LEAVE YOUR PROBLEMS AT THE GATE
Rhonda Adams (18), experienced her father abandoning the family and leaving them to fend for themselves both financially and emotionally. Rhonda tells us her story of how she has forgiven him for the years that he was absent.
Born in Eerste River, Rhonda and her parents lived in a wendy* house in her paternal grandparents yard. Rhonda describes herself as a “Daddy’s Girl.”
“I had a close relationship with my daddy, we would play games like dominoes and we were always together when he would come home from work.”
When Rhonda turned three, the family moved to Bonteheuwel into a wendy* house at the back of her maternal grandparents’ house. Her younger sister was born there when Rhonda was five.
“I enjoyed staying there, because my grandparents were not as strict and having the family increase with two younger sisters was great. My parents would sometimes argue, but I was young so I never thought much about it.”
Unfortunately, when Rhonda was 11 years old her father left their home.
“I remember the Friday before he left he went to work and never came home until the Sunday. I was worried but didn’t ask my mommy where my daddy was. On the Sunday, he came home and my mom confronted him. I remember she was standing and holding my baby sister on her hip when she told my daddy that if he wanted to be with ‘that’ woman, then he must go. They were fighting outside of the wendy house. They were getting louder then my daddy slapped my mommy. To defend herself my mommy picked up a brick to hit him but he shouted at her before she did. Then he went inside and put his clothes in two black bags and left.”
“I was sad and cried but I was unsure of what had happened. I wanted to talk to my mom but I didn’t want to upset her. I felt like it was my fault he left, like if I had been better he would stay. I know that’s not true now, but during that time I kept thinking that if I had been a better daughter to him that he would want to stay.”
“I remember just sitting in front of the tv with my middle sister, we weren’t watching anything but the tv was on. We gave my mom space because she was upset and didn’t want to make her cross.”
A few months would pass before she would see her father again.
“It was Christmas and my uncle fetched us and took us to my daddy’s mom’s house for lunch. My mom said just because my father wasn’t around it didn’t mean that we shouldn’t see his family. We were sitting in the lounge when my daddy came inside. He brought us a box of open biscuits and said Merry Christmas. He didn’t ask us how we were and just stayed for a little.”
That day was also the first time Rhonda saw the family her dad was staying with.
“When he left I stood at the window and saw him get into a car with a woman and two boys (the woman’s sons) the one was young he looked about two years old and the other one looked like he was my age. This made me feel really sad because my dad always wanted sons so I thought he was replacing us with them. I was so angry with him and it made me feel bad about myself.”
Shortly after Christmas, Rhonda’s mom told her that they didn’t have money and that she needed to help her.
“My mommy told me she couldn’t find work, but she was looking. My granny that was living next door only had her pension and couldn’t help us. For months we would go to sleep drinking black tea and eating bread with butter.”
“My mommy would tell my sister and I to ask the neighbours for food. I did not feel bad as my neighbours were kind and did not ask too many questions. At the same time, I also felt I was helping my mommy. We would strategize together on how our family would survive for the month.”
“During that time my mommy took my daddy to court for maintenance money because since he left he did not support us. I was my mom’s right hand so she told me everything. The court said he must pay R450 per week.”
Rhonda says that this was a very hard time for her; fortunately it didn’t affect her school work thanks to the support of a teacher.
“I didn’t tell anybody about what was happening at home until one of my teachers noticed that I was more quiet. I remember that I just started to cry when he asked me how things were at home. This was the beginning of a really good relationship because he took the place of my father. I would talk to him if anything was bothering me at home and if I needed help at school. He took the pain away that my dad left. I don’t know how I would’ve stayed focused at school if it wasn’t for my teacher.”
“My teacher told me to leave my family problems at the school gate, so that when I get to school I can concentrate on my work. In this way, I would be able to further my education and become independent. I have carried this advice with me each day and have thrived to be a top student at school.”
“The interesting part was that the better I did at school, the better I felt about the rest of my life.”
In those two years, Rhonda saw her father one other time.
“When I was 13, my dad started to fetch my sisters and I on certain occasions. He first came now and then and after that, it was every Saturday.”
Three years passed before Rhonda’s mom spoke to her about her father wanting to move back home.
“My mother told us that my father wanted to come back home, and she told us that we needed to decide. I remember sitting on the bed with my mom and sisters crying because we didn’t know what to do. We were closer to him but I felt like we needed to talk to him before we decided. The next day my father came to our house. He said he was sorry about what he did and that he doesn’t expect me to forgive him immediately. But I wanted to give him another chance so that my sisters could build a relationship with him.”
Rhonda’s father moved back home with them that same week.
“When he came back home I found it difficult to have him around, I hardly spoke to him. I only got the strength to talk to him normally after a couple of months. I was talking to my teacher about it and he told me that I needed to forgive him or else my negative feelings towards my father would affect everything in my life. I think he was afraid that I would be distracted in class, and not as happy as I used to be.”
“I learned that forgiving someone who hurt me was difficult but it was necessary if I wanted to live a fulfilling life. Today my father and I are closer – not as close as we use to be – but we are getting there.”
Rhonda concludes by saying, “I learned that you cannot allow the problems you have at home take over your life. Home is only one facet that you might not be able to control, but there are many other areas in your life you can focus on and excel in. Manage your negative emotions properly and concentrate on what you have the power to positively change.”
Rhonda is a Leaders’ Quest participant, an intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.
*Wendy house – small wooden structure commonly used in the yards of homeowners for additional accommodation or income.