An Open Letter To My Nephew … And Other Young Men Who Come Into My Care

Dear Nephew, I call you that because you are truly cherished (in a way that I doubt I could explain to you sufficiently in words). I am not particularly fond of you because your father abandoned your foetal-self, nor because we share the same DNA – here I could wax lyrical of how I helped raised you (and all the things Aunts say about nappy changing and feeds that are likely to embarrass you); but I have a keen interest in your development as a human being.

If I do not wake up tomorrow, here are the things I want you to know:

  1. The decisions you make today (no matter how small) do not only affect you today; they affect how your life will turn out tomorrow.
  2. People who had opportunities (in their youth) to go to school, to be healthy, and to be loved do not end up uneducated, strung-out junkies, and alone on the street if they did not willingly give up their life’s fortunes as young people.

When a child is born into a family, upon it are placed the hopes and dreams of that family. Some of the hopes are finite and expressed in real terms like “I want my child to be a doctor”. Other hopes of families placed on offspring are loose, as in “I want my child to be happy and healthy”. How we measure health and happiness is dependent on how you turn your life’s opportunities into successes; and the criterion for this is rather simple:

  • If you go to school and study you will pass
  • If you pass school you will go to university
  • If you go to university you will make something of yourself
  • Along the way, if you abstain from life’s intoxications you will secure yourself a healthy, long life
  • If you make a living, you will be able to take care of yourself

We like children who are independent, who can stand on their own. They make us proud. They make us feel we have accomplished something magnificent. Unlike your mother’s love, mine is not without conditions, I am happy and willing to cut you off if you do not display the characteristics that keep you a member of the crew [the fam]. I am not the type to spare the rod. In fact your tears do not shake me; nor do your threats of suicide [let’s face it, whomever is doing the dying is not doing the living] it may even come as a welcome relief. If you choose to fill your teenage lungs with marijuana smoke, and pile your young liver with vodka and choose to reject your mother’s love, I will choose to disassociate myself from you.

This means that I will not be available for sms requests for airtime, a warm meal and bed when your mother has kicked you out, money when you are strung out for that next fix, bail when you are jailed for criminal activities, attending your trial when you are put on one, or prison visits when you are incarcerated. People don’t “make it” without support without people to champion their cause. You are swiftly going about the business of alienating your cheer-corner through your greedy tyranny and violent temper [spurned by the desire to want to “show off” your wealth and access to friends on your Facebook page]. You have to think further than your toes can reach and get into some lessons about; Restraint – things don’t have to happen now, there is no great emergency to life [hold your horses young gun]; Merit – you do not deserve to be adorned with expensive clothes and objects simply because you exist. Things of the world are not gained through simple acquisition; they are worked for [warranted]; Labour – I cannot over-emphasise the satisfaction that comes when you have accomplished a goal, completed a job, or are rewarded for hard work. In the end a body is buried and a life is mourned, but a legacy is retained in the minds of the living.

Writer: Tebogo Serobatse     Photographer: Jeff Rikhotso