Years ago, I became very good friends with a girl who is half Portuguese and half black. My friend had a younger step -brother who was half Portuguese, half English. They had something of a rainbow nation establishment in their home . The younger brother, spoke not a word of Portuguese, could hardly muster an English phrase and was only proficient in one of the African vernacular, a little odd for those who met this little blonde bloke for the first time. The little boy, as all his other siblings, was practically raised by the family cook as their father was constantly away on business.
Years later, I have come to know another family, as I am sure many others have, where the children are “different” from their parents. A black orphaned little boy has found himself the son of a man of European descent, hardly speaks a word of the African vernacular as many would be quick to point out. The only concern the little boy has, is why his hair can’t be gelled into a mohawk like his friend? One boy was sired by a wealthy man who could offer everything a child needs materially and the other, abandoned at birth by a father who couldn’t be bothered about the child’s welfare. Economic status, race and other issues are regarded as dividing walls of hostility by many yet the two little boys had one common need that had a common solution. They just needed a father, a hero, a teacher and found one in what others would consider the most unlikely of places.
Philosopher Umberto Eco once said, “I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”.
The scraps of wisdom Eco spoke of are an elusive reality for many a African child, resulting in a society whose fabric continues to disintegrate. With the absent-father-syndrome eating away at over half of African children’s lives, one shudders to think what lessons are being taught.
According to Kevin Rutter, the founder of Fathers in Africa, “Just about every one of society’s problems stem from the lack of male role models. ”
Directly or indirectly, the absence of a father has a psychological effect on a child resulting in aggressive or passive behaviour, two extremes which are undesirable for a well functioning society. There is no denying that apartheid wrought many social injustices whose effects we still feel today. However, migrant labour is used as a scapegoat for the legacy of crime and violence, to some extent rightly so for it tore apart families, yet systems don’t make people, people make systems and people are also the key to undoing systems. As fathers continue to sire and go M.I.A., we will continue to see apathetic or angry children growing into employees, employers, politicians, members of society who will ultimately affect our lives in one way or another.
“Anyone can fire and have a child, but not everyone is man enough to be father. ”
Fathers in Africa is one of a few organisations who realise the need for African men to come to the party and father our nation. With very few resources available and a lack of role models from whom men can learn to father, the cycle of brokenness is likely to continue from generation to generation. Absenteeism of fathers does not only occur in cases where fathers do not reside with a child, but there are many cases where fathers are present physically yet not involved in their children’s lives. Present in affirming and shaping children through simply acknowledging, “I see you and I hear you”.
Fathering is not only a vocation for those who have been involved in the process of biologically engineering children into the world. Every and any man can play a role in fathering the children of our nation as an uncle, a brother or friend. Like the little boys mentioned earlier, children do not discriminate, they simply need a hero, someone who at odd times, simply charts the way, to not give directions for a road they never walk in.
There is no denying that there are exceptions, not every child with an absent father will turn out to be a criminal or victim of abuse, but research shows that young girls without a male role model are more likely to end up in abusive relationships, fall pregnant at a young age or turn to substance abuse. Young boys growing up without the affirmation and discipline coming from a father figure, are likely to find it difficult to submit to authority, turn to aggression or passivity among many other issues. In no way is the role of mothers trivialized, neither is it suggested that mothers do not discipline children or are inadequate role models, but the disintegration of the family unit ultimately translates into a dysfunctional society. The piece of the puzzle that is found missing more often than not is the father and the lessons being taught to the nation include:
- You solve problems by running away, denying they exist or by simply sweeping them under the carpet
- You make up a million and one reasons not to get the job done yet never give the one reason why it can and should be done
- There is always someone or something to blame for the wrong in your life, you are never responsible
- Money and material possessions determine your worth
Kevin Rutter believes true change will come if we turn away from focusing on band-aid solutions that simply address the effects of the fathering crisis. If we do not bring men into the picture , we are holding the campaigns such as the 16 days of Activism in vain. Involving men in fathering the nation will not only assist in shaping future generations, but is critical in curbing present levels of abuse and violence.
There are fathers going out on a limb for their children, like former Proteas coach Gary Kirsten, TV personality, Michael Mol, former Bafana Bafana player, Ricardo Katza and 7 De Laan actor, Zane Mears, through their FrontPage Fathers initiative. To get involved, please visit their website: www.frontpagefather.co.za
Fathering takes a lot of responsibility and hats off to the unsung heroes across the country, who are standing by the children against all odds. We certainly can learn a thing or two about fathering from Ironman competitor, Dick Hoyt: