Mon | Jan 20, 2020

Clinging to Dad, longing for Mom - Youth under mentorship rides emotional roller coaster

Published:Wednesday | January 15, 2020 | 12:27 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Robert Smith is flanked by his son, Tahjae, and social worker Kerry-Ann Henriques.
Robert Smith is flanked by his son, Tahjae, and social worker Kerry-Ann Henriques.

“I love you.”

Those were the affectionate words young Tahjae Smith longed to hear from his father.

Last June, Smith was engaged in a Peace Management Initiative mentorship programme funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund and the National Leadership Prayer Breakfast.

It was during one of those sessions that the youngster made the revelation to his father, Robert Smith.

In a sit-down interview with The Gleaner more than six months later, they both reflected on the day and the progress they have made thus far.

“When those words came out of his mouth, it kinda hit me. I know I can give it to him and I am here to give him affection,” the father said.

For Tahjae, he was happy for the opportunity to express himself.

According to his dad, demonstrating affection towards each other was once part of their family life.

He recalled that Tahjae started walking very early, at about seven months, and that he was very jovial and talkative, but his personality changed when he began attending primary school.

“He was very troublesome and disruptive in class ... . I built a very good relationship with the guidance counsellor at the primary school and she was the one that started showing me and letting me believe that his mother not being in his life was playing a big role,” the father said.

Tahjae broke down in tears when asked about the impact of his mother’s absence on his life. The 15-year-old is yearning to meet his mother, whom he last saw when he was two.

REBOOTED RELATIONSHIP

Through tears, he explained how he craved paternal attention.

“Fi know seh mi have mi fada and some children don’t have dem fada,” Tahjae said.

He continued: “This programme has helped me so far. Things that I used to do, I don’t do them anymore, like getting angry when my father talks to me, vex and screw face.”

Some meetings are attended by Tahjae and his father, while one-on-one psychological sessions are held with his mentor. Visits are also done by the mentor to their Grants Pen, St Andrew, home and to his school.

The elder Smith said that he was aware that Tahjae needed affection, but his son’s behaviour often hindered him from displaying that disposition.

“I have learnt that going overboard with anger towards your child, it doesn’t help, and beating doesn’t help,” he said.

A highlight of their rebooted relationship was when they went shoe shopping in December – leisure that Tahjae was not usually party to.

“It was an exciting experience. I told him to pick the colour, pick what you like. I hate the colours that he picked,” the father said, with a chuckle.

Social worker Kerry-Ann Henriques, who oversees the programme, said that 80 boys from schools in downtown Kingston are enrolled in the initiative.

“The programme should have ended in December, but we are getting a green light that it will continue,” she said, adding that mentors are still keeping track of the boys.

“I want to serve my country,” the aspiring soldier said.

The father-son relationship is on the mend, but Tahjae has one unfulfilled dream. He waits for the day he will reunite with his mother, whose absence has been a source of much of his pain.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com