One evening not long ago, I asked my father what his favourite colour is. It was a moment of sad realization for me, just discovering that after all these years, I know so little about a father I have seen and known all my life.
As was the experience of many growing up, all laughter ceased when the father got home. He may not have been intoxicated or in a foul mood but his mere presence caused everyone to quickly leave the room or feign interest in an object far away. Fathers are generally seen as providers and disciplinarians. Perhaps as a result of cultural conditioning, they are far removed from a child’s emotional world.
Seen, but not heard
In many African homes fathers, unlike mothers, are not involved in light-hearted banter and jokes with their children. Sadly, he only got back into the mental field of view when it was time to pay school fees, buy books or get pocket money. (This could however be changing as the younger generation of parents makes efforts to be more emotive and less militant).
As the world celebrates parenting each year, Father’s Day mostly passes by unnoticed, devoid of the fanfare associated with Mother’s Day. For many it mostly is just another day in the calendar. There aren’t many “Father’s Day’ marketing offers and neither are they as publicised as when mothers are celebrated.
In many countries around the world, spending on Mother’s Day gifts is significantly much higher than it is on Father’s Day. To say the least, Mother’s Day seems to be a more valid celebration while Father’s Day appears to have been set up as an afterthought.
Fathers are generally castigated and judged more harshly than mothers, perhaps as a result of the responsibility and status accorded them by society. Their mistakes are widely publicized and anybody at all has an opinion about a man who failed in his fathering duties.
While it is true that there are men who deliberately abdicate their role in a child’s life, it is necessary to be cognizant of the fact that some men never grew up with role models. They had no father figure(s) and thus lacked a reference point of what it means to raise a child.
Fathers are fallible, capable of many weaknesses; they are human in every sense of the word. Some of them will be impatient, appear distant and unemotional while others require extremely high standards of discipline and academic performance.
According to psychology, the presence or absence of a father determines a child’s self-concept, mental well-being, academic performance as well as ability to form social relationships. Father absence is brought about by divorce, separation, incarceration, military duty or when the father mostly lives and works far from home.
The absence is most impactful in a child’s early development and the effects get expression in adolescence, even extending to adulthood. When a father is present, a boy has a role model to look up to with regard to the male role of providing for and looking out for the family.
The girl on the other hand, has a model of how she should expect men to treat her, based on how her father loves and affirms her. Studies have indeed shown that the absence of a father co-relates with high crime rates, delinquency and drug abuse among adolescent boys. Adolescent girls with absent fathers have higher chances of teenage pregnancy, promiscuity and emotional problems.
Spending good times
The older I get, the more I treasure my father and accept his fallibility. I find myself deliberately spending more time in his presence even when we are not engaged in much conversation because now I know that fathers have emotions.
They have likes and dislikes too, which at times in the past they may have downplayed in order to sufficiently provide for their children.
To all fathers… biological and adoptive; to fathers who nurture children without the ‘Daddy’ title; to soon-to-be fathers… enough applause may never be accorded you or monuments built in your honour. The little or much appreciation shown to you will never be equal to your unmatched importance in your children’s lives.
Love and concern may go unrequited, honour may be denied but one thing is unequivocally true: Every child needs a father and every child’s world is a much better place with a father in it.
Ms Ng’endo writes on topical issues