It is one of the tragedies of our times that the drama of our politics, whether they be played out at the Judiciary, in the Pangani cells, or the lush surroundings on State House Road, tend to push even the most important non-political issues to the periphery. Consequently, Father’s Day passed without my comment. Yet I believe the role of fathers in our day has more to contribute to the social and economic prosperity of our nation than all our politics and politicians combined.
Today’s piece therefore diverts from the usual menu of politics and law to the more sublime issue of fathers. I write this piece to achieve two intentions. One is celebrate fathers, especially those, generally referred to as dads, who have been present in their children’s lives despite the numerous odds that push fathers away. Being a dad is tough. Right from the biology, that gives fathers a peripheral role in the whole gestation and birth process, to the physical dynamics of nurture that tend to distance the father from their infant child, to the demands of busy lives to provide for the family, any father who still demands and obtains a space in their infant child’s lives swims against a tough current and must be celebrated. As the Ibo would say, may your tribe increase.
My second intention is to challenge those fathers missing in action, the non-dads, to rethink their role as fathers. Fatherhood, nay, dad-hood is serious business. When I look back at my own childhood, I am aware that my sense of security and direction were defined by my father. Like all African fathers of those days, my dad was emotionally distant but was physically present. He may not have uttered the “love you” words that we so easily throw at our kids, he may never have hugged and smothered me, but there was no doubt that his life revolved around me and my siblings’ welfare. Whereas my mother defined the software of our lives; the meaning of love and faith and the appreciation of beauty, my life’s compass was defined by my father.
In the last two decades, I have interacted with many young people whose lack of balance, purpose and self-confidence is directly related to fathers’ absences; what the youth lightly call “dad issues”.
From the time a child is young, their mother is a constant feature, indeed a mother’s love and presence, generally speaking, is not an issue of choice. Without the mother’s connection a child may as well wither and die, and many do. On the contrary, a father’s presence and love is a deliberate choice hence its value. A father’s involvement in a child’s life is a statement of the child’s intrinsic value, a statement that they matter, a statement that despite the numerous other callings, the father has chosen to invest time and energy on the child. In a world that constantly dilutes and desecrates a child’s value once they leave their mother’s comfort, the knowledge that there is a dad in whose eyes the child has tremendous worth is critical in granting the young child self-confidence.
- 1 When you’re not the favourite parent
- 2 Over-parenting: Let kids fail, learn to be resilient
- 3 Routine: Less is more when it comes to children’s development
- 4 Parenteen: How to handle a moody teenager
Let me be clear, a child can be confident and strong with just a mother as the only constant in their life; one only needs to read the Obama story. It however requires the mother to work harder and many times look for other male figures in the child’s life to give them balance. Speaking of Obama, one needs to read “Dreams from my Father” to appreciate the impact a father’s absence can have in a child’s life.
In my years of observing and interacting with young people, I believe the absence of deliberate fathers and father figures is more damaging on young men. I may not have carried out scientific research but anecdotal evidence indicates that the increasing number of wobbly young men who have no sense of responsibility or direction is directly related to decrease in fathers’ presence. My challenge then to all the non-present fathers out there is that you owe it to your child, and indeed your nation, to ensure a generation of confident and capable young men. Over to you.