The Dad of Daughters
Robert Sibonakaliso Mbatha, 53, is the father of four daughters: Nonhlanhla 27, Ayanda 23, Zinhle 17, and Sipelele 13. He’s also guardian of two more – Lindokuhle, 19, and Ntombenhle 20.
Circumstances have changed a lot from when the 22-year-old Mr Mbatha met his future wife Phumelele at the old Maponya mall near Dube. He was then a young Soweto guy easing into working life. Today he is a successful businessman in the steel industry.
Robert and Phumelele preside over a household bursting with joyful female energy and pride in their dad. Breaking the family’s female tradition has been the recent arrival of a grandson. “It’s great to finally hear another male voice around the house,” laughs Mr Mbatha.
“From the moment you learn you’re going to become a father, you start thinking as a parent,” he recalls, casting his mind back to the mid-eighties, when he joined the ranks of the fathers. “You’re not just by yourself any more. Back in those days, when I was passing OK Bazaars, I suddenly found myself buying napkins and Purity. I realised I had a family.”
“As the children grow up, it becomes more of a challenge. There are material requirements, but raising a family is about more than buying a house. You’ve got to nurture their roots, and remain focused and involved at all times.”
Mr Mbatha’s management side comes through in his parenting approach. “You must stay engaged. If they are struggling with maths, you need to notice early on, so you can send them to Mastermaths and have that sorted out.”
He is also keenly aware of how his daughters’ upbringing differs from his. “I grew up in the Seventies. During the Soweto uprising, I was sent to live with family in Newcastle. If I needed anything from my father, I had to write a letter and wait. Fortunately today, our family lives are not so affected by politics, so I’m able to dedicate myself to the family.”
Mr Mbatha is philosophical on how men should embrace the responsibility of fatherhood. “Whether becoming a father will change you is up to you,” he says. “It depends on your mindset. You must decide whether you’re going to be exemplary with the little you have, to be responsible and to build something up. Or not. ”
He agrees there are parallels between his role as a senior executive and as a father. “There are similarities to my job, which is management. You’re basically managing a family. With daughters, as with staff, you must be sure to stamp your authority, but be consistent.”
“Obviously you have greater intimacy with your children, but you can put your foot down if necessary. After all, your daughters have no way of toyi-toyiing against your decisions, he says with a laugh.
The Young DadOne guy who did embrace the change is Mxolisi Dhlamini, 26. He’s father of Kamogelo, four, with his fiancée Dudu Tshabalala, and a tidy operator these days.
But you sense there were some wilder days… “I was a club DJ around Soweto. DJ Blue was my handle. I played house and dance music.”
The minute he heard Dudu was pregnant, Mxolisi realized he had wanted to be a father all his life. “Everything changed overnight for me. I cut my dreads, stopped going out so much.
I just started living my life differently. I found I was wearing my seatbelt all the time, and driving more carefully.”
He changed focus, and started producing events, leaving the DJing to the other guys. That way he could be home with his daughter at night.
“I didn’t stop music, I actually got more serious about it. Before, I was satisfied to just cue up songs, now I’m studying music, so I can play instruments when I produce tracks.”
If Mxolisi could give young fathers one piece of advice, it would be to prepare for the worst! “That way, you’ll adjust to anything. Your kid could get ill at 2am, so you need a reliable car. You need to stock up everything…”
And you’ve got to get your life in order if you’re going to provide for every eventually. In Mxolisi’s case, he went from denizen of the house-music scene to being a responsible dad at home every night. He’s now organizing a dog walk around Soweto in August, whereas before it would have been a house night at The Backroom.
He lost his own father when he was very young. “I really felt his absence when I was growing up. I promised myself when we got pregnant that I was going to be there for every moment of my daughter’s childhood.”
His love for his daughter is clear, as Mxolisi laments the scarcity of Zulu language in kids TV, and describes doing personal inspections of potential play schools.
Unsurprisingly for a guy who has customized his life to suit his role as a father, Mxolisi has little time for absentee dads. “Some of my friends… You just want to slap them, when you hear they haven’t seen their child for three months, because things aren’t cool with the mom. Being a dad is such a privilege…"
The Dad Who Makes A Difference
Meshack Kekana, 41, works as an IT analyst, and with his wife Dora, is raising five children – Reetsang, 15, Koketso, 13, Reabetswe, 11, Agang, 7 and Shadi, 4
That’s a magnificent achievement on its own, but Meshack is also founder of Dads In The Picture, an organisation that promotes active and positive parenting among fathers.
“There’s a need for father figures in children’s lives,” says Meshack. “And not just biological fathers. We simply need male figures prepared to step up and for instance tell a boy, “Hey, young man, come over here and let’s wash this car. Or let’s do these repairs together.”
Over a skottel braai at a Dads In The Picture picnic, Meshack describes the problem with dads today. “They’re either absent, or simply not prepared to give their children quality time. They think paying for the child absolves them of fatherhood responsibilities. Go to the pubs and they’re full of guys, and most of them are fathers! Other guys come from a good place, they work hard, then come home and collapse on the couch. That’s not good to the children. They want time, not money.”
Dads In The Picture hosts quarterly trips, picnics and camp-outs at resorts and nature reserves where dads and their children spend quality time swimming, braaiing, going crazy on jumping castles and generally enjoying themselves and creating memories.
For Meshack, a father’s purpose is to guide and establish stability. “They need to know that whatever they’re afraid of, you’re there to protect them. Also, with your partner, you’re there to instil values. You’ve got to set rules, like they have to be in the house at 6pm. When you start making exceptions, then they run amok!”
Easygoing Meshack runs a tight ship at home. “It’s right to be friendly with your children, but remember that you’re their parent, not their friend. Sometimes the line blurs. And it’s difficult, for instance when you come home late. You want to spend more time with them, but they need to go to bed, because there’s school in the morning. You basically have to love in a disciplined manner.”
The Single Father
Mongezi Mlenzana, 36, is a Business Analyst team leader at SA Revenue Services, and currently raising his daughter Naledi, 9, on his own.
“Naledi was living with her mother in Limpopo but I realised I had to step up and bring my daughter to live with me.”
The single, corporate workaholic has had to turn into a responsible parent overnight, handling school runs, midnight laundry, meals, drop-offs at day-care and other parenting chores – without the aid of a partner or a housekeeper.
“It’s changed my life! Where I used to work till 3 or 4am and not care, now I leave at 6.30pm. Parts of my house have turned bright pink, and I find myself watching Disney Channel and Cartoon network and enjoying it!”
Naledi has wormed her way into his life, being chosen for scripture readings at church and even expressing interest in joining Mongezi on his next round of golf!
From being a cool occasional dad, Mongezi now has the task of full-time parenting, which includes discipline. “I’ve had to tell her she can’t go on sleepovers. We learn to protect and guide as we go along – it’s not always popular, but we do it all with love!”
Having a daughter has always given him focus. “When I heard I was to have a child, I was at university. Suddenly I knew I had to do better – I studied my honours degree in her honour.”
And as his working life unfolded, he says his commitment to Naledi has been as much a lesson as a responsibility. “Having a child… they teach you while you teach them. And in your career, you work hard for them, which actually leads to you doing better for yourself.”
Still bursting with enthusiasm for his new role, Mongezi is one of fatherhood’s greatest advocates. “My advice to new fathers is just to get involved in your child’s life. Spend one day with them, and you’ll never want to let them go.”