Women of Reverence welcomes Thulani Hlophe as a guest blogger for our Fathers Day month.
Thulani Hlophe is husband to Pinky Hlophe. They are blessed with two children (a four year old boy and seven year old girl). He is an Elder at Frontline People Church in Brakpan. Thulani works as a Cyber Security and Risk Senior Manager at a Bank. Tag line is : I am son in my Father’s House – Galatians 4: 6-7
I did not grow up having a close relationship with my biological father; I barely saw him. However, I have a fantastic relationship with my mother. My mom was 15 years old and my father 18 when they had me. In the early years of my life, I was raised by my wonderful grandmother (from my mother’s side) as my mom had to go back to school to finish her education and obtain her qualification. My other loving grandmother (from my father’s side) was also ever present and not far from me. Both my grandmothers loved and provided for me, in their own special ways, and I thank God for them and their continual prayers for me to this day.
I still remember my grandmother telling me that I should stop calling my mom by her name, but rather call her ‘Mom’, deservedly. I tried but struggled very much to refer to my biological father as ‘Dad’. When I was about 6 years old, while playing with my best friend, a few meters from my grandmother’s house, I saw my biological father from afar, walking with his friend. He did not see me. And while I was watching my father walking away, my friend gave me a nudge on my shoulder and asked, “Thulani, isn’t that your mom getting into that minibus?” Sure enough, it was my mom on her way to college. As young as she was, my mom loved me dearly, worked hard and gave me her best – I could never have asked for more.
Unfortunately, that same year, my grandfather left my grandmother for another woman. To be honest, he was the only father figure I had in that household. When he left my grandmother, I somehow convinced myself that he was living in Swaziland, and that was the reason I didn’t see him often. But that was far from the truth as he was not far away from my neighbourhood. That broke me but I’m sure it was much worse for my grandmother because she loved him dearly (and she still does). I was blessed with three uncles in my grandmother’s house and as much as they were the closest male figures I had in my life, they were also finding their way in a fatherless household. That kind of experience left me feeling like a slave. A slave belongs to another; he has no rights or freedom of his own. A slave lives by the law, lives for the law and makes the law up to justify his position. But glory to God, for He would not keep me in this place because God came to be a Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5).
I did not have a close relationship with my father, and neither did he have a relationship with his father. Most of the friends that I grew up with also had absent fathers. As much as fatherless households became a norm, it was also very perplexing for me. From a young age, my friends and I knew that, in our culture, the presence of a father is regarded as key to the child’s identity and prosperity; it is a connecting force to success, good fortune and access to the ancestors. I was very fortunate and blessed that my grandmothers believed in Jesus Christ and not in ancestral worship (thank You Jesus).
However, this experience also left me feeling like an orphan. An orphan has no identity, no name, no inheritance and nothing is done for him - he must fight for everything he wants or needs. God never intends for any of us to be left as orphans (John 14:18). I did get to see my father from time to time in my early years of childhood, but that didn’t last. Most of the time, I would get to see him at his mother house, which was walking distance away from where I lived. I visited my grandmother very often, hoping that my father would show up, hoping that the next knock on the door would be him. The few times that I saw him, he would tell me stories about his life experience, how ‘street smart’ he was and how he used his Karate skills to defend himself from muggers or gangsters. He made many promises to me but, unfortunately, I don’t remember him keeping any of them. Despite all of this, I still wanted to be like him, so much so that I took up Karate. I was fortunate that one of my uncles previously did Karate and he was kind enough to give me his gear. Months would go by without me seeing my father and as time went by, I lost all motivation to complete my junior Karate training. My family, including my mom, tried their best to never speak ill of my biological father in front of me. I did appreciate that because I never felt hatred towards him, but I did feel sad and disappointed.
