The common narrative is that the number of deadbeat daddies in South Africa is frighteningly on the rise. In communities everywhere, there are numerous single mothers battling to raise children with little or no support from fathers. This is the scenario being painted luridly in the media, TV talk shows and word on the streets.
But perhaps it is possible to play the devil’s advocate, turn the prevailing narrative on its head and send it into a tailspin, and become, as it were, politically contentious.
Joseph speaks of his grim struggle to avoid the curse of the deadbeat dad. You don’t become a father unless a woman is kind enough to grant you the honour he says. The mother of his child then becomes difficult to live with. She makes financial and emotional demands he cannot meet.
He sees they have no future as a couple. They separate. He demands to spend time with his daughter, to bond with her like father and daughter but mother would have none of it. She demands he pays lobola (bride price) and take her to wife. She insists they visit the altar and sign the dotted lines.
He prevaricates being in severe financial straits. But he sends money to her frequently for the child’s upkeep. He also sends money to members of her family to help keep him in good stead.
Her demands increase. He longs to see his daughter frequently. She baulks and becomes increasingly cantankerous. She isn’t working so she needs more financial assistance from him. He’s beginning to think she considers him an ATM; as such, available to her beck and call to be skimmed for cash.
He resists her onslaught. He gets vilified and ostracised. He is banished from seeing his daughter. He’s a deadbead dad, a worthless sperm donor, a no-do-gooder creating toxic cellular mayhem in society at large.
He re-traces his steps, seeks rapprochement with her and her family. She does not relent in her demands. He has to provide this, that and the other for the child or else…
He calls in Social Services to intervene. They plead with her to be reasonable. She curses, cries, gnashes her teeth and insists her demands be met. They tell her she’s trying the father’s patience. They wonder how he can manage to have so much patience. Both mother and father leave Social Services unresolved.
He calls his child to say I love you. The child says she despises him and drops the phone. What can the mother be feeding the child he asks himself? She’s only four years old. Where is she learning hatred from? He continues to rack his brain to no avail.
He remains undecided as to how to solve his problem. Sometimes mother allows him to speak with their child, sometimes she doesn’t. He requests for visits are met with the same attitude. The child remains ambivalent towards him, wavering between love and hate. He fears her young mind is being poisoned.
His heart breaks over the mental manipulation. Perhaps he had better withdraw completely to spare everyone further heartache. Sometimes he does not call or visit for months. He fears he’s becoming what he most dreads; a deadbeat dad.
The years drift by. The mother insists he can’t want the child and not want her too. This is a serious bone of contention. He must desire her enough in order to be with their child. She refuses to bulge from her demands that he pays ‘damages’, lobola and sign the dotted lines with her. He has long since stopped loving her.
She senses this and uses their child as a pawn. He feels helpless and resents the situation. He eventually caves in to his helplessness. He drifts away from his child. Their child becomes a young woman full of resentment for him. He had abandoned her. He had failed to fight for her. He hadn’t been there at the crucial moments of her life.
Her mind had been filled with bitter tales about him in his absence. His absence is both a life sentence and an indictment. Nothing can assuage the pain, the sense of betrayal and abandonment. To her, and the rest of the world, he world, he would always be, and remain a deadbeat dad.
Bio: Sanya Osha has published prose, poetry and works of philosophy. He is also a frequent contributor to Africa Review of Books/Revue Africaine des Livres. His other work has appeared in Gadfly Online, Transition, Pambazuka News, The Missing Slate and Research in Africa Literatures. He works at the Institute for Economic Research on Innovation (IERI), and Centre for Excellence in Scientometrics and STI Policy at Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa.