Just love them: A dad’s thoughts after a cruel week for SA children
Toddlers abused at a creche, a child found down a drain, and a mother convicted on neglect charges. All in four days
It’s been a hard week, news-wise, and a few stories have left me shaken.
There was the case of Baby Daniel, a three-year-old from Johannesburg who suffered horrific abuse, eventually dying from severe burns across his body when his mom’s now-ex-boyfriend submerged him in hot water. This week the man (who is not the boy’s father) was convicted of murder, and the mom on two counts of child neglect. Both were given lengthy jail sentences.
The other was the case of a Cape Town toddler who was found dead in a stormwater drain after having been missing for a week. Details are still coming to the fore, but it has emerged that the mom gave her child to a friend to look after. That friend claims to have given the child back to the mom; the mom denies having taken the child back. Whatever the circumstances and whatever the truth, a 22-month-old is now dead.
Then on Thursday, video footage of a teacher assaulting children at a Johannesburg creche surfaced. Three videos showing the assaults are being investigated. The teacher was arrested and appeared in court after a case was opened by a follow teacher. If the conversation in the background while the video is filmed is accurate, one of the children was hit because they vomited. It’s every parent’s nightmare.
All this in just four days.
As a journalist, and more recently a news editor, I’ve written and read and edited thousands – if not tens of thousands – of words about abuse, death, sadness and various other horrors. It’s an occupational hazard. But these three stories shook me.
I tried to brush them off, because that’s what journalists – and those in other professions who deal with this type of thing – do. We make callous jokes, hide behind shrugs and “uh-huhs” when loved ones talk to us about it.
We just deal … in whatever ways we can. Whatever it takes. But it wasn’t that easy this time.
I couldn’t help feel an intense sadness for what those children went through, or are going through in their short lives. I wanted to hold them, cuddle them, tell them that it’ll be okay. I wanted to console their surviving siblings, their friends, cousins, classmates. I wanted them all to know that what happened was not normal.
Then I thought about my daughter, and how I would do anything to protect her and ensure that nothing even remotely like this happened to her. I wanted to hold her and to tell her that I would be the best dad I could be and that she will grow up in a safe home with an exceptional mom, a remarkable extended family and a dad who cares for her more than he ever thought he could care about anything.
It reminded me of a powerful scene in the series Shameless that I watched a few weeks ago. It’s a story that revolves around the Gallagher family in Southside, Chicago; a family struggling with poverty, addiction and the various ills that come with those challenges.
One of the key characters, Phillip (or “Lip” for short), has found out his girlfriend is pregnant. He seeks advice from Kevin, the married dad of twin girls – and an exceptional father who bends the rules and does what he needs to in order to give his twin girls the best he can, even if it means making them pretend to be the same person to get out of paying two creche fees.
The conversation between Lip and Kevin went like this:
Lip: Think I'd make a shitty dad?
Kevin: What? No. You’d make a great dad. Why? You think about having kids?
Lip: Tami’s pregnant.
Kevin: No shit.
Kevin: Oh, man. That’s fantastic. You’re gonna love it. Babies are the best.
Lip: I'm not sure if she's interested in me being too involved. She said she thinks I'd be a shitty dad. I, uh, I thought since you were a great father, that you'd … I don't know. Maybe you'd have an opinion.
Kevin: About what makes a good father?
Lip: Yeah. I, uh, I didn't have much of a role model at home. (He glances over to the couch, where his addict dad, Frank, is drunk and high and semi-comatose.)
Kevin: No shit.
Lip: I'm not sure if I even know how to be a great father.
Kevin: You just love ’em, man. It goes like this: It’s hard to fuck ’em up if you just love ’em.
So simple, but so profound. Just love them. And maybe that’s the solution to the world’s problems. Okay, it’s probably not. But it seems like a mighty fine place to start.