This piece was inspired by my visit to the Maintenance Office, while patiently waiting for my name to be called.
The waiting area was filled with a sea of female faces, each with the common goal of securing maintenance for their children. It is not a pleasant place to be. One feels humiliated by the act of being forced to embark on a legal process, in order to receive the monetary sum of that which has already been legally assigned to your child. A father’s failure “not to pay” propels a reluctant mother to reserve her pride and make the dreaded trip to the maintenance office, for the sake of her children.
I did not have the time to spend hours waiting for my name to be called, so I take my work notes along so that I am able to productively pass the time. My work notes acting as a much needed reminder that there was more to me than the line I was waiting in. For a moment I forgot where I was and drowned myself in the content of an article, which discussed the difference between people who flourish in adversity, and those who crumble in the face of it. The irony of the content struck me given the space I found myself in. Shall I view this trip to the maintenance office as flourishing in adversity?
The heart breaking sound of a woman screaming down the corridor interrupted my thoughts and brought me back to the reality of my physical space. “I WANT MY MONEY! I WANT MY MONEY!” she screamed. I could see her from where I was sitting. Her anger and her pain so evident it brought tears to my eyes. I pondered comforting her but my own fragility and better judgement kept me glued to my seat. The moment passed quickly and my attention shifted to the candid conversations of the two women seated next to me, each of them sharing their “maintenance” stories. It is quite a beautiful thing to witness the ease with which women share their pain when pain is the common denominator. Stories of never receiving maintenance, maintenance arrears and ex-husbands who deceive the system through their attempts “not to pay”. Perhaps the most poignant sight is the angstful expressions of those women who sit quietly waiting for their name to be called. One can only imagine what the unspoken words of their stories are, and the unspoken stories of their children who are struggling to survive without the monetary contribution of their fathers.
But if this piece is to be written fairly then it must give homage to those fathers who choose “to pay”. To pay timeously, to pay fairly, to pay consistently, and to at times pay over and above what is required of them. The mothers of these children need not wait in line for their name to be called. I envy these women. I admire these fathers.
Someone once said “if everybody did what they were supposed to do then there would be no problems in the world”, but everybody does not do what they are supposed to do. If you are reading this piece as a mother who has had to wait in line at the maintenance office then I salute you for your courage. If you are a father who has chosen “not to pay” for reasons known or unknown then I implore you to “do what you are supposed to do”, whether that means transparently communicating your circumstance or simply honouring your responsibility “to pay”.