FOLLOWING MY FATHER’S HEART
In our youth, following the example of our parents is not very common. Zizipho Gqwaka explains that if you do, you might reap great benefits.
“I grew up happy because I was the only child. My dad was working as a mechanic and my mother as a cleaner. We lived in a shack with a kitchen and two bedrooms. Money was not abundant but we had the basics and each other.
“My mother and I had a close relationship, but I had a special bond with my father. Whenever he went out, I wanted to join him. He would call me Poto, I don’t know what it meant, but I always loved it because it was his special name for me.”
When Zizipho was ten her younger sister was born.
“I would feel a bit jealous because she was getting a lot of attention, but I would help my mom out by feeding her and changing her nappy. Apart from the occasional jealousy, I loved having a younger sister.”
To sustain the family, Zizipho’s dad would supplement his salary as a mechanic by transporting people to and from work in his car or at any time a community member needed a ride.
“My father was well known. He assisted people when they had problems with their cars and every time someone needed transport. He would also be called to help if there was a problem in the community. When neighbours called I would be nervous about where he was going, but also proud because people needed him.”
Unfortunately, on one occasion where Zizipho’s father intervened, things turned violent.
“One evening our neighbour came to our house and told my father he must help. She said that she heard a young couple fighting and that my father knew the lady because she was one of his clients.
“I was in the lounge and heard her saying that he must go and stop the fight. I remember worrying when he walked out because the lady had said that the man was violent. My mom was at home, so we stayed with her.
“A couple of minutes later the neighbour came back to our house and told us that the guy had retaliated and was beating my father. My mother ran down the road, I followed her and when we arrived my father was defending himself. He was winning, so the guy left. We were seeing how the lady was doing when her boyfriend came back with his brothers. They were carrying sticks and sharp metal things that they started beating my father with.
“I tried to stop them, but they shoved me away. My mom told me to go home, but I stayed there. We were screaming for them to stop when the whole community came out because of the noise, and also started yelling. Eventually they stopped and ran away, leaving my father bleeding on the floor. He was just lying there, with lots of blood on his jeans. Most of the blood was coming from his arms, back and legs.
“My mom got a neighbour to take him to the hospital and I stayed with my sister and a few relatives. I felt scared that he would die. I wanted to call the police because I wanted them to be arrested. I don’t know why no one called the police; I was frustrated.
“They were away the entire night and I remember not sleeping because I was worried. My mom came back home in the morning. She told us that my father was okay but both his legs were injured and his left leg was completely shattered so would need an operation.
“When he came home, after some time, his face looked okay, but his leg had a cast on. He was on crutches to support himself and walked with a limp. When I saw him I was so happy and relieved, I tried to jump into his arms but he told me that his leg was sore and that he couldn’t pick me up. He sat with the family and told us that the doctors had put a metal plate in his leg. I was confused and asked if he would ever be able to walk normally again. He replied ‘in time’.”
Zizipho says that life was different after her dad came home because he couldn’t do most of the things that he used to do.
“He had to stay in one place, he couldn’t drive his car and couldn’t go back to work. And that This affected the money at home because now, only my mother was working. We had to wait for my mother to bring money but we continued having food every night, just less.”
Describing her dad as a calm person, Zizipho says that she would often tell her family that they must call the police so that the guys that hurt her father would go to jail. She adds that her father’s attacker lived with his family close to her house so she would see him often in the road.
“I couldn’t believe my dad was so calm, we would see the guy in the road acting like nothing had happened. I could not comprehend how someone who had brought my father so much pain would not pay for it.”
She adds that her father’s next decision confused her even more.
“He told us that we mustn’t get the police involved because it was a community matter and so the community needed to sort it out. In my community, it is the norm that when something happens we don’t call the police but meet and speak about what happened privately. We were all angry because we wanted them to pay and go to jail, but my dad said that he would meet the guy’s family and that they would discuss it. I didn’t understand, I wanted to hurt him back but I was also scared and feared that he might attack me or come back to hurt my father again.
“The family came to our house, but I was sent away. I was so angry about having his family in my house. I never told anyone how I was feeling because what was the point. My father never spoke to me about what happened so I assumed they had worked something out.”
For many years Zizipho lived with the anger, often reliving what happened to her father when she saw his attacker in her road.
“The situation began affecting my daily life. I would take longer routes to the shop or school that were not very safe, but I was willing to take the chance to avoid seeing him. I wanted my dad to do something, I spoke to a family member about it but she said that I must leave it to the adults and that the guy would not hurt me or my father again. But I continued to feel unsafe.”
A few years later, Zizipho began attending church regularly and says that the messages she received planted the seeds of forgiveness in her heart.
“At church they were talking about grudges and feelings of anger. I would pray about letting go of the anger and slowly began feeling lighter. I thought about my father’s example, and how he forgave his attacker.
“When I began forgiving I felt free. Before, I would see him and feel naar (nauseas) like I was going to get sick. But soon I stopped feeling anything when I saw him and I even prayed for him to be forgiven for what he had done to my family.”
Zizipho says that when she looked at him as more than her father’s attacker, she began feeling compassion for him.
“He was always in trouble, making bad decisions. He is now in his twenties and still making bad decisions. So, I pray for him to change and find peace.”
After letting go of the anger and following her father’s lead of forgiveness, Zizipho says that she now focuses on things that really matter.
“I’m in Grade 11, and doing well at school. Last term I was placed 3rd in my school and was top academic achiever last year.”
Zizipho concludes that she wishes that she had forgiven her father’s attacker earlier because it had a hold on her life for too long.
“It is not easy to forgive, especially when the person has never asked to be forgiven. But, not forgiving and holding onto grudges has the potential to make you rotten inside. This is what was happening to me. I didn’t realise at the time, but because of the way I was feeling about my father’s attacker, it began affecting my relationship with my father. I have learned to let go and focus on things that build me up not break me down. After all, when I grow up I just want to be like my father.”
Zizipho is a Leaders’ Quest participant