Recovering From A Stolen Childhood

I was born on the 8th of May 1985 in a town called Roodepoort. On my birthday mom always tells me the story that when I was a few days old or maybe even straight after birth she noticed my hands were bending upwards at a funny angle. Alarmed about her child’s odd looking hands she summoned the nurse right away and asked “ what is wrong with my son, is he going to be… special” The nurse calmly said “no need to be alarmed ma’m, he is a healthy looking boy and he’ll have big hands when he grows up”. So that’s how I came into the world. I have two older brothers – Broeks is 3 years older than me and Jakes two years. I also have two younger sisters, one is 3 years younger than me and the other 5 years. For the sake of this article those are not their real names.

Part 1

We have always been a close knit family and I don’t know if it was because of the events that occurred in childhood or we just naturally are close to one another, either way, when my dad snapped and all went sideways, our relationship with one another was tested and our lives changed forever.

As I try to think back on my life, all the way back to my very first memory of this world, I can’t remember a time when I was truly happy and content, maybe once. Sure there were happy times and some good times lasted longer than other’s but there was always this dark shadow looming over the whole family. That dark cloud was only there when my dad was in close proximity. The bible says to honor your father and your mother and I don’t want to shame my dad at all. I made a lot of progress in forgiving him and I too treated him with utter disrespect most of my life and I am sorry, but you need to know the full story in order to understand the effects of a dad’s choices on his wife and kids. Please note while I’m writing this I tapped deep into my childhood psyche and that is how I felt back then and maybe still today, so if I’m still angry about all this (sigh) well then I’m back to square one and have to work on it again, I don’t want to work on it anymore, I’m tired and want to put it behind me.

So dad had a problem with alcohol abuse, jealousy and pride practically all his life. He’s view of being a man involved drinking, smoking, and fighting. I wouldn’t say he is the voldamort of all dads but he afflicted serious harm on us and there seemed to be no remorse, he did cry once or twice but then went cold again so I never truly knew who those tears were shed for. When confronted he denied everything flat out or intensely justified all the evil things he did. In later years he became obsessed in trying to convince us that my mom also had fault in all of this and that he was not the only one to blame for the unhappy childhood we had. ‘Dad just look at what you have done to all of us, I am a man now and I understand that relationships are hard work and there is always trouble in paradise on some level or another but just look at the destruction you caused, you couldn’t control your emotions and anger. You could have been a great dad but you chose not to, you chose not to. How could you possibly expect us to shift the blame on mom when it was all on you. Here is a passage for you “let him who is without sin throw the first stone” You always seem to blame the whole world but never yourself, and when you do admit to some wrong doing you seem to gloat about it or just shrug it off like it had no significance in the grand scheme of things. You never paid maintenance dad, we were poor and mom had to raise 5 hungry children by herself. We needed you and you left us!!!!’

Up until age eight my dad was home lets say 6 months in total out of a year, either without a job or on short leave. Then after that he was always away, away for work away at night and generally just gone. He worked on the mines when I was very little and then eventually he settled for long distance truck driving. But the times he was home were never really good times either. In one of our heated arguments much later in life when I was an adult he looked at me one day and asked “Mannie we did have some good times when I was in the house, before the divorce didn’t we?” Yes dad there were some good times and I mean that. We sometimes would play games with him or just laugh and mess around and in that brief moment in time I was somewhat happy.

But those seemingly good times with him never lasted more than an hour. Eventually you would get drunk or angry, and start preaching to us or play a song over and over and over, drilling it into our young minds, willing us to understand the lyrics of Via con Dios “we’re heading for a fall”. I did not want to be around you because you were always in some mood that I just did not want to deal with. I always regretted going bass fishing with you, to this day if someone mentions the word bass fishing I want to puke and run away. You made us wait in that car when your out fishing until dark,we were miserable, cold and hungry, we just wanted to go home but you didn’t care. I absolutely hated going to the pub with you or any establishment were alcohol and music was involved that includes staff functions. We would sit and wait for you for hours and hours, again cold and hungry and we want to go home and sleep. Then you drove home drunk putting us all in danger, preaching about mom and your boss and all sorts of nonsense, everything was always so negative.

I also did not like going camping with you because all we ever do is work, pack out gear, set up camp, do this fetch that, you get drunk and preach, or you will be out on your little canoe until way after dark again, you will get violently angry when you get an overwind on your reel and that dampens the mood on the whole trip before it even began, there was always some problem with you dad fueled by copious amount of beer and rum. You had issues and we paid for it. You put your own kids in danger how many times with your drunk driving. So you tell me, does that sound like a happy childhood. No it certainly does not, we entertain you and laugh at your stupid crude jokes, we have to smile and be happy otherwise you get mad and scold us. Those are a drunk adult’s idea of fun not a kid of 10 years old. To this day when ever I see drunk guys with their sons I remember my own life as a child and how I felt when dad got drunk, I see the same look in those kids’ and their mother’s faces as they just want to go home. The look of fear, their frightened little eyes telling you exactly what is to come and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, their fathers just don’t care how they feel. And then there is always the drive home.

