The Rights of the Absent Father

Yesterday my son woke up to the reality of me traveling to Austria without him. He was adamant that I still had enough time to raise enough funds for him to accompany me. He even quoted me, “but mom, you always say anything is possible”.

This, after I explained that it took me five months to raise enough money (and a parent scholarship) to finance this trip. I informed him that childcare had to be included as part of my registration, which I’ve already done. “Vonnie, but surely they can squeeze in an extra child! I am going with!”.

You see when I received the news of my scholarship in November, I asked my son if he would like to go with me. I told him that he would need to stay at childcare facility, full day, as I’m attending a conference and won’t have much time to spend with him. I informed him that the language will be foreign to him and he won’t know anyone. After thinking about it he decided that he’d rather stay at home.

He’s been supportive and excited throughout this process until yesterday. “But you still have two months to raise the money. What if you just use all the money that you usually spend on bying me stuff to just pay for me to go with you?”

I educated him about the value of the rand, and how the few rands I spend on him is nowhere near what we would need to cover his flight, passport, visa and meals. “But I don’t even eat a lot, I won’t need food and I can sit on your lap in the plane”

All of this through tears, anger and hurt. He kept at it! Blaming me for not asking him again a week after having asked him initially.
“YOU ALWAYS SAY NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE!” I agreed, but also elaborated that it is possible, but just not right now. “Yes, it is possible for you to go to Austria with me, but not this year. We’ve run out of time to raise the funds AND even if we raised the money, I would still need to get permission to take you out of the country”.

Then our conversation changed.

“What do you mean you need permission? Why can’t I just go with you?!”

I had to explain that he would need a passport and a visa, just like me, and this takes time. I also had to inform him that all children leaving the borders of South Africa MUST have the permission of both parents and documents need to be signed in person. I would need to make contact with his father and ask his permission!

“But you don’t even have his number! Pa can sign the forms! Why can’t Pa sign the forms?!”

I had to enlighten him at the tender age of eight to the laws of the country, the rights of a child and the rights AND responsibilities of a parent. He found it very difficult to accept that his grandfather can’t sign the permission forms for passport and visa applications.

By now it’s been 90 minutes. He is in a state, and not letting go. The only thing I could think of was to run him a hot bubble bath and undress him through his tears, kicking and screaming. Fortunately he became quieter once the lavender scented heat warmed his body and calmed his mind.

I sat on the edge of the bath and spoke to him about the fact that his father still had rights even though he’s never been in the picture. I explained to him how the laws work when it comes to children, and the reality of our situation. It was a tough one, talking about the strong influence his father still has even though he has shown no interest. Our conversation even touched on adoption and the legal process involved in a parent relinquishing their rights.

We talked about what could happen if I died! Yes, my son is a different kind of child – there is no tip-toeing around issues with him. He is inquisitive and he always wants the truth, he needs to understand and process these truths for himself. He ask the questions, debates with intelligence and once he grasps it, he will think of solutions or have more questions, UNTIL he is satisfied with all the information at hand.

Last night he spent an hour in the bath thinking about his absent father’s rights and how it makes no sense. How the legislation makes no sense when a mother still needs to ask for the consent of a man, who has shown no interest in her child, when that child wants to leave the borders of South Africa. Last night he thought about the fact that if anything should happen to me then legally his father will be within “his rights” to take him away from his grandparents even though he’s never been interested.

Yes, I’m honest with my child. There is no lying to him, he is smart and he wants the truth. I reassured him that if anything should happen to me then there is a possibility that his father may take him (even though I think this highly unlikely, but, nothing is impossible). I assured him though that if this should happen then his grandparents will go to court to fight this. I reassured him that my parents will have the necessary support should this ever happen.

I said to him, “any decisions made will be in YOUR best interest”. I empowered and encouraged him to always remember that whatever decisions HE will need to make will need to be based on what he believes is in HIS best interest and that he should not make decisions about his well being based on what OTHERS want. It’s ALWAYS what is in HIS best interest.

Last night was another profound mom-son moment . . . Some may think that I am too open, and that I should perhaps have hushed him and left him wondering. But that kind of parenting would not work for my child. It would only leave him extremely anxious and he will withdraw and possibly never ask me any questions again our relationship of trust would be destroyed.

If a child is brave enough to ask these questions, then we should be courageous enough to answer them with honesty and love. If being a single parent is not easy, can you imagine what it must be like to be an only child of a single parent? An only child who is intelligent, inquisitive and wise – a child who understands that his father has no interest . . .

When a child questions the legislation that governs the rights of an absent father you listen and realize how vulnerable a child of a single parent really is  .  .  .


Post published with the permission of my son.