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By Faizel Patel

Senior Digital Journalist

Fathers’ Day: After 17 years I finally get to spend the day with my son

This may be long but it is a story that I hope will inspire and motivate other fathers not to give up fighting, because of how sweet the reward is.

“Hello daddy.”

These two words were the last I heard from my son 17 years ago, as his mother packed his things up and left our house.

This is a story that I hope will inspire and motivate other fathers not to give up and continue fighting because there is a reward.

I don’t want to go into the details of why my ex-wife and I separated. Like many divorces that you hear about, ours was also filled with messy arguments, ugly fights, and a lot of interference, but there’s always two sides to the story.

Sadly, in non-amicable break-ups of marriages there is always a loaded weapon to be used against husband or wife. These weapons are called children.

They can be configured. They can be moulded to shoot blanks, but tipped with poison to all those it’s directed at.

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I didn’t just lose my son, I lost a piece of me, and there was always a sense of incompleteness that enveloped me. The struggles that my ex-wife and I went through to raise our child started on the day he was born as a premature baby.

He was my first born and like every father I wanted to dote upon him, but that was snatched from me and I was left with a sense of emptiness for almost two decades.

Any father who loves his children will understand what it’s like not spending time with them because of some malicious agenda. Like all fathers, I wanted to teach him how to play cricket, go camping and fishing with him, and teach him how to drive.

These are the luxuries I wanted to share with my son, because the same opportunities were not afforded to me, since I was very young when my dad passed away, murdered by a scoundrel who couldn’t explain why he pulled the trigger.

Let’s not take away the fact that no matter how young my mom was at barely 36 years old, sacrificing her life so her children could have a better future. She passed on last year on June 16, and that tragedy has left a gaping hole in the hearts of my brothers and myself, because she was our father and Father’s Day was celebrated with her.

No amount of words could ever truly make the reader understand the trials and tribulations I had to go through for the past 17 years.

From amicable negotiations with my ex and her family, going to the high court, and even the family advocate,  I tried it all and even though I won the legal war I lost the moral battle.

I tried, tried and tried again, but I couldn’t penetrate the membrane of my 5-year-old sons character who always felt like he had just left my house a few months ago.

How could someone so young, who I was with at the time of birth cradled in my arms and raised for 5 years morph into a personality I did not know? I couldn’t understand how this was even possible. Could a personality change as a psychologist told me be effected in less than 2 months?

I didn’t think so.

During my long cold war to get to snatch some memory of my son, I knew I couldn’t fight this battle alone.  Since my divorce I had remarried and fortunately my partner in crime (and I use the word crime because some people thought it was a crime to get remarried) was by my side to help me fight this war.

We had no idea that we would ever win. However, desperate times call for desperate measures.  After spending thousands of Rands on lawyers and court fees, we decided that money is nothing but a tool and a means for a larger purpose.

In this case to get my son back. So, we decided to spend thousands more, and all we got was a one-day weekly visitation, driving 80km both ways, only to be told at the gate he doesn’t want to see you. It may sound like a crushing defeat but I never gave up.

Standing in the rain, before going for hajj I tried it all.

After spending more money, we did get a weekly phone call, but three’s a crowd, and we never got honest and sincere responses from my son who we believe was never really the one speaking.

I have to set the record straight here. My wife and I harboured no hatred against anybody who harboured malice toward us, toward our marriage, or even our quest to get my son back. Our attitude has always been one of benevolence, a trait instilled in us by my mother who always said “never mind just leave it, forgive, and forget and move on”

The weekly phone calls eventually stopped.

The phones either would not be answered, or they would be going somewhere. This was very frustrating and my wife and I had come to a point of exhaustion, asking where do we draw the line?

In the interim, I must add that during the period of estrangement with my son there has never been a day that we failed to acknowledge his birthday, sending him presents via snail mail, only to hear through the grapevine that the goodies were discarded on the rubbish dump

Even when we went for hajj, while many people aspire to receive some memento from the holy lands, the stuff we brought back for my son was apparently given or thrown away.

I still don’t think that my ex and her family were bad and some might believe that I’m crazy to think that, but I always believe that in every person there may be just an ounce of good.

So, my wife and I grew frustrated, and spent thousands more Rands on lawyers, courts, psychologists any avenue we could think of.

Finally we decided to turn to a Higher being and see what plan He had in store for us, leading to a quest of getting my son through divine intervention and spirituality.

Imagine sitting on the prayer mat every day 5 times a day for 17 years begging, crying, imploring for mercy and assistance.

Imagine going to bed every night crying, trying to understand why, why, why?

