Fathers are a source of happiness for their families. I was driving back from a law office after interviewing several partners about their fathers when my Uber driver in Cape Town explained how his father slept in the house every night. He said his father never spent a night away. His father grew up without his own father in Apartheid South Africa, yet he could put away his demons and become a source of happiness for his family.
My mom called me on October 3rd, my dad’s birthday. I was sitting in Watershed an outlet mall on the waterfront of Cape Town thinking about the Uber driver’s story while my mom told me the story of how upset my father was that my mom was not going to give me his last name. He wanted me to be named Nigel McGeachy, and when he asked my mom why not she said, “Because I don’t want to.” I think he was more frustrated with himself because he was not a source of happiness for his son, and eventually he did not understand why I did not want to talk on the phone whenever my mom made me call him as a kid.
Kabilu has a 3-year-old son, and he does not seem to understand why his son does not want to talk to him sometimes. I met Kabilu through a friend from Vanderbilt. Kabilu lives in a township near Cape Town in the mountains, and these townships are mostly segregated to Black and Coloured people because of the fresh history of Apartheid in South Africa. Kabilu took me around his neighborhood as he showed me the homes and explained that the city has built new ones for his community to move into next year. They are considered squatters because the owner of the property has allowed these people to move into the area over the years, but now he says they need to move. While we walked down the side of the mountain, Kabilu told me how he grew up without his father, and he shared how his father came back into his life this year. After 24 years, Kabilu, at 25 years old, is working toward a happy relationship with his father, while raising a son of his own. Despite the adversity of living in a township, not finishing high school, reuniting with his father, and raising his son, Kabilu has gone to the Olympics twice. His sport has opened an opportunity to provide an excellent education for his son. He told me about his training and commitment to get to Tokyo in 2020. He loves the sport, and he loves that he can make a better future for his son this way. He is under an amount of pressure I can only imagine, and he is doing what he knows is best for his son. However, his sport keeps him in Cape Town, while his ex-girlfriend takes care of his son in the western Cape. Kabilu told me he makes sure to call his son at least every couple of days, and sometimes his son does not want to talk to him. When I asked him how he and his girlfriend decided his son with go with his mother, he said, “It is just natural.”
Kabilu’s story helped me realize that I have not interviewed any fathers who are not in their family’s lives. Almost 100 people have been interviewed about fatherhood since leaving over 4 months ago, and I am just now getting to the issue of how to create more fathers who are a source of happiness for their families. This can be done by beginning to understand the thought process of different fathers in different environments with both positive and negative outcomes. Kabilu showed me how it can make sense for a father can get to the point where sleeping in the house every night does not look like an option. There is a whole system of factors that could make this seem impossible in each country I goto. Johannah, the first person I interviewed in South Africa, was also the first person to ask me, “What are you going to do about it?” She asked me if I expect to make sure that more families are happy with the father in their lives.
Edward’s family is happy with him in their lives. Born in Malawi, his father passed early in his life. He came to Cape Town and now he has a wife and two daughters and works as a chef. We became friends through a Vanderbilt connection, and he managed the similar difficulties I saw for Kabilu. We were sitting on my host family’s back porch when he told me, “Parents need to take more responsibility. These people in the townships, they rob and take your money, but money isn’t everything. I know family is everything, and I need to take responsibility for my family. I will always be poor. I could pass away, but my family knows I have worked for their future. Now myself, if I’m facing a lot of difficult situations I have to change my things to be better for myself, and then to ignore all the bad things. Do you understand? And then leave those things behind because if you are counting all your bad things I don’t think you will be able to enjoy your life.” Edward has overcome the obstacles he faces as a father by deciding to put the happiness of his family before the difficulties of the system into which he was born.
My phone call with my mom also brought up how, like Edward, she looked at her anxieties around providing the best life for my sister and I, swallowed them whole, and made sure we got to school, were fed, and slept under the same roof every night. It seems impossible how she managed to do it, but she did. So many mothers do it every single day despite the difficulties women face that men have the privilege to never consider.
Examples like Kabilu acknowledge the tremendous adversity men face in South Africa when they are born black in a country still healing from Apartheid, given an abysmal education, and their father has abandoned them. Examples like Edward show how, despite the difficulties around him, a father can be a source of happiness when his family is his ultimate source of happiness. Men must do better by their families in spite of it all because their families deserve it.
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