Meet the family’s foot soldier

CARL COLLISON

“I’m a bit freaked out,” said Marius Brown on the eve of the 43-day run he is undertaking from Cape Town to Durban.

Mr Brown’s cross-country “Redemption Run”, which started at the City Hall on Saturday April 16, aims to raise awareness about the effects of father absenteeism on both children and society in general.

The Redemption Run media release comes replete with facts around the issue: one in every three children lives with both biological parents; research shows that the number of fathers, who were absent and alive, increased between 1996 and 2009, from 42 percent to 48 percent; over the same period, the proportion of fathers, who were present, decreased from 49 percent to 36 percent; and that single mothers were raising about 40 percent of South Africa’s approximately 18 million children.

Concerning as these stats may be, for Mr Brown – who undertook the first such run in 2014 – the reasons for initiating it are wholly personal.

The Lambert’s Bay resident and fisherman by trade said: “My wife and I separated in 2003 and I couldn’t handle it. Things went downhill for me. Al die wiele het afgeval (The wheels came off). I started drinking heavily – it was the only escape I could find – and neglecting my children. I actually abandoned them. I wasn’t there to help shape their character.

“It was later that I realised there was still some potential left in me and that I had to go back to my children. When I eventually spoke to them and saw the sadness and anger they still had, I saw the damage I had done.”

“So,” he adds, “the run was, basically, an apology from the depths of my soul to show them how sorry I am. And to show them how serious I am about being in their lives.”

As to whether his Herculean apology has yielded the desired result, Mr Brown said: “Previously, they didn’t trust me. But, through me doing this, they saw all the planning that went into it and they eventually gave their input and support. This helped us to reconcile.”

Still, he added: “I felt so, so, so bad and still feel as though I don’t know whether I can do enough to make up for what I’d done.”

Through the Redemption Run he hopes to prevent other fathers from making the same mistakes – and, for those who have, try and impress upon them the need to be an active presence in the lives of their children.

To this end, Mr Brown will – along with partner organisation, the Sonke Gender Justice Network – be engaging with communities along the way, in towns including Knysna, Albertinia, East London, Harding and Durban.

Said Mr Brown: “On a personal level, I am doing this to keep working on strengthening my relationship with my children; to make it stronger.

“But I also want to help try and build a platform for other fathers to do the same.

“Because, you know,” he added, “raising awareness is one thing, but to see physical evidence of strengthening bonds between fathers and their children would be great. That, for me, would be the ultimate reward.”