Patrick Shai: I'm a changed man

By Drum Digital
08 December 2010

HE BEAT his wife and terrorised his children for 20 years – and didn’t for a moment think he was doing anything wrong. For him, wife-beating was simply what men did. His stepfather had done it, his uncle had done it, so clearly this was the way things were done.

The screams? The fear in his wife’s eyes? None of it registered on his sympathy scale.

Yet everything changed for well-known actor Patrick Shai one day, 15 years ago, when he was playing abusive husband Thabang in a scene for Soul City. He calls it his “road to Damascus” moment – a dramatic change of heart that had a profound influence on his and his loved ones’ lives.

It also led to him appearing in a TV ad for the latest campaign launched by men’s group Brothers for Life. The new project is called Brothers Against Violence and aims to raise awareness of the horrors of violence against women and drive home the message that behaviour can be changed. The campaign uses Patrick’s example and promotes its 16 points of action to stop violence against women and children.

Patrick (55) remembers the day he filmed that scene for Soul City as if it were yesterday. He was shooting a scene in which he had to beat up his TV wife – and he felt himself transported.

“The house we were filming in suddenly became mine, my co-star became my real wife, the kids were mine – it was as if I was beating my wife as usual. It was strange.

“Something switched. God used the talent he’d given me to open my eyes and show me the pain I was causing my family. For the first time I could really see my own family and their helplessness. I could hear the cries of my wife and my child begging me not to kill his mom.”

Patrick was overcome with emotion. “No one understood what was going on. I couldn’t stop crying. We stopped filming but when I couldn’t calm down, we wrapped up for the day. I needed help and I knew it,” he says.

The road to recovery was long and hard. Patrick was referred to an activist from London who was campaigning in SA against woman abuse and had agreed to see the actor. Patrick ended up having three weeks of intense counselling with the Englishman.

“We spent those weeks exorcising the demons in me,” he says frankly. “I realised where the problems had come from and that everything I wanted for my family was in danger of slipping away.”

DRESSED in a Brothers for Life T-shirt, jeans and All Star sneakers, Patrick meets DRUM at Bomb Shelter studios in Devland, Soweto, where he’s filming SABC1 drama series Zone 14. He’s replacing Owen Sejake as Tiger Sibiya for the show’s third season.

He still marvels at how his on-set revelation changed his family. “It was like a rebirth, to see the freedom come into our lives. For the first time my three kids wanted to tell me jokes and chat to me. I could literally see the fear dissipating from their faces.

“It’s very fulfilling to have reclaimed my kids. I’ve earned the right to be called papa and my wife can say ‘my darling husband’ and mean it. There is no better feeling.”

During his recovery, Patrick, who has chosen not to name his wife and children to protect their privacy, realised he had been fighting the wrong person.

“Abusers try to impose their own insecurities and issues on others, and it’s wrong. I don’t want my daughter to grow up as the embodiment of the victim her mother was. And I don’t want my sons to beat women like their father did,” he says.

One of his two sons is struggling with drug addiction and Patrick blames himself. The boy didn’t have a father he could turn to, the star says, so he went looking elsewhere and ended up with the wrong crowd. The family are currently waging a struggle “to save our son and brother”, Patrick adds.

Switching back to the Brothers Against Violence campaign, he says, “I want people to understand why I’m doing it – it’s because I believe men can change, despite childhood conditioning. I’m not telling my story to glamorise myself, but to give people hope: if a guy like me can change, so can they.”

Read the full article in DRUM of 16 December 2010

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