“I have a lot of respect for you,” he said to me, smiling while I stood nearby, rummaging through the children’s clothes I had just purchased.
“What do you mean?” I asked him, with an odd half-meditative sense at what he meant.
“I cringe at fatherhood every time I think about it. It is too much work being a husband and a father. I am afraid I cannot handle the pressure that comes with being a father. I am considering living solo for the rest of my life,” he said.
“Unless you want to be celibate, one day you will fall head over heels for a woman, like her, love her and eventually marry her,” I responded with droll.
My friend, Peter, is scared about the responsibilities that come with fatherhood. No doubt, it is a responsibility that cannot be gambled away. One must go in with his head and heart.
I have interacted with men my age and many confess they grew up with fathers who provided everything they needed, but never opened up to them about life or the intricacies of being a father.
Chris Nsubuga-Mugga, in his book, The Gold in Fathering, writes, “We cannot run shortcuts around the need for the process of fathering… we need men who are willing to father their own children and father other children too, most of who are broken.” These men, jiggered at the core, are now fathers trying to experiment with what they never experienced.
But who is a father? The Aramaic word for father in the Bible is Abba; meaning the source and sustainer. And to be a father, one has to be husband first. Then who is a husband? Husband comes from two words; house and bond. A husband is one who bonds the house together. A husband and father is one who bonds the family together and is the source and sustainer of this unit.
Unfortunately, men are not house bonding or sourcing and sustaining their children anymore. And as a result, families are missing out some benefits: Studies show that children from zero to eight years are attached to their mothers because of their nurturing and caring instincts. But it has been proven that male involvement in early childhood stage of their children has psychological advantages to the child.
Fathers are vital in modelling a home environment where children can experience first-hand joint decision-making, empathy and amicable conflict resolution, joint participation in family, work-life balance and honour for marriage. This will in effect impact them on how they will later transfer these patterns in parenting their own children and partnering with their spouses.
After the age of eight, children, especially boys, detach from their mