Three local young dads on experiencing fatherhood: "Even though I was terrified. I had to be a man"

It’s no secret parenting is one of the hardest things you can do. Whether you’re doing it on your own or with a partner, nothing can prepare you for just how all-consuming it is.

And fatherhood is as daunting for young dads as motherhood is for young moms, especially when you’re also trying to juggle studies, work and your relationship with your partner.

We ask three guys who became dads in their twenties to tell us how they make it work.

THE WEEKEND DAD

Andile* (26) has a two-year-old daughter, Issa*. He says his biggest challenge is that he and Issa’s mom, Khanyi*, are no longer together. They’d been dating for two years when she fell pregnant – and Andile freaked out. “No lies, I was beyond scared and broke." 

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"At first I didn’t want to accept it, but as time went on I couldn’t fight the bond I have with my daughter.” Andile, who’s now a forex trader, eventually overcame his fear of the idea of being a father. “Even though I was terrified I couldn’t show it. I had to be a man. I’m her first reference for what love is, and she needs to know I’m there for her.”

When she was born he was a student. He earned extra money with tutoring and music – he plays the drums. Andile and Khanyi split up about six months after their baby was born. He initially helped with the late-night shifts but once they broke up it became a weekend arrangement. Her parents may no longer be together but Andile says this means his princess “has two castles” and he ensures she knows she’s loved in both homes.

He was raised by his grandfather but his father visited on weekends. “We’d go out to have Chicken Licken. Even though he was often far away I felt the love he had for me. “Some people coparent under the same roof even though there’s no love between them. They stay for the baby because it’s convenient,” he says.

He and Khanyi were constantly arguing and decided it was too toxic for them to live together, so he followed his father’s example and spends time with his daughter on weekends, taking her out for treats.

THE WORKING DAD

Siphiwe* (27) has a son, Kagiso* (2), with his girlfriend, Lebogang*. The couple have been together for five years and he says when he learnt they were pregnant he felt a rush of emotions – from excitement to fear. “Fear, because I was still doing my honours degree and I wasn’t working.

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On the one hand you’re happy to be having a kid, on the other you think about the fatherly responsibilities.” He failed his honours degree due to the stress of the situation, but was able to finish his studies thanks to the support of his girlfriend and family. It paid off – he’s now a trainee accountant and the main financial support for his son. “I have a supportive family,” he says.

“Lebogang was working so there wasn’t too much pressure in terms of providing for our baby. My mom supported me too and told me not to give up my dreams.” Siphiwe’s father died when he was 11, but the lessons he learnt from his dad guide him in fatherhood.

“He taught me honour, to be a man of your word, to take care of your responsibilities, and that what matters most is making your family happy. “I want to be a good dad and make Kagiso’s life better than the one I had.”

He says his and Lebogang’s relationship remains strong because they make time for each other. Kagiso stays with his maternal grandmother in the week when his parents work, but both spend time with him on weekends. Siphiwe says they plan to live together as a family as soon as they’re financially secure.

FATHER OF TWO

Khaya* (27) and his fiancée, Obakeng*, were barely adults when they learnt they were going to have a child – he was 19 and she was 20 and they’d been together for just a year.

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“It was a crazy situation to be in,” Khaya recalls. However, inspired by the men in his family, he knew he had to do the right thing and be a good father to his child. His biggest challenge was that he was a jobless student. “I was worried about putting food on the table, and making sure my daughter had a roof over her head and clothes on her back.”

He was motivated by his desire to be a better dad than his father had been. “My pops wasn’t really there. He tried to make sure we had a house and groceries but then he no longer could. I knew I had to hold it together like my cousins, brothers and uncles did.”

He and Obakeng’s families helped out until Khaya found a job as a graphic designer. Kgomotso is now eight and has a baby sister, Thabi* (1). “Having another child feels as if another spark has been added to my life,” Khaya says.

FATHERS STAND FIRM

Becoming a father is a frightening experience but it’s not an excuse to run away, says Dr Given Leshabane, a psychologist at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Diepkloof, Johannesburg. “Psychologically, most young men aren’t ready to be responsible for kids because they themselves usually are still their parents’ responsibility,” he says.

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“The anxiety of fatherhood can become too much for a young man. They need to prepare themselves and talk to their family or a professional if the family isn’t supportive. “They should step forward and raise their kids and stop being part of the negative statistic. They shouldn’t doubt their importance in their kids’ lives.”

*Not their real names. 

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