This is a sentiment that many fathers of today share and I hope that as I go through this story it motivates you to stay on the path of righteousness, as you embark on your quest to see your child.

We conveyed our intentions to my mom and my brothers, who agreed that the Almighty’s work was needed, and we needed a miracle.

My mom was also exhausted by the legal battles and psychological mind games by my ex and her family, advising us on more than one occasion, that despite my son being her first grandson, she would resolve that if he’s meant to be reunited with us, it will only be through divine intervention.

Sadly, my mom passed away ten-months before my son and I were reunited. While she never held any ill feelings towards anyone including my ex and her family who kept him away from us, she believed, like all Muslims do, that we will all be answerable for our actions when we stand before the Almighty, when this temporary abode we reside in comes to an end.

The light began to seep through the cracks of my ex and her family when my aunt had an unexpected phone call… My son was getting married.

As a journalist, I made it my passion to find out all that I could about the marriage, who was he getting married to,  where was she from, and the all about the family. I also jovially interrogated the person who called my aunt and asked him about the approaching nuptials, but he did not spill much.

I have learnt over the years with my work in investigative journalism, that if you want to find out anything, you have to dig and dig deep, and social media is a good place to start.

Call my wife and myself devious, but with good intentions, we created an alternate social media profile to watch my son grow. We joined him on visits to the mall, celebrating Eid, or even just a day at a resort.

That glimpse into his life provided comfort and solace that he was okay and had really grown into a young man who had the world ahead of him. But did he want me in it?

Anyway, after some digging and investigating, I managed to track down one of his wife’s relatives, and we got talking and more light began seeping through. I could even see a shadow of the green grass on the other side.

I eventually got talking to many family members who assured me that while they do not want to get involved in the ugly spat between myself and my ex-wife and her family, they believed that father and son should be reunited, because it was the right thing.

During this time, I had resigned from my previous employer, and focused on furthering my career as a journalist in mainstream media. I toiled, but it was tough and doors closed faster than they were opened despite my experience.

Then in March, I was granted two miracles. I got an email from The Citizen informing that I had been successful in my application and I was to start work in March, first miracle.

I love my work and sometimes I get so engrossed in the story that I am writing, that I don’t check my messages on my phone that often, especially the direct messages on Twitter.

Based in Industria, The Citizen is just a short distance from Bosmont Mosque and I read my first Friday prayer there after joining The Citizen. The congregants were most welcoming and some knew me from my radio days.

Sitting in the mosque, waiting for the prayer to start in about an hour, I checked my messages and then I saw it… “Dear dad.”

“What is this?” I thought and opened the direct message on Twitter…

All I remember is being consoled after I burst into tears when reading the message. It was from my son. Miracle number two.

I couldn’t believe it and didn’t have the strength to reply at first, waiting to go home and convey the message to my wife and family. I must admit, I could not contain my euphoria and shared the news with my colleague Cheryl Kahla.

When I got home, my wife and children thought I was playing an April fool’s joke in March, until I showed them the message. My eldest son had just got a sister and two brothers, and they got another sibling.

With it being Father’s Day today, the air tastes so much sweeter, filled with love and blessings.

Since that blessed Friday, we have bonded tremendously as a family, much to the envy of many people who spiked us with vitriol and hate.

I had a million questions for my son and he responded with answers that did not surprise me, as I expected what he had to say about his life away from me. I am not going to share that here and contaminate a beautiful story that took seventeen years to write.

However, I do want to share a message that was sent for my eyes indicating that I was jealous, but I could not understand the gist of it as toddler who is yet to learn his A,B,C’s.

I responded with a message that attributes all that I have to the One who made it possible. Almighty God.

“How can I be jealous of someone as I was informed, when Allah has blessed me with a beautiful family, sustenance, a job that I love, reuniting me with my son after 17 years & also having the ability to help others in need? Rather, I am thankful that Allah has favoured me #Grateful.”

Today, on Fathers’ Day, my son and I are closer than ever and for me that is priceless.

To all fathers, don’t give up. Your chance will come and one day it will be you that is writing about the miracles that you were granted.

To the mothers, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has made it clear that while a mother has a higher position, it does not in any way diminish the importance of showing respect to a father.

It is tragic that one parent either deliberately, inadvertently, or negatively indoctrinates the children against the other parent. Often the children are used as a ransom against that parent.

I hope this story can inspire other fathers or even mothers to once again enjoy the bond you shared with your son or daughter who may be estranged from you.

“Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” said Ferris Bueller.

Going forward is a mystery, looking back is a science, this is my story.

Happy Father’s Day.

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