This photo was taken in 2008 on my first ever visit with an ophthalmologist. Prior to this, I did not know anything about this medical specialty. What took me there was a condition I had which I can’t remember what it is called, which required surgery. All I remember was being locally anesthetised and a lot of pus was extracted. A few days later I had a rebound and had to go in again for surgery because the first procedure had gone wrong. Thankfully, it was a success and I regained the full functioning of my eye. What was very strange about this infection was that it was cause by mowing the lawn. I don’t know how, but apparently my sinus do not like the lawn. Believe it or not: that’s what the Dr said.
But this is not why I am writing. Father’s day is around the corner, and that’s why I am writing. 2008 was not the first time I had a swelling like this. A worse swelling had happened to me while I was still a child. It was a swelling in the face, which disfigured me, and many bruises on the body, to an extent that I had to be carried to the clinic. Can you guess what had happened? You guessed right, the man who fathered me beat me up.
I can freely write and talk about this because for me it is not re-living the experience. I understand that people grieve differently, and for some it is not easy to talk about their experiences. So, just a word of caution, my writing about my father’s abusive past may come across as cold and making very little of it. You may also think that some things are exaggerated, but they are not. So, please read on, and in the end I believe you will appreciate my sharing about my experience.
My parent’s home was a house of horror. In the early 90’s, before the dawn of democracy, my mother, my older sister, and I experienced enormous physical abuse at the hands of my father. To put it in spiritual terms, it is a miracle that all of us are still alive, because God graciously spared us even though none of us deserved it. I only became a Christian in 2006, and so had my father taken my life back then, I would be in hell today. God spared me, and for that I will forever be grateful. If any man today could do what my father did to us, he would be arrested and go straight to jail with no prospects of convincing the court to understand why he did what he did. I am not making little of the fact that many abusers do not get arrested, and the victims often have no courage and support to lay criminal charges, and sometimes when they do, their cases are handled embarrassingly poorly by the SAPS.
But when my father abused us, especially when he did my mother, the community would stand and watch from the streets. The one painful experience I recall was when my father and his friends ganged up on my mother and together beat her outside, put those big grey concrete bricks on her head while lying helplessly on the ground, and while laughing around the braai fire with the community watching, they formed a queue and stepped on my mother’s head one after the other. We watched helplessly and all we could do was cry. Not even the bystanders dared intervene.
I remember the one occasion while watching TV at night, he came home intoxicated like he was high on some drug. Went straight into his room, and came out half naked. (This stunt he liked to pull when he went to fetch us from the streets while playing with our friends to embarrass us). He came and danced in front of the TV like that, and we laughed like it was some kind of a joke. A little later, he became agitated by something and went into abuse mode. He was determined to kill us that day. We were using a generator because we had no electricity where we grew up.
Determined to kill us, he went outside and tried to empty the generator to get petrol to burn the house down, but lo and behold, somehow the generator tank was as dry as the desert. How? Don’t ask me. All I know is that we were using it at that time for TV and lights. So, since this did not work, he resorted to second plan. The second plan was to hang my mother on the roof, so he tied a rope with a neck-hoop to hang her. He tried to lift her to hang her, but failed because my mother was a bit bigger and stronger than him. It was now pitch dark. He resorted to a third plan. The third plan was to axe all of us, beginning with my mother, but that also failed because as he swung the axe to axe my mother, she somehow managed to catch it, and they wrestled until she snatched it out of his hands.
At this time, my paternal grandfather (his father) pitched at our house. He tried to intervene, but the small old man was overpowered and thrown against the kitchen racks and became half conscious. Praise the Lord that our toilet was outside, so my mother asked him to go to the toilet, and so because he did not want to leave us alone, he asked a neighbour to accompany my mother to the toiled. He did. I don’t know when he and my mother planned this, but my mother jumped the fence and ran for help, while he stood outside the toilet door pretending to be talking to my mother. Poor guy knew what was happening but he was willing to take the risk.
After some 30 minutes or so, my father came to his senses and thought the 30 minutes were suspiciously long. So, he took us with to see what had held my mother in the toilet for so long. When he forced open the door, my mother was not there. The poor neighbour also got into trouble and was dragged with us into the house to be killed with us. Just before my father could start any tricks, my mother arrived with help and we were all rescued. It was my mother and our relatives.
As kids, we always enjoyed such moments of rescuing because we knew we would go to my maternal grandparents’ place for safety, plus our closest friends lived in their area, and it was within walking distance to school. If you have been in this situation before you would know that such did not last. A few days later my “remorseful” father would walk to my grandparents’ to ask for forgiveness and explain away what he did, and forgiveness would be granted and we would go back home.
I remember after the dawn of democracy when we started learning about laying criminal charges for domestic abuse, my sister and I used to talk about it with my father, and he would tell us how being arrested would destroy his life and ours. We would feel so sad and sorry for him, and vowed to not lay a criminal charge against him or deny that he is an abuser if someone laid a charge against him. Plainly speaking, we were on his defense team. But my sister was not completely convinced, and so she left home and grew up with our relatives.
