”
Today, Chriswin’s relationship with his mom has become even closer; they discuss all types of issues and she gives him good advice.
“My experience with my father has taught me how not to be when I grow up. I am clear about the dangers of drugs and I am clear about the type of father I wish to be. I saw my father this year for the first time since the incident; we met at the funeral of his father. From far away, I could see that he was still on drugs.”
Chriswin concludes by saying, ‘I have learnt that we are so busy wishing for things we do not have, that we stop appreciating the few good things we have. I wished so much to have a father that I forgot to appreciate the wonderful mother I had. Stop wishing for better days and start appreciating and being grateful for what you have today.”
Chriswin is a Leaders’ Quest participant