To sum this all up I basically regretted every attempt to spend quality time with you because it always ended up in disappointment, your anger and moods just messed it up. It will start off cheerful and jovial but slowly it turns into serious regret. So those happy times you speak of was just the start of what could have been a great time, very very few times did it end on a positive strand.

It was times like these I knew that I didn’t want him home anymore or anywhere near me. Whenever I would come back from school and rounded the corner of our street to see his big truck and trailer standing there, my stomach would start twisting. There was a mixture of emotions racing through me that I did not quite know how to handle. I’m excited in one hand because I do miss my father and he’s finally home and maybe we can do some fun stuff or he could come to one of our school games and see how good we do, we also sat in his big truck while he smoked his pipe and told us stories, dad was a good story teller, he is truly a wonderful guy when he is sober, even now, but alas that thought about everything being happy days is fortune cookie wisdom, when my dad was home it meant trouble and also now I have to conform to his authority, which in my mind he no longer had. You are never home, drunk and disorderly most of the time, and when our little fun time was over then I would be on edge, the whole family is in fearful anticipation, never knowing when you will clutch out and become violent, and now you want to come play daddy and start disciplining me, I don’t think so. You have no place here actually and we are doing just fine without you. I became increasingly defiant and cold towards him.

With my mom we could do whatever we wanted most of the time and she was always warm towards her kids, so when dad finally left for work I did grieve a little, but I quickly shoved it aside and now we could finally play, play without fear or father authority. Almost every weekend and sometimes during the week too we had friends over. And then it was on. We would play in the garden, jump off the roof trying to fly with an umbrella or plastic bag, we played rugby until ten o’clock at night. We had intense day/night cricket matches and friends would come from far to take part. My sisters were very small and they kept themselves busy with I don’t know what but their happy little faces brought sunshine into our lives and lifted our spirits. Even when we had no friends over there was love in our little unit and no one was troubled. When I was really small Broeks, Jakes and I once slept in our tree house, 2o’clock that morning our tree house collapsed under us and we all went tumbling down, jeepers that was hectic. Jakes and I once went looking for his pet rabbits in another person’s yard and got shot at, we slept on top of the roof under the stars, I of course was not allowed to after a while because all my life I suffered from severe and I mean severe night terrors, so they were afraid I would run off the roof while having a nightmare.

The only times I was downhearted when my dad was not there was when my brothers or sisters stayed over at their friends’ house and the family was incomplete. I longed for them all weekend and seeing them again made my little heart jump with joy. I could play with them again, I could spin top with Jakes at night under the street light, watching him split another top with precision, perfecting his skill for the fierce competition at school. Other nights us three brothers would drop kick a rugby ball over the electricity lines while my little sisters, I assumed, prepared dinner with mom, Broeks seemed to always send the ball flying effortlessly over the lines until one day when I couldn’t stop the ball on the other side and it bounced over my head and knocked out a window. We did not have money for a new window and my mom lost it.

I was too scared to go into the house and hid in the bushes, Broeks and Jakes bravely went forth, bracing themselves for the onslaught. Apparently as they entered the house they were immediately marched off to the room and my mom grabbed one of them if not both and threw them over the bed shouting and screaming and I think they got a hiding too. I’m still in the bush, too scared to breathe while the troops bravely fought on, I could hear the battle raging inside but I stayed put, after a long while I emerged from my hiding place and crept into the house. My mom just said “and where were you” “I uh, uhm” “go and sit down, dinner’s ready” We sat down and ate, glancing over to my brothers and sisters, but all was good. There was no worry or fear among us.

I was 10 at the time and life was peaceful in the pink house, yes my mom painted our house pink and we lived opposite a church, but we didn’t mind, she loved us and I felt loved by her. We did whatever we wanted in our yard and mom never seemed to mind. It is not like she didn’t care but I think seeing us so happy and playful she just went with it. Plus my mom worked all day then came home to cook and get us all ready for bed and she was a teacher so she had to bring work home too, so trying to cage in 5 hyper kinetic kids just was not going to happen. She put us in Gods hands and trusted that we will be safe.

