Austin Malema, 27, is a well-known photographer grew up in rural Venda, where he was raised by his great-grandmother because his mom was a teenager. He moved to Joburg as a teen to be with his mother. Austin always knew he wanted to be a dad. “Call me weird, but I’ve always wanted to be a dad. I loved the relationship that my favourite sitcom dad on All of Us had with his kids, and knew I’d be just like that.”
What defines fatherhood?
"To me, it’s taking responsibility from the get-go. Knowing you’ve made a mistake, ‘damages’ as it’s known culturally, and paying the fine is the first step. Also, accepting being present in your child’s life, physically and emotionally; it isn’t just financial. My dad became a part of my life later in my life, but only for financial needs.”
What lesson would you like to impart to your child?
“There’ll be failures and things you can’t speak about, but you shouldn’t feel alone and everything will be okay. Also, whatever you want in life, you can do it. There are options – explore them and don’t let the world tell you who you should be.”
Why are there so many absent fathers?
“It’s different for everyone. I knew I wanted to be in my child’s life. For some people, I think judgement plays a part – knowing you’re going to be judged for having a child at a young age. Fathers might run away because they’re not ready, or fear not knowing how to do it and not being part of the journey. But no-one’s ever ready, you learn as you go. I make sure I see my son as often as I can. We go on regular dates or just hang out the whole day.”
What are the difficulties of being a young dad?
“Parenting at a young age is difficult because I’m still finding my feet and now I have to set an example for someone else. Everything I do affects him and my actions have consequences.”
What do you love most about being a dad?
“It’s the little things – spending time and learning from my son, to see him smile.”
What’s your advice to other dads?
“Be yourself in everything you do, be authentic. Also, be involved.”