A few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the ordeal of growing up in a black community that relegates the responsibility of the burial of parents who never executed their parenting duties, to their children. In particular, fathers who abandon their children.

Often, you are expected to take care of things when your absent father dies.

I vowed to never be guilt-tripped by anyone who is going to tell me about the bad omen of not “doing right by my father” when he dies.

The discussion happened several years ago. However, I prayed that wherever my father was, he was well taken care of. Reality TV shows like Khumbul’ekhaya and Utatako will reveal things to you that are serious eye-openers.

Many of the people who search for their fathers find men who are knocking on heaven’s doors, fragile and ailing.

Life somehow has dealt them a bad hand. Or they have played a bad hand at life after being served good cards.

I never believed that the Almighty God can punish me for choosing not to take any part in the life of a man who chose to ignore his parenting responsibilities.

Recently, my paternal side of the family contacted me. It was a weird phone call from one of my elder cousins. To my amazement, she asked when I was going to be off work. She said my father was not feeling well and could I take a trip to the North West to check on him.

I was dumbfounded. It has been more than 20 years since he left us and he lived the good life without considering his children.

The biggest shock was when he contacted me himself.

In his weakly, somewhat regretful voice, he said: “I am your father. I know the pain I have caused is unbearable. I can’t imagine how life has been for you without me. I failed you and your sister. I could have been a better father. I want to ask for your forgiveness.”

I listened. Biologically, he is my father. Forgiving him is not about him, hence it is something I have done a long time ago.

Nevertheless, why should it take one to be close to death to want to reflect on the bad choices of their lives?

I am 26 today. Surely my father had all the time to try and get hold of me if he regretted abandoning me and my sister.

So why do elders like to guilt trip us about how “bad luck” will follow us the rest of our lives if we don’t take care of our fathers when they are ill or on their deathbeds? Why not focus that energy on showing the wrongdoer that neglecting his basic responsibilities was never a good idea.

He is my father, if I do anything for him, it should be out of the willingness of my heart, and not because someone feels that I should.

Let us stop using God and ancestors as bargaining tools to make children feel guilty over our fathers' bad decisions.

Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi once said of his father: “I could not claim him as my father. From a point of view of what fathering is about, he is not.

“I met him as a young man I now had a choice whether to include him in my life or not, and whatever decision I took would be correct, and I could not be victimised for it.”

I choose not to include my father in my life.

I am still looking for reasons why I never had a place in his life until now. But most importantly, I fail to comprehend my paternal family’s ignorance and failure to be accountable and take responsibility towards one of their own instead of forcing us to shoulder the guilt.

Norman Cousins sums up what matters the most to me: “Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live”.

My father did not even give the father-son relationship we could have had a chance, and that is the greatest loss in life, not his death.

* Kabelo Chabalala is the founder of the Young Men Movement. E-mail: [email protected]; Twitter: @KabeloJay; Facebook: Kabelo Chabalala

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Read more from Chabalala:

I will not let my father's absence turn me into a monster

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