Are you a father? If so, are you actively involved in your child’s growth? Have you ever fed your children, changed their diapers, played with them, took a walk with them, or read out to them upbuilding content from a wholesome book?
This column has in the past highlighted the value of the title Father, it observed; “This title does not refer to a man with the ability to copulate and procreate. That would be too low a bar to set for this dignified title! At its basic level, the fatherhood title is bestowed on a man who showers his children with loving attention and would, if necessary, administer tough-love. A provider of shelter, sustenance, clothing, guidance, and a healthy environment conducive to development.”
The column further observed, “Self-proclaimed fathers, who have the capacity to meet these entry requirements to fatherhood, but deliberately fail to do so, are simply men endowed with functional tools of reproduction, not fathers.” What kind of father are you? Do your children think you are approachable and accessible? Are you present in the life of your offspring, or have you, for no good reason at all, chosen the path of least responsibility, by deciding to be in and out of the life of your children whenever it suits you?
In addressing this subject, I’m keenly aware of the touchiness of this issue to some menfolk. Touchy for all the good reasons. Some men are sensitive to this matter because they are denied access to their children by vindictive women, some of whom are rigidly holding onto a grudge for a breakup that took place in the past, either through separation or divorce. Sadly, some women have used children as an effective tool for barring responsible men from executing their parental role. A few self-sufficient women feel they do not need a male figure to help them take care of their children, and for this reason alone, they would vehemently oppose any effort put forth by men to play the role of fathers to their kids. In light of these unfortunate practices, we need to have reasonable mature conversations on this sensitive issue.
Naturally, it takes two to make a child. It should also take two to raise a child. The raising of children is by nature a partnership. And neither party should think they are doing anyone a favour or extending an undeserved privilege by creating an environment conducive to the other party effectively playing their role. The pervasive spirit of self-centredness is unacceptable. All men must appreciate that fatherhood is a responsibility that has to be executed diligently. It is a not a title that comes and goes. Fatherhood is a lifelong commitment. And fathers must pride themselves in being emotionally present in the lives of their children. Ordinarily, this should not have a bearing on whether they have a good relationship with the mothers or not.
The contract of fatherhood has not been signed with women who may be close to men now and distant the next moment. The said contract is between the men and their children. And men must ensure that they observe all the important clauses in this binding contract with their children. For this to happen, of course, mothers must not, for selfish reasons that have nothing to do with the children, block fathers from playing their role. In case you are unaware, children love their fathers, but this often changes when they are influenced to hate them, or when mature children sense that their fathers do not care about them.
Accused of playing the invisible man or hide and seek with their children, or for their unwillingness to make time to spend with their children, some men have always been too quick to shift the blame to mothers. True, women cannot get excited about men who choose to forget the importance of contributing to the growth of their children. In the view of many mothers, some men have failed the fatherhood test. These are men who refuse to pay school fees for children, men who seem to be unaware of the fact that their children need food to sustain them, men who keep up with the latest fashion but would never buy items of clothing for their children, men who live in decent housing but cannot be bothered to ensure their children have a roof over their head, and men who enjoy the best of vacations in mind-blowing resorts but cannot take their children to Mmokolodi Nature Reserve or Lion Park. Mothers think these men have failed to graduate to the celebrated fatherhood status, and should therefore not lay a single claim to the rights that are normally accorded fathers. In simple terms, fatherhood is a status that cannot be demanded, it must be earned through conduct befitting a father.
True after a bitter divorce, a man might move as far as Kasane or Maun. Distance might limit that man’s involvement in the raising of his children. Does this mean that he should abdicate his role as a father and overwhelm his former wife with nearly all parental responsibilities? No. Regular voice calls, video calls and text messages are important in staying connected with one’s kids. And with all the electronic gadgets at hand, the demand placed on fathers to schedule time for regular check-ins with their children is not unreasonable. This should not be done in a perfunctory box ticking manner, but fathers should take advantage of these opportunities to educate their children, to build a lasting relation with them, to equip them with soft and hard skills required for one to navigate their way in this world, to encourage them to develop into responsible global citizens, undergirded by the principles of resourcefulness, industriousness, honesty, integrity, love, compassion and justice. Even fathers who are doing time can stay connected with their children by writing letters to them.
If fathers are able to make time to spend with their children, to play with them, to enlighten them and to bequeath invaluable lessons to them, but choose not to do so, or opt to do that as a matter of duty, perhaps once a quarter, or once a year, it would be unreasonable to expect the mothers to be happy. Of course, in cases of separation and divorce, where there is no restraining or unfavourable contact order, the courts would have made a pronouncement on visitation rights and the expectation would be that fathers would observe those.
However, fatherhood is not limited to seeing children and spending time with them. Loving and considerate fathers would shy away from doing the bare minimum when it comes to providing clothing, sustenance, shelter and recreation for their children. They would go a step further to engage their children on sensitive matters such as the birds and the bees rather than leave it to the children to find out for themselves through trial and error or through adulterated information from their contemporaries or the worldwide web. You do not need a PhD to do this, all you need is love and sufficient interest in the welfare of your children.
Regarding father presence, the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearing House observed, “Studies suggest that children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behaviour, and avoid high-risk behaviours including drug use, missing school, and criminal activity.” Fathers, let’s get involved in the life of our children, from infancy through to adolescence and from teenagerhood through to adulthood.