The value of fatherhood in Kenya has continued to depreciate. So much that fathers have been reduced to sperm donors, cash dispensers and mere figureheads in homes. The situation is so bad that some women prefer parenting by themselves. Some women claim they no longer need husbands for reasons of co-parenting.
In cases where fathers are mere figureheads, some mothers incite children against them and even openly and derogatorily referring to them as ‘good for nothing’.
In the end, we now have many cases of demoralised fathers who have lost respect, ‘domestic power’, dignity in the eyes of their children and wives. Put differently, and in street parlance, some fathers are ‘just there’.
If projection of the 2010 Kenya Population and Housing Census on rise and rise of female-headed households is anything to go by, then, the country could be now facing a serious fatherhood crisis.
The number of female-headed and -maintained families was said to be on a sharp rise then. And if current indications are anything to go by, then clearly fatherhood is under siege. There are pointers to this crisis all over.
Increase of deadbeat dads
First, cases of deadbeat fathers have become rampant. Secondly, families where both parents are present, most fathers are said to be passive in parenting. Some are either too busy looking for money to take care of the family and have no time for parenting or have lost authority at home to even bother.
To Nancy Muthoni, a husband is only worth the name if he can provide for his wife and children every need.
“The reality of life is that I need a man who will pay the bills: a man who will secure the future of my family. That is why I wouldn’t bat an eyelid to show a bogus one out,” Muthoni says.
Planned single motherhood
She adds that the parenting aspect can always fall in place by itself. After all, she says, she didn’t become a single mother by accident, but rather by incident. An incident she says she planned and orchestrated with ruthless efficiency. She also says she is not alone, she has many friends who have also done so.
But hasn’t her 4-year-old daughter suffered from this separation?
“I don’t think so,” she says. “I have actually helped her learn that a good man is one who provides for and takes care of his wife and family. The man was good for nothing.”
According to Prof Halimu Shauri, a sociologist and lecturer at Pwani University in Mombasa, Muthoni is trading on dangerous ground and is doing a great disservice to her child.
Shauri subscribes to the belief that family is structured around two key figures; a mother and a father. He says perception that fathers are useless should be condemned. He says economic empowerment (for women) does not suffice for the role a husband is expected to play. The prof says no amount of money or so-called independence can play role of a father.
Hear him: “Lack of a father figure in a child’s life has serious consequences. For a girl they will lack someone to assist them understand the role a man plays in society and characteristics of a good husband. The boy will suffer severe lack of identity.”
Boys with female names
If Shauri’s decree is a lie, then what James Njihia endured during High school was, at best, an illusion or, at worst, a dream. First, his class teacher once audibly declared the glaring mistake in his name.
“Wairimu James Njihia: is that your true surname?” the bespectacled teacher was stoic in her voice. A low toned din of murmurs followed. Njihia could feel all the eyes on him. And when the beautiful girl he had been eying chortled with a choking laugh, his ego was massively bruised and his self-esteem lowered.
“Yes madam,” he responded. The five seconds between her question and his answer felt a few light years apart. “That day in the evening I asked my mother why I have a female name for a sir name. I wanted to know who my father was and where he went. I needed to understand why my peers have fathers and I only have a mother.”
Njihia never found out the man behind his lanky frame and bulbous nose (his mother is short and stout). He had to be satisfied with his mother’s topsy-turvy explanation.
“Your father is non-existent,” she said in a cold and mischievous tone. “We met while youth and he refused to be your father when I told him I was expecting. I don’t know where he is.” Falling short of accusing his mother of wretchedness, Njihia asked his mother if what happened with his father also happened with his younger brother’s father.
The need to connect with this elusive man is still profound. He has not given up a decade later. Njihia does not feel less of a man even though he has lived his entire life without someone to call ‘dad’. However, being fatherless sort of haunts him. One unusual thing, he says, is his incredibly low esteem that gets him sweating a ton when approaching a beautiful girl.
“I think if my father was around he could have showed me how to approach a girl or handle women in general,” he says. He fumbles upon his words whenever he starts a conversation with a girl he has interest in. He confesses that in his formative years he always lacked confidence and was suspicious of himself because he kept imagining that by lacking a father when everyone else had, something was wrong with him.
Dads’ roles besides financial support
The role a man plays in a woman’s life within a marriage does not cease with material provision, Prof Shauri insists.
“Besides financial support, a husband is there to provide emotional and psychological needs,” he says. Among many other roles, fathers instil discipline, hardwork and courage in kids, he adds. Regular romps between the sheets are merely the icing on the cake. With family intact, he says, society remains grounded.
In 2013 a survey by Prof Shelly Clark of McGill University in Canada and Prof Dana Hamplová from Prague’s Charles University and Institute of Sociology found Kenyan women have a 59.5 per cent chance of becoming a single mother by age 45.
Weak family ties
The survey further found that nearly 30 per cent of women in Kenya get children out of wedlock, a factor that contributes hugely to single-motherhood. According to the results, Kenya is doing badly compared to Ethiopia where only 5 per cent of women give birth before marriage.
“The society is changing due to modernisation and external influence coming through the World Wide Web. Our women are getting empowered and at the same time fiddling with the culture of ‘freedom of choice’, such that one can choose to have children and still be single, just because she earns enough money to provide for them financially. Unfortunately, this has led to weak family ties among most Kenyans,” Shauri observes.
Effects of single parenthood
It is a prospect the good professor says will cost our society dearly in the coming days because studies have shown children from broken families have a higher affinity towards vices such as prostitution, drug abuse and other related criminal activities.
If a father has alcohol addiction, would that qualify the need for his absence? Shauri disagrees, pointing out that children not only learn how to grow into a good adult: “they also learn ‘how to avoid being a bad person.’” Of importance is that the child has a platform to learn. What matters, he says, is that they have a yardstick to measure progress.
According to Roselyn Kigen, a parenting expert and co-author of the book ‘Being the voice of purpose in your teen’s life’, it should never be lost on us that a father – whether an alcoholic or absentee – gives sons an identity. The surname he offers for the boy child surpasses superficial meaning: it carries connotations beyond a name.
“When a woman gives her son her name for a surname it is because they are still angry at that man. She fails to separate the man from the son. He will look for his father. Not necessarily because he wants to have a connection, but so that he can tell his peers that my father is so and so although he was not in my life,” Kigen says. Kigen believes that a father figure is quintessential in raising children.
In defence of deadbeat dads
Contrary to popular belief that deadbeat fathers are lazy men who run away from responsibilities, there are some who are so desperate to live with their children but ex-wives just won’t allow them.
Take David Thome, for instance. His ex-wife, through the court, threw him out of the family property. It was all good in the beginning. Despite the ups and downs, which Thome appreciates as ‘normal’ in every marriage, the couple managed to scrap by through 16 years.
He says his marriage was a sixteen-year rollercoaster punctuated with high octane drama and livid tantrums. After the nasty divorce, his wife has remained bitter with him and wants nothing to do with him save for school fees and upkeep money.
“I have done everything expected of a father. I know there are fathers who run away. I didn’t. It is my wife who wanted me out of their lives,” Thome says.
In the meantime he is crossing his fingers that she does not acquire the audacity to call his son ‘Njeri’. What is clear though is that Thome is hurting; impeded from contact with his children by a woman he believes is selfish and only wants to exploit him.
These cases are a mere tip of the iceberg, the fact that fatherhood is losing value should worry Kenyan men.