How do you tell a child their dad died in crime?

As men, our first heroes are our fathers. When they die in shame and our trauma is not addressed, it causes us to wallow in quiet misery.

Photo credit: Igah

Jaffer*, 20, is a spitting image of his late father, Don*. Don and I grew in the same ‘hood. But Don chose a different path. The wide and crooked path. Which led him down narrow paths littered with tombstones.

Whenever I feel like giving up, I think about men like Don. Men I grew up with, but died premature deaths, due to decisions they made. Well? Life is just that. Series of decisions that trigger consequences.

Sometimes those who suffer the consequences of our decisions made by men like Don are innocent folks. Innocent folks like children, spouses and parents. I am sure when Don was making his decisions – or, to keep it real, making his blunders – he did not think about what his death would do to his son. Scratch that. Death was the furthest thing from his mind. I think that, when men are in the throes of making drastic life-altering decisions, they are completely blinded to think about worst case scenarios.

There are times I think about the last moments of my dead hommies like Don. With his life flashing before him at break-neck speed, as an angry mob put a tyre around him and doused him with petrol, Don must have tried to claw back at the hands of time – for that last chance to make the right decision and live right. But the hands of time were now out of reach, as the clamp-like hands of eternity dragged him to the hereafter.

“What kind of man was my father?” Jaffer recently asked me, after his mother introduced me as one of his father’s best friends. “Be honest with me. I can handle the truth.”

I thought about the question for a moment. I could see that Jaffer had heard some things through the grapevine about his father, whom he hardly ever saw. Most probably, the things Jaffer heard painted Don, in totality, in bad (boy) light. The things Jaffer heard about his father painted him with no redeeming qualities, and this enormous emotional burden was starting to take a psychological toll on the young man.

At 20, Jaffer was at crossroads. It was around this age that Don started going out with other guys on “missions”; as robberies were called back then. And once Don tasted that honey, it became hard for him to give it up. He would swear that he would go on just one last mission to set up a sneakers shop – he was a sneakers-head – but one mission led to another. Which led him straight to his death.

“Don was a man with big dreams,” I replied after I remembered how Don used to talk about getting out of the ‘hood after setting up his shop in the CBD. “He was not a bad man. He just made bad decisions.”

Growing up, I witnessed how one wrong decision was all it took for a young man to throw away his life. Sometimes it was a matter of days from when one made the wrong decision for the consequences to catch up with them. Other times it was a matter of years. But once a young man made the decision, it was like they had set an alarm clock, which would go off – and off them – at an undetermined time.

“Jaffer, you must be your own man and think your decisions, through and through, before you commit yourself to anything,” I said. “Don’t follow the crowd.”

As men, our first heroes are our fathers. When they die in shame and our trauma is not addressed – instead we are ordered to man up – it causes us to wallow in quiet misery. And, if there is no man to guide us, it may cause us to repeat the same cycle. Which is why I gave Jaffer my number. I know Don would have wanted me to do this for his child.