Term 2 is about finished. I’m not certain, but I think these kids might actually be learning something. I’ll be traveling around different parts of South Africa for a conference and some training (and some fun) coming up over the next couple-a-few weeks, but I had some thoughts on fathers and Father’s Day to share before I go.
Too often in South Africa, children are fatherless. Or, to be more accurate, they lack people to play that part: the positive male role model. You could make an argument that this is a big problem all over Africa, or in the USA and maybe even any other country in the world, but it seems to be particularly prevalent here. I’m certainly not the first person to notice this or write about it. A simple search on Google for “Fathers in South Africa” can get you started, and then there seems to be lots of books on the topic. Here’s a good, short, unvarnished place to begin:
After reading the above article, I can’t even begin to pretend to wrap my mind around all the contributing factors to this problem here. The best I can do is observe and read … and offer whatever assistance I can within the limits of being a volunteer.
The family I stay with is good in regard to having a good number of positive male role-models, but still not ideal. There are men around. They are all employed in some capacity. They all contribute to the overall well-being of the (very large) household and they all lend a hand with all the kids. But most of them are not fathers themselves. So, how do we account for all the kids running around this place?
Given a choice, you wouldn’t expect very many people to choose single parenthood – but here, it has become completely normalized for women to just pop out some kids, no matter of their situation. It isn’t just culturally acceptable to be a single mother; it is culturally expected that as a woman you have at least one child, regardless of your relationship status. And the women in my host family are no exception.
As for fathers, actually being involved in your child’s life seems to be culturally optional. And unfortunately, too many opt out.
The good news is there are people who recognize this problem and want to do something to turn it around. This is why that same Google search returns pages like these:
I recognize how fortunate I am to have grown up in the USA – of course, it’s easy for any American to appreciate everything living in the States provides you as soon as you get a good, firsthand look at a developing nation. But the longer I stay here, the more I can appreciate how much I got out of growing up with my family (immediate and extended), and even some of my teachers and friends. By comparison, I have what seems to be an unending supply of positive male role models.
Depending on the situation, I often think of the people I know well who would perform the best under the given circumstances. Everyone we know is better than us at something, so it’s helpful that I feel I always have someone to ask for assistance. And if I can’t ask the person I know who knows best, I can just try to think like them.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this. The notion of “What would _________ do?” has to pass through everyone’s mind at some point, like when faced with a problem to solve or a big decision.
This especially holds true for both of my grandfathers. “What would Grandpa Richard do?” or “What would Grandpa Bud do?” are quite useful in situations where something needs fixed or requires a creative solution.
(Of course, lots of people like to fill in this blank with “Jesus.” However, turning the other cheek or turning water into wine aren’t super helpful skills when trying to correct the wiring in your house, concoct a better-than-average recipe for baked beans, or design removable screens for your old-fashioned windows. Then again, JC was a carpenter; perhaps my velcro/net window screens – oft-imitated by nearby PCVs - were divinely inspired after all.)
But when it comes to my father, I seldom think that way – and I don’t have to. In many ways I act like him without even trying. (I can already hear people joking that one of him is enough.) The older I get, the more I hear my dad’s voice coming out of my mouth.
Be it nature or nurture, we have a tendency to become our parents.
Maybe that’s the root of problem here in South Africa. Many people are being nurtured in an environment where the fathers are absent. So as they become adults, it seems the young men aren’t thinking twice about being absentee fathers themselves.
So, as we descend upon another Father’s Day, don’t look at it as only a day for honoring your dad. Look at it as a day to be thankful for all of your positive male role models – regardless of their relation to you or if they are even still alive – and be thankful that you grew up in culture that recognizes and embraces their importance. You wouldn’t be who you are without them.