Redefining Family Patterns
In South Africa only 31% of women with children are married. Leaving the majority of households run by single mothers. Shanique Petersen tell us about her family story.
Shanique (17) from Delft remembers her childhood as a happy one. “I know my mom and dad lived together when I was a baby and they separated afterwards. So, I can’t remember those times well.
“What I can remember is the years we lived at my aunt’s house. We were seven in the house, my aunt and her two kids, my mom, myself and my two siblings – a sister four years older and a brother 13 years older than me. My mom was a factory worker and we had the basics to survive. Life was good, I had a happy childhood with some sorrow when I was naughty.
“My dad was good, he would visit me often. He used to take me out to Cape Town, he was born in district six so we would visit the area and he would introduce me as his lovely daughter. Those days, I felt like my daddy’s girl.”
When Shanique’s grandmother passed away, her core family moved to live in her grandmother’s house.
“My mom and siblings moved to the new house, I must have been in Grade 1 (6). After a short while, my dad moved to live with us. I was happy to have him around, he was an amazing dad and provided for us. He treated everyone well, most of the time, but he drank a lot. When he was drunk, he would be verbally violent - he would shout and swear. Each Friday after work … he would become a different person.
“I felt angry - why was he acting like this? The following day he would be normal again … so things would look as if everything was fine. It was difficult for me to comprehend his behaviour.”
After one year of living together Shanique’s dad moved out.
“My dad drinking problem caused my mom to ask him to leave the house. He continued visiting for a while and I felt supported by him. My sister would join us many times too, he had also become like a dad to her.
“My dad used to visit once a week but suddenly he stopped doing that. I remember the first week he did not come and then the following ones … for a while I still waited for him. I did not know where he lived and he did not have a phone. I was sad but I got used to it. I did not think much about the all situation; I had seen the patterns of my siblings fathers all my life.
“We all had different fathers. My brother’s dad I had never met and my brother did not have a relationship with him. My sister’s dad visited once every two years. I always felt lucky with my dad, he visited and cared for me and even for my sister.
“I think deep inside I thought it was normal that fathers were not present in their children’s lives. I knew I was lucky, I just held on to the appreciation I had from the previous years with my dad and I kept living my life. I never asked anyone why he stopped visiting.”
Shanique’s father returned after one year of absence.
“My dad came back and stayed with us for two weeks as he had found a new job and was in need of a place to stay. We never talked about where he had been and why he stopped visiting. He moved out to a place in Manenberg and began visiting me at least once a month and supported me financially. I truly appreciated having him back in my life, even if I didn’t see him as often.
“Around the same time, my mom started dating someone and got pregnant with my younger sister. I knew the boyfriend because he used to visit and he moved in with us before my sister was born, I was eight-years old at the time. He was a cool person and used to take us out. We were not close but he was ok. After some time, my mom and him broke up and he moved out. He supported my younger sister financially for some months and then stopped.
“My mom had four children now, all from different fathers. She took care of all of us on her own with her small salary as a domestic worker. My dad is the only one that supported in anyway. My mom made the decision that it was time to stop with the non-sense of men, she decided to live in accordance with God’s will. She became a religious person and was very strict with us, she did not want us to make the same mistakes she did. Independent of her strictness, we had a good relationship, I knew she did it because she really cared for us.
“She pushed me to be good at school and to have lady manners - Christian morals, which I followed and it has served me well in my life. Unfortunately, my brother had already strayed away with bad friends and drugs. It was hard to see him like that, getting lost and violent towards us. This happened on many occasions before my mother asked him to leave the house permanently.”
At the age of 15, Shanique would be challenged to redefine her family patterns once again.
“I had asked my mom to go to a church gathering with some friends, she told me I could not go. I was upset and went to my friends next door to tell them I could not join. When I went back home, there was a bakkie parked outside my house. I opened the door and a gentleman was seated in the living room talking to my mom. I greeted him and my mom told me to please greet him properly which I did and then went to my room.
“I was a little shocked why did she want me to greet him differently, but I thought he could be a friend from work she wanted to impress. After he left I asked her who the man was. She smiled and told me, ‘do you really want to know?’ She repeated that sentence few times, I started laughing thinking he was maybe an old boyfriend.
“She told me that the man was my father. I laughed thinking this was a joke and I played along asking her – ‘so, if this man is my father who is my older father?’
“She became serious and told me that if I did not believe her, we could call my godmother, our neighbor, to ask her. I could not fully understand the joke but I told her to go ahead. My godmother confirmed that the gentleman was my biological father.
“I was so angry, I began crying. I had so many questions running in my head. So, who is my dad? They went on to tell that my mom met who I thought was my dad when she was already pregnant. They had gotten together and he committed to raise me as his own. He did not want me to know the truth.
“I asked who knew about this story, I was shocked that everyone knew. My neighbors, my relatives from both sides of the family … everyone. How could they have lied to me all these years? I ran to my bedroom and cried even more.
“I felt the world as I had known it was collapsing around me, I felt betrayed by everyone, even my cultural identity was being questioned. My mother tongue is Afrikaans, all my family is coloured and my neighbours and community are mainly coloured … that is my culture! My dad is coloured and muslim, but my biology father is Xhosa. All my life felt like it had been something fake.”
Shanique explains that it took her some time to come to terms with the truth.
“It took me a long time to forgive everyone involved. In the beginning stages, I was not sure what to say. My mom told me that my biological father would like to get to know me and I told her I was not interested. I made the choice to make the lie become my reality again. I decided never to talk to my dad about the truth … I continued treating him as my biological father because that was what he was for me.”
Shanique concludes by saying, “I realized that love is not about sharing genes. Love is being present and caring for someone throughout their lives. My dad might not have been the most present dad in the world but I know he loves and cares for me. He is the dad I know and I would not change him for any other man in the world.”
Shanique is a Leaders’ Quest participant