BE A MENTOR
For 28-year-old Steven Arangies, childhood was difficult. He endured abuse at the hands of his father and lost his mother due to the actions of the same man. He shares how a mentor assisted in driving him towards success.
Steven from Brooklyn has memories from his childhood that paint a picture of a black haze of blurred timelines, no special occasions and the only constant being a fight for survival.
Sharing a council house with his mother, father and siblings, Steven says that money was always tight. The family’s main provider was his mom and his dad was unemployed.
“I was about six when I realised that my mom was the one who provided for us. She didn’t have a job but she always made a way. She would stand outside a local shop and try to sell pots, sweets or anything to make money. The little she earned was used to care for our big family.”
“We were six people living in the house: my parents and four siblings. My mom had a daughter before marrying my father and she stayed with us. My parents had two other children after me: my youngest brother who is four years younger and my sister who is eleven years my junior. As the eldest, I felt quite protective of my younger siblings.”
“Growing up, life at home was rough. When I started school, I was happy because I could get out the house. My dad would hit my mom and us for any reason, and even though I was concerned to leave my siblings behind, the freedom that school gave me was appreciated.”
“Over the weekends my parents would always end up arguing. They used to drink brandy and braai. By the end of the evening, my father would pick a fight about anything. He would punch her and as kids we felt powerless. I wanted to help and I would try to pull him away, but he would just shove and hit me.”
Steven says that from a young age he knew that something strange was happening between his father and half-sister but he was too young to comprehend what was happening.
“Often when I came home from school, my father would be watching naked people on television. Regardless of the weather, my dad would tell me to take my brother outside and only come back when my mom came home. Only my half-sister would be allowed to stay inside. I would question why was he treating her in a special way and he would throw something at me.”
“He would also come into our room in the evenings and lay on the top bunk with my half-sister. There would be a lot of movement. I didn’t know what was going on, but my father would show with his finger across his mouth that we must be quiet.”
Unsure about what was happening, Steven said that he would try and tell his mother.
“I was really young, I remember trying to tell my mom that something was happening but I did not know how to explain it. When she would talk to my father to try and understand what I was trying to say, he would hit her.”
Steven’s family life continued in the same way for the next few years. When he was 12, his mother turned 30 and they decided to have a celebration at home.
“There were fairy lights that made everything look really nice. My mom made platters and put them outside for her friends who came to celebrate with her. My brother and sister were in a blue plastic pool and I was playing on the ground with some toys. My mom had a drink in her hand and she was laughing, enjoying her birthday. She asked me where my half-sister was and I said I think she went to the bathroom. Then she looked for my father and couldn’t find him. I remember she went to the bathroom and knocked on the door, asking who was in the bathroom. My dad answered and she shouted that he must open the door but he didn’t. So she forced the door open with the help of someone at the party. Inside were my father and my sister (15) naked in the bathroom.”
“My mom freaked out, started screaming and crying. Everyone at the party left in shock. My brother and I just watched everything that was happening, as my mom went to the phone. She said she was calling the police.”
“We had a cordless phone, and my father kept telling her to put the phone down. She didn’t, so he smacked her. She fell down and bumped her head on the edge of a step and just lay there before my dad put her on their bed. The police came later, but my dad spoke to them and they left.”
“The following morning I didn’t see my mom in the kitchen where she would normally be, so I went to the room to look for her. She was lying face down, I felt her and she was cold, I just thought she never slept with blankets on. I remember looking at her face and knowing that she looked like she was crying. I called her to wake up but she never moved. I went to my brother and told him that mom was not moving.”
“I saw my dad sitting and crying in the lounge, I knew something was wrong. I wanted to go back to the room to see my mom, but one of my dad’s friends who was a policeman came inside the house. He told me that my mom was asleep and I should not go in the room.”
“They both went to my mom and when they came out they asked us who knew what had happened the night before. I said I knew and he told me not to tell anyone. Shortly after that, the paramedics pulled up. They tried to resuscitate my mom, but she just lay there. I heard them saying that she had died in the early hours of the morning.”
“When the paramedics left, my dad’s friend told us not to tell the cops anything, because if we did my father would go to jail and we would go to an orphanage. My mom lay in her bed for the rest of the day until the mortuary came to fetch her.”
“In the time before my mom’s cremation, my dad took us to see his friend at the police station every night. He would ask us the same questions again and again, about what happened to my mom before she died. Whenever I told him that my dad had hit my mom, he would tell me that I couldn’t say that, and that I was confused because my dad didn’t do anything.”
Steven says that by this time it was only him and his two younger siblings in the home; his step-sister was taken in by his maternal grandmother who was a pensioner.
“With my mother gone it was difficult; my father was forced to work so he collected scrap. One day he told us that he was going to work, but he never came back. It was two weeks after my mother died.”
“My baby sister was six months, I was twelve and my brother was eight. For the first few days we waited for him, eating whatever we had at home. We did not go to school and we waited. But by the second week, the aunty next door gave us food. She knew what was going on, but said all she could do was give us food. The only thing remaining at home was rice and peas, so we ate that too. My sister cried all the time, it was hectic, I was crying too because I didn’t know what to do when she cried. Luckily when my mom was alive she showed me how to make my sister’s milk, so I would make her some.”
During the second week, social workers appeared at Steven’s door step.
“One day, two ladies came to our house. They asked me where my dad was and we said we didn’t know. They had a tin of peanuts that they shared with us and put us in a car. We first drove to my grandmother’s house where we fetched my sister. It was a long drive, I had never been this far away from home. We first dropped my sisters somewhere, then they continued driving and took my brother and I to a place of safety in Wellington.”
“I was English-speaking and we needed to write and speak in Afrikaans, so it was very difficult at first. Because we were different ages, my brother and I were split up and put into different parts of the centre. We had double bunks and I remember one boy would wet the bed and his pee would drop onto my bed. Being there was difficult, but we had food, nobody hit us and we were looked after so it was better than being at home.”
“While we were there, my father never came to see us. We only saw my mom’s sister once a month.”
Steven and his brother were in the home for three years.
“My aunt took us out, first me and my brother, then my baby sister. We stayed with her, her husband and their three kids. We were all close in age, so there were fights sometimes but we were treated fairly.”
“While there I completed high school. Unfortunately, because of my past experiences I became a troubled kid and got involved in some negative stuff. After school my aunt told me to go and work with my uncle at a company in the mechanical lift industry.”
Steven says while at the company, he became an apprentice to a man who would become his mentor.
“His name was Mac McKenley, and he was working as a sub-contractor for the company I was working at. I was his helper and he trained me. He was hard on me but taught me everything about the industry and, to a certain extent, about the concept of working hard. The greatest thing about our relationship is that he would always motivate me to ask questions.”
“He made such a difference, because he was my first positive male role model. I became interested in developing and growing as a person, so I would use any opportunity the company offered me.”
In the years since Steven joined his current employer, he has grown from being a labourer to currently managing close to 7000 lifts within the Western Cape.
Steven concludes saying, “My life has not been a smooth path; it has had its challenges and still does. A turning point in my life was when I began working with my mentor. He provided structure and motivated me. It became clear that one caring adult in the life of a youth can make all the difference. Look out for your mentor and when transformed… look out for your mentees.”
Steven is a friend of Life Choices