When I was in high school, my mother found the love of her life and eventually they got married. I saw very little of my biological father so, until my stepfather came along, I never really had a constant male presence in my life. Having been raised by my mother and grandmother, I was constantly surrounded by strong and independent women. When he arrived, I didn’t really know what kind of bond we would have. I thought to myself, “I already have a father who does not bother; I don’t want another disappointment in my life.” I gave my stepfather a hard time, but he was very kind and patient with me and certainly made my mother very happy. My stepfather had his faults and shortcomings, even with his fathering, but he was always there when I needed him. Just to give you an example, in my second year of varsity, as I was walking back to my campus residence, I was mugged at gunpoint. The muggers stole my cellphone and the money that I had in my wallet (but for some reason they left me with R10). I was very scared and traumatised and the only phone number I could remember in that traumatised state was my stepfather’s. I called him and within 25 minutes, he was at my campus (I’m sure he got a speeding ticket). There are many other examples that I could mention but what I appreciated the most was that he was always there if I needed to talk or get advice. I’m not sure if he would remember this but I confided in him about how I don’t necessarily identify with my last name (clan name) and its praises (isibongo /izithakazelo zakwa Hlophe), because it’s my grandfather’s name and he, well, abandoned the family. He said to me, “You may not identify with your last name but always respect and honour it.” I will gladly do as he advised until my last breath. My appreciation for my stepfather grew stronger and stronger as I drew closer to God, my ultimate Father. My biological father passed away in my final year of varsity. I did get to see him for the last time before he died, and I told him about my love for Jesus and what I was studying at varsity. Praise God, because before he died, my best friend’s mother (without knowing that he was my father), prayed for him and he gave his life to the Lord.
We all have our own heritage and history. Whether it is a broken family or not, God takes our identities and replaces them with His praises over us. And I take pride in that; I identify with that; I praise God for that. How awesome is it that once we become citizens of the Kingdom of God, we are given the profound, awesome privilege of becoming His sons and daughters. Jesus came to show us the way to the Father, bring us into relationship with Him, make us sons and daughters and give us the full inheritance planned for us. The promise of 2 Corinthians 6:18 is that God will be a Father to us: “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” This is something that rings true in my life because God is my Father and He saved me from becoming a spiritual slave and orphan, and made me a son in His Household, in His Kingdom. As I understood the true fullness that I am son of the King and that there is a rich inheritance that is available to me, it released me into great freedom to walk out all the Lord has destined for me.
Galatians 4:4-5 “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” My identity says that my inheritance is not based on the law but on the promise of sonship through Jesus Christ. No longer do I need to live by rules as I can now live in RELATIONSHIP with the Father. A son has a name, an identity, an inheritance. He always has a place in the family, no matter what he does. His identity is found in being his Father's son. When I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour, God the Father surrounded me with spiritual fathers. I took that opportunity with both hands (by being accountable, vulnerable and open to them) and with God’s love. They lead me into the same freedom that a son has. This allowed me to appreciate the role my stepfather (earthly father) was playing in my life and how I could respond as a son to him.
The prodigal son came back home (Luke 15); he received a robe to cover his filth and shame and a ring to signify that his place in the family had been restored. My Father restored my place in my earthly family, in the Kingdom and in His household (the church). Just like Jesus, who only did what his Father did, who only said what his Father said and who only went where His Father told him to go (Luke 2:49) I, too, can go about my Father’s business – I have been given the authority which comes with responsibilities. As a son in His kingdom, I have been entrusted with a wonderful, loving wife and 2 awesome children. “BECAUSE YOU ARE SONS, GOD SENT THE SPIRIT OF HIS SON INTO OUR HEARTS, THE SPIRIT WHO CALLS OUT 'ABBA, FATHER'. SO YOU ARE NO LONGER A SLAVE BUT A SON.” Galatians 4:6-7
A son experiences the Father's love. He knows his Father's pleasure because he knows His Father’s heart. I thank God for my stepfather (whom I call ‘Dad’) and all the spiritual fathers that he has given me, reminding me that I am a son.