I still don’t know why you rejected me
IDO NOT KNOW for sure the point at which you first made contact with my mother, but I became aware of it from her in 1994 when I was in Standard 4. I gather from my mother that you made the first contact. You worked at the then head office of the Bophuthatswana Department of Education in Mafikeng. The academic results of the Standard 4 children, the then-final year of primary school, were centralised and accessed at the head office. My mother thinks that you must have tracked down my results and noticed that I was the best performer in my school and decided that perhaps it was a good time to make contact. I do not know the extent to which this is true.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, however, my performance was what brought you back. I was indeed the top-performing learner in the school. Apart from my cousin-brother Moitiri, no one else came close to me. Moitiri and I competed only against one another. I remember the days when schools closed. We would take our reports hand in hand and run home as quickly as we could and hand them to our grandmother. She would open them, congratulate us and tell us which one of the two outperformed the other. Only he ever gave me a challenge.
I do not know for sure that my mother’s version of the story that you contacted her because I was intelligent is true, but it made perfect sense to me. How else could I, a 12-year-old girl who is just starting to figure out what is going on with her body, make sense of your disappearance from my childhood? How else was I supposed to make sense of your return after all those years?
I accepted the fact that you made contact and as strange as that was, I appreciated that you were starting to care. I must admit that the thought of being acceptable to you only because I was intelligent has plagued my mind for my entire life thus far. As a child I built my sense of acceptance, or of belonging, firmly on the basis that I was intelligent; it was the only thing that I could hold on to, the only thing that could buy me love and acceptance.
I sometimes asked myself whether you would have disappeared from my life forever if you had not found out that I was intelligent. I would ask myself why you thought I was unacceptable and unlovable. In 1995, then in Standard 5, my school made a trip to Mafikeng. The trip was to be my first physical contact with you since that special memory when I was about four years old. The day we met, I didn’t know how to feel, act or be around you. I didn’t know you. I didn’t know what you looked like, what you liked, what you smelled like. Most importantly, I didn’t know whether you would like me. The only way that I can describe how it felt to meet you for the first time in over a decade is “awkward”. You came to pick me up from the host school. When you arrived and I finally met you, my heart skipped a beat, not with the joy of finally meeting you, but more out of fear. I started to wonder whether you would bring me back in time so that I don’t miss the bus back to Thaba Nchu. The thought of missing the bus rushed through my mind, almost putting me into a panic. I was very scared.
You took me to Molopo Sun, one of the two Sun international casinos that were thriving under the Bophuthatswana government. Although I was hungry, I didn’t want to embarrass myself by eating in front of you.
I never quite understood why I felt that I didn’t want to eat in front of you. Perhaps in my 13-year-old mind I needed to be perfect in front of you.
After that encounter in Mafikeng, I do not remember for sure, but I believe I must have met you once more while I was still in Thaba Nchu. At the end of that year, 1995, I left Thaba Nchu to live with my mother, my stepfather and my sisters in Bloemfontein. I moved in with my family in Bloemfontein at the start of high school in Standard 6. I have great respect for my stepfather.
I respect the role he played in my teenage years. Here is a man who married my mother when I was just four years old, and was prepared to adopt me as his.
He ultimately made “sacrifices” and took in a 13-year old teenage girl, the one he was not allowed to adopt as his own, and gave her the very best of what he could, under his circumstance, offer her.
In your absence, my stepfather “stepped in” and fathered me as best as he could. I cannot recall a moment in the five years that I lived with them, from 1996 to 2000, where he deliberately made me feel like I was not his child. Not only did he provide me with food, clothing and shelter, he was also the active parent with regard to my schooling; he is the parent that attended meetings at my school.
However, there remained a void in my life that he couldn’t fill. It would have been too much to ask of anyone to fill a void that only you, my biological father, should fill. There was a large emotional emptiness that continued to plague me throughout my teenage years, and perhaps even before I moved in with them, that although he “stepped in”, I was acutely aware that I was not his child and, truly speaking, I never would be.
There were instances at that time that kept reminding me that I was not my stepfather’s child, but those were mainly from his family – not him. I don’t think they ever saw me as his anyway, so the treatment I got from some of them was, to some extent, expected.
Sometimes when these instances occurred I wondered where you, my own father, were. I wondered how you slept at night knowing very well the potential hurtful things that growing up without you brought me. I longed for you; I longed to just be accepted for who I was.
A part of me wondered why I expected acceptance from anyone else if you, my own father, had rejected me. I sometimes cried myself to sleep.