We built tree houses, dug holes for army bases, bombed each other with lethal firecrackers ( don’t think she knew about that ) climbed into our big freezer for 10 min and into a hot bath haha, also snuck into our neighbors pool like navy seals, they had vicious dogs but we always slipped in undetected. My mom also let me keep my chickens. Every little bit of pocket money or birthday money or money from pushing shopping carts for customers at the mall, I would save up until I had enough cash to buy a few chooks. I would walk and visit every pet shop I knew and sometimes almost to the other side of town just to scope out their latest addition of chickens and that is before I even buy any. Something I still do today, I’d look for things I wanted sometimes a year in advance until I found the right one and then save up and buy. So when I finally got enough cash I’d say to my mom:

‘mom I’m going out’

‘and where are you going mister’

‘I’m going to buy a chicken’

‘a chicken, as in one chicken’

‘yes, one only’

‘where are you buying it’

‘up the road’

‘up which road’

‘mom I’m late the pet shop is going to close’

‘ok hurry up and be careful’

4 hours later and 7km of land covered I rocked up at home with 3 chickens in a box.

Eye brows raised mom asked:

‘I thought you were buying only one’

‘I thought so too but I couldn’t help myself, I had to buy more’

‘and who’s going to feed all these animals’

‘I’ll make plan’

‘you’ll make a plan?’

‘yes mom I’ll make a plan, can I go now please’

She would then let me go and I’ll release them into the yard, staring at them for hours and just faffing over them. Then one day my dad’s work colleague’s son who was older than me invited me over to play video games at his place, up the road , I just bought the new Cage game ( walked just as far to get it) and also had a 1000inOne game. As we entered his place I walked around his house a bit peeping into rooms and drawers minding my own business and as I looked out the window into their back yard I gazed upon something truly magnificent, the mack daddy of all roosters. Standing tall with half his feathers missing, round fat body with small wings, think of a T-Rex in chicken form, and a long thick neck. I had to have it. I forgot all about playing games and went straight in negotiation mode.

I think it went something like this:

‘say, that’s a good looking chicken you have back there’

“its a beaut isn’t it’

‘it sure is, have you ever thought about selling it’

‘I have yes, are you interested’

‘I could be, what do you want for it’

‘hmmm, you know what, for you, no charge’

‘hmmm okay, so what do you want for it’

‘your new Cage game and the 1000 in one’

‘you strike a hard bargain my friend’

‘that’s a prize specimen your taking home with you ey, very hard to come by, imagine the bragging rights if you owned it’

‘yes yes’

damn it he had me, he saw how much I wanted it and took full advantage. I would trample the weak and hurdle the dead just to get my hands on that chicken. I knew he was doing me in.

So without consulting my mother on such delicate matters of expanding my animal farm I signed the dotted line and made the trade. Took us forever to catch the bloody thing but eventually it was tired and we gently put it in a box. Now imagine the look on my mom’s face when I got home with a 4ft chicken, smiling from ear to ear because I just bought the rooster of the century, very first thing she said was:

‘what is that’

‘it’s a chicken’

‘I can see it’s a chicken mannie, but what is it doing here’

‘uh’

‘uh uh, why didn’t you consult me’

‘I wanted to surprise you’

‘you know damn well that’s a lie’

‘that is preposterous mother, I would never do such a thing’

‘let me see it’

I imagined as she peeped in to the box and take a closer look, my pride and joy stood up, ruffled his feathers, gave my mom a sideways glance, blue steel, and then he crowed, kookalokoooooooo, she threw her hands in the air, defeated by her son’s chicken obsession, my face must have lit up like Orion’s belt and the chook kept crowing.kookalokooooooo, beautiful, kookalokoooooo, yeah you crow boy, let every one know there’s a new chicken in town. Show them a thing or two. I never knew what happened to that beast but he just disappeared, I remember we had to slaughter some of my hens one day because there was no food in the house, but the big rooster was just gone, never to be seen again.

As for primary school well no one ever really liked school, but our grades were ok. I was naughty and started acting out. I got into a couple of fights at school and was always looking for attention in class. I had good friends and we all did well in sport. My sisters were exceptionally good in athletics. I also had my first kiss at age 11. I was visiting a friend and he stayed in a block of flats. A girl from our class also stayed there and as we sat on a small stone wall she asked me if I ever kissed a girl. I said no and asked if she has ever kissed a boy and she said no, I then asked ‘do you want to try’ and she said ‘sure’. My heart skipped a beat and I told my friend that we are going to kiss, what should I do. He was so excited for me that he started planning the whole thing. I asked if there’s a trick to it and him kissing the back of his hand gave me a crash course on the french kiss. Right got it. He eventually bundled the girl and me into a utility closet on the second floor and said he’ll keep watch. With a nod and a smile he said good luck and God speed and closed the door.

So there I am in this dark closet with this girl, she smelled good, I could just make out her features from a stream of light coming through the slits of the door. I held her by the waist and her hands were on my shoulders. No words were spoken, just the sound of our heavy breathing, anxious, not quite sure what to do next. We leaned in a couple of times for the kiss but never followed through and then what seemed like a deep breath later she leaned in all the way and I felt her soft lips press against mine. The world faded around me and I melted into her kiss, I could have died and gone to heaven, I pulled her closer and she wrapped her arms around my neck and we kissed each other in that dark room with all the passion we had. It was wonderful and in that moment nothing in the world mattered more to me than this girl in my arms. Few minutes later we heard loud voices outside, her little sister and co was interrogating my mate and then the door swung open. Staring at us wide eyed she shouted ‘ you were kissing I’m going to tell daddy, daaaaaad!!’ and off they went. Sensing trouble I ran out the closet straight home, not looking back, not stopping either, I ran like forest gump, the sun was bright, the trees were bare and I just had my first real kiss, I was on top of the world. Fueled by love I kept running, faster, stronger, till this little piggy made it all the way home.

This seemingly happy time I was in ended very quickly and I never really regained it since. My dad had numerous affairs with other women and my mom found out, but he also did other things in secret. Something he denies to this day. I only found out when he went to jail the first time that my sisters were involved. We lived in klerksdorp at the time, and my dad then got a job on the south coast with a trucking company. We have been to that part of the coast a few times on holiday because my mom’s dad had a holiday unit in umtentweni.

So now being 800km away he really was never home and my dad’s friend came to visit mom. I asked her about this one day and again during the writing of this post and she said dad’s friend would come over now and again to see if she was alright and she told him straight out that she was not interested and then he stayed away. She told my dad about him and he totally flipped and swung the whole thing around and started calling her all sorts of names, degrading her and sometimes physically hit her. Never confronting the friend. We then moved to another part of town and the friend came over again and one night mom and him drank to much wine and while walking him to his car, he kissed her and my mom kissed back. That was it. She didn’t see him again. It was at this moment that everything changed for the worse and my dad lost it completely. Broeks saw the fleeting kiss between mom and the friend and told my dad . Dad came home on leave and my mom was severely beaten and abused, mentally and physically. I walked into her room once and she had a massive blue eye, the size of a golf ball. My heart fell and I still can not get that image out of my mind. My dad will repeatedly ask her ‘was it nice, did you like it, kissing him’. I hated him.

Whenever he phoned he’ll just say in a dull psychopathic voice ‘put your mom on the phone’ I would try to counter and be strong and he’ll just say again ‘mannie I said put your mom on the phone’. I was helpless, I wanted to help my mom so badly but I was weak and afraid, I could never stand up to him without crumbling into a helpless ball under his presence. I wanted to be a man and protect my mom, but I couldn’t. I was never man enough to help my sisters or my mom and I am ashamed. I still feel like that today. I could not help them when they needed me, I can not get that back, ever, and I have to live with it. Mannie the weakling. You are no man, when a man was needed you were a coward you deserve to die alone. I could never be like Broeks or Jakes, our brave protectors. In my heart I always remained a coward.

So they then decided that Jakes and Broeks would go with my dad to the coast, me, my mom and the girls will move there in about two or three months. The day finally came, I was twelve years old when we moved. I bought a roxette casette and it broke just before the trip. We packed our stuff, leaving my friends and memories behind and drove off. We stayed in port shepstone in a small flatlet on someone’s property, they let my mom and the girls sleep in the main house and eventually we all moved to the main house. The fighting continued, the rum flowed and one night my dad dragged my mom to the beach and started drowning her in the tidal pool. Broeks saved mom’s life that night, he called the cops and they came running. I don’t know what happened but dad didn’t try it again. My parents got divorced and I did my best to smile. I can’t really pin point how I felt all that time because I don’t know. I was grieved and my little life was in ruins. I just lived day by day. I also started putting up barriers so I wouldn’t get hurt, my psychological great wall of china. The nightmares got worse and depression kicked in early and lasted for a very very long time. My dad went to jail for what he did to the girls and we moved further up the coast to munster. I was now thirteen and the second innings was about to begin.

Conclusion:

I wish my dad was home every night, sober and cheerful. I wish that he grew closer to Jesus and lead the family to Christ and live a normal functional life. We could have been poor I don’t mind but we would have been together and happy in a home full of warmth and love. I wish he could have dealt with his problems head on, like a man. Alcohol ruined him and ultimately his wife and kids. I followed dear old dad’s footsteps and ruined my own life. The rough childhood we had was a direct result of the choices he made, fathers are the leaders of the household, what they do affects everyone. God gave him freedom of choice and he chose alcohol and destruction. We were not okay.

 

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