There is lots to share, and I could write a book about my father’s emotional and physical abuse, and although this happened some 20 years ago, our story could be an admissible case in court, strong enough to put him behind bars. It was in the year 2000 when my mother decided she could not take it anymore and we relocated. I don’t quite know what led my mother to take this decision, but the day we left there had not been any abuse in the home for a lengthy period. We were so accustomed to leaving every time something terrible had happened that my father was completely confused as to why we were leaving that day. I also wondered the same. But my mother said it would only be for a short while, and we left with a suitcase, but later collected all our belongings.
This is how my parent’s relationship ended, and although not divorced, they both have no desire and plans to get back together. My suspicions are there was something major that happened that we don’t know of, but I could be wrong. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and the story of our lives could make a 1000 page book quite easily. (Lord willing, and with the permission of my sisters and my mother, and their willingness to proof read and edit the book so that I don’t omit or exaggerate things, and so that I can write sensitively, I’ll write a book).
So my father also abused me, and so I can say with the many South Africans that I too was once a victim of abuse. Mine is a story of horror and deep hurt, but it is also the story of amazing grace. The doctor who once evaluated me thought that I were going lose some of my memory functions after my dad’s beating and head damage. But I recovered and somehow I have a relatively sharp mind, talents, and extraordinary abilities some people don’t have.
I, too, like my father, am a sinner in need on Christ’s redeeming work. My sins against the Lord cannot be compared to the hurt and torture my father caused me. Christ has forgiven me of atrocious sins. I have a very corrupt and evil heart, that if God had not saved me I would be like Satan himself. I was a young man who lived a very dark life. I do not deserve to live, and certainly I do not deserve to be saved. Why God saved a sinner like me I cannot fathom. People who lived promiscuous lives and became Christians often say the only sins they not commit is murder. I too, have not committed murder in a literal-physical sense, but I came close innumerable times.
The first time was when my ex friends and I assaulted a man at night, and left him unconscious and bleeding profusely. When they held his head to the ground and stepped on it, I was the one doing the kicking in the face, and all I saw myself doing was what my father and his friends did to my mother. I had this unexplainable anger within me that no one knew anything about, because my deeds were evil and dark. I knew this because I grew up in a Christianised family, and so I knew how to conceal my sins well. A man died in a car accident while I was on my way to killing him. My friend who is now sitting in prison, got arrested on his way to a mission he had planned for us. On his way he decided to not take me and my other friend, and took other friends of his who did not know where they were going, and when they arrived at this factory somewhere they murdered two Asian men. It would have been me.
Had the Lord not had a predestined redemptive appointment with me, I would have continued down this dark road to this day, probably I would be in prison or hell since I lived a reckless life. Each week would be a new opportunity to plunge myself into more desperate acts of sin. It still is because the temptations are there, but thanks be to God through Jesus Christ my Lord and His Holy Spirit who restrains my heart.
The day of my salvation was 8th April 2006. That day I opened my Bible to Psalm 8. I could suddenly see myself through the lens of verse 4, and I realized my need for a Saviour. The gospel that had been preached to me started to make sense. I was struck by the message of Psalm 8, of how God cares for me – in spite of how I had been fighting against God, He had been sparing me His righteous wrath. I doubted if He could forgive a wretched sinner like me. I asked Him that day to forgive me, if it were even possible. He did, and I believed that Christ poured out His blood in atonement for my sin.
Unbeknownst to myself, I had been saved. I experienced a change and newness of life that day, and it was explained to me that what I had experienced was the saving work of the Spirit of God in my heart. God had started to make me feel and realize that I was lost, that I was doomed without hope, but I could not understand those feelings, nor could I figure out how to escape the hell I knew was my destiny. But from that day forward, my sin was forgiven, and I embraced Christ as my all.
I have never been angry at my father. I don’t know why. This anger has never been there, even before I became a Christian in 2006. But when I think about this right now, I feel a Christian forgiveness for him. I guess I am thinking about my sins and how I offended God, yet he forgave me. God has given it to the many women I have hurt and they have forgiven me. I could have, and perhaps I have, destroyed their lives and yet they have forgiven me and they respect me. I have hurt many men too and they have forgiven me. I have lied and cheated, yet I’m forgiven.
All I can say is, I am what I am, by the Lord’s grace. I am a big sinner, and my sins against the Lord cannot be ignored. If the Lord could count everything I did wrong, without His sheltering righteousness, on a queue of people to hell, I am way ahead of my father.
So this father’s day in particular has made me wonder at God’s saving love and grace. Jesus is my Friend, who laid down His life for me. “My Friend: Thank you for the cross”. I have not learned from my father’s mistakes, and I am not going to. Although it is a painful and emotional thing for me when I always think that I never had a father figure and a masculine role model in my life, I am not in despair because I have a perfect Father to follow. I never had a biological brother, but I have Christ for a brother, and I can talk to Him about all things and He knows all things about me.
So I have no business in telling my daughter about how bad my father was and I have no resolutions of how I am going to be better. If I say so, by what strength, by what wisdom? On the contrary, my daughter’s lessons will be learned from Christ, through me. Where I fail, I will point her to Christ and God our Father. I forgive my father, and I pray for his salvation.
I forgive my father, and how I long to share these words with him:
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen”
I pray that this would become a happy day when he gets born again. If this happens, and it might, for nothing is impossible with God, the old will pass away, and he will become a new creature. My father’s biggest problem and need are the same as mine. We are both sinners. We both need a Saviour.