President of the Single Fathers Association of Trinidad and Tobago Rhondall Feeles’ vision is to bring respect and dignity back to the word “father” and, in the process, make Trinidad and Tobago a better place.
In an interview with the Sunday Express
yesterday, Feeles recalled he started the association when he became a single father.
He admitted he knew what it felt like to grow up without a father and though many may believe he is only interested in making a difference because he is now
a single father, the truth is it was something that had always been in his heart because of his childhood experience.
He said the association, which was started in September last year, has grown since its inception because of the number of men who have been in the same situation and had to stay quiet.
Registered members currently stand at 700, with both men and women and young people as registered members, while the Facebook membership is over 1,800.
“This started when I myself came into the situation because I was blind to the fact that a father who was interested in his child could be withheld from seeing his child because of the way the judicial issues take place.
I didn’t have a father present (as a boy) because
there was a restraining
order preventing him from
being at the home, so he
was not allowed to be there as well, so many of the things that children had with their fathers—
teaching them to fly a kite,
to drive their car, to ride
a bike—those were experiences that I never had and they were experiences that I wanted. So it was always in my heart as a boy as with many other fathers that I know now.”
He said his experience was never one he wanted for his children and determined in his mind that when he had his children, he would play the role his father was unable to play in his life.
“I saw the relevance and importance of always being there to protect them, to guide them, to nurture them, and then
to have that taken away from you because
of a court order that mandates that you see your children every other weekend,
which is like approximately four days a
month, stifles the life. It stifles the opportunity of you being able to be extensively involved in your kid’s life, and I found that to be totally unacceptable.
Not only as a father but also as that child who needed that paternal guidance
growing up. I know first hand the relevance of having it, not only in the father’s
point of view but also as the child. Some-
one needs to speak up for the children. At that age when I was younger, I couldn’t speak up, I just had to do what my parents said. My mother said this is
how it has to be and I had no say,” he said.
Feeles says many children who are in court arrangements between parents want to see their fathers more than they get to see them but they have no say.
“Which is why I always say the court
orders that we as grown-ups follow are really sentences to them because they have to be at a particular place and time whether they want to or not, so I decided that it is time that fathers should be willing to stand up for their rights to be involved in the lives of their kids that
much and equally. The judicial officers must realise the importance and the rele-
vance of the fathers in a kid’s life because it is not just that the father must provide money and the father must make sure
he spends money on the child because it seems that once a father pays maintenance, he is seen as a good father.”
He added: “There are many fathers who we are working with who have been religiously paying their maintenance. They have no maintenance orders, but they are staying away from the child because they want to be away from the
mother. These are the guys we are working with because the child, half the time, isn’t aware of the financial state of it all.
The child just isn’t seeing daddy around and that is all the child cares about most. The child cares about having their father there, creating memories with them.
“The association’s vision is to save fatherhood—to bring it back to
a place of stability, so
when you hear the word
“father”, you don’t think deadbeat. There is too much negativity surrounding fatherhood, and it is something we have grown accustomed to but something we are working to change.
That is totally wrong in my mind. This is something we must change because many of us grew up without fathers so we know exactly what we missed out on, what we didn’t have and, God forbid, we allow this to transcend into another generation,” he said.
Feeles said single mothers also need-
ed to be strong enough to teach their children right from wrong, and although they may want to show their children love and care, they must also be firm.
“I grew up without a dad but I didn’t become a bandit. Single parents—moms as well—must have the courage to make sure to teach that child the right from the wrong so that they can be a productive citizen,” he said.
He also pointed out the older generation had a solid foundation in their relationships and marriages but the younger couples were splitting up within a period of ten years. He said he believed a lack of communication was a major issue impacting on relationships and, by extension, the family life, but they were working on impacting even that.
Which is why the association will be hosting a community Christmas treat for children in Cunupia, where he’s from, and which he has held even before the association was formed, called “I love my community” today.
Feeles, who is also the vice-president of the Trinidad and Tobago
Used Car Dealers Association, said this year, they are going to have a special sky-lantern ceremony, in commemoration of kids who have lost their lives by murder or natural causes.
Commenting on the gruesome attacks on the nation’s most vulnerable in recent weeks, Feeles said: “It is hurtful and there is no excuse to be made for it, but it goes back to the basic love and respect that we have for each other
as humans. It is like we don’t value
life again. We have lost all appreci-
ation for it and it is disheartening.
It is not something that just laws or legislation is going to change
because legislation could punish
but it still can’t reform. It is some-
thing in the mind and the heart that
has to change. Although we embrace
the legislation, it cannot change persons, and that is why we embrace the approach that we have,” he said.
The association contacted parents of children who lost their lives
over the past two years and is hoping
they will attend the event.
“By having these types of events, being big brothers to the homes like St Michael’s Home for Boys and also giving men the opportunities to speak, we are making a difference.”
The association has not left out mothers as they also have done mediation between mothers and fathers on their way to court and have managed to stop custody battles from going before the court.
“We advise them if we had the opportunity, we might have stayed away from that course if we had someone to work with us. We act as mediators and we expect to continue to evolve as we go along,” he said.
He said grandmothers were some of the biggest supporters of the
association because their sons were going through the separation from their children.
“And they can’t get to see their
grandchildren either and are now
realising what they would have done to the fathers of their children.”
Asked about plans for 2014, Feeles said they have asked permission to do tours in schools in 2014 and are working with the homes through their outreach numbers, for people who need their service to reach them.
“This is really for the betterment of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.