SINGLE DADS’ ARMY
Selby Bokaba is known as the spokesperson for the City of Tshwane, but his most important job is being a dad. Bokaba (45) has been the primary parent of his daughter, Maikano (15), since she was seven years old. He has another daughter, Molemo (7), who lives with her mother, but he sees her every day after school and every second weekend. Bokaba’s decision to be a full-time dad has changed his life. “It’s tough in the sense that you have to alter your lifestyle. There are no more Phuza Thursdays and Friday nights out. I’m effectively a mother and father to my [elder] daughter. Parenting is my responsibility,” he says. “It’s a good and rewarding life. Girl children need their fathers.” Shy Maikano says her father is the best dad in the world. “It’s nice to live with my dad. We go out. We have dinner,” she says. But parenting done right is hard work. Since the age of seven, Maikano has not missed a single day of school, Bokaba says.
He goes about parenting like a project manager, keeping to-do lists and a diary to ensure he keeps track of both of their chores – including polishing shoes, making lunch and ensuring her school uniform is perfectly clean and ironed.
“I get up at 5am and wake her up. She is not the quickest of people, so I have to wait for five minutes and go wake her up again,” he says.
He prepares Maikano’s school lunch the night before and puts polish on her school shoes and his work shoes. In the morning, he brushes her shoes until they gleam.
Recently, he had to order her a new school uniform online – a daunting task that involved deep knowledge about women’s clothing sizes, and much debate about what would fit. “We had to check her size to be sure,” he says. He believes in a good night’s sleep and easy mornings, so he ensures she goes to bed at 8pm. For fun, the Bokabas go shopping, to restaurants and to the hair salon.
“One thing that I really hate is to take her to hair salons. It takes a lot of time and sometimes I am the only guy there,” he says, laughing.
Puberty issues have also not been easy. “She’s grown up. She is a teenager, so I have to respect her space, but sometimes I have to put my foot down,” he says, adding that he has little tolerance for teenage cheek.
Bokaba says he has been subjected to stereotyping and told that what he is doing is “a woman’s job”.
He has dealt with this by shedding friends, keeping only those who have children themselves, or who understand his situation. He socialises at home around the braai. Bokaba urges black fathers especially to look after their children. “That’s why we have these teenage pregnancies and children roaming the streets doing drugs. We need to change that culture of not taking care of our children as black fathers. Paying maintenance and being an ATM are not enough. Children need their father’s love. Invite your children to come sleep over and take them to movies.”
He says many black people still struggle with the phenomenon of blended families, and some fathers neglect their own children and focus on their partners’ children to keep their partners happy.
“Our generation needs counselling on blended families so that all children feel loved. There is this trend of fathers who, instead of looking after their children, show off by buying expensive booze and wearing expensive clothes. That gets under my skin,” he says.
Asked what he has learnt while raising his daughters, Bokaba says he is now an “all-rounder”. “I also found out that you can live without a woman in the house,” he says. Finding new love is hard for single dads. “Women tend to shy away from single fathers who are close to their daughters, but I prioritise my daughters more than anything,” he says.
What’s important for Bokaba is that Maikano grows up knowing what she should expect from a man one day. But the disadvantage, he says, is that she could measure all men against him.
“She will grow up knowing what a man’s love is. It is important for men to be present in the lives of girl children. No man can lie to my daughter.”
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MODERN FAMILY Maikano Bokaba and her father Selby at their home in Moreleta Park in Pretoria
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