making a difference: Rhondall Feeles, president of the Single Fathers Association of Trinidad and Tobago

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Saving fatherhood to save children’s lives

By By Camille Bethel camille.bethel@trinidadexpress.com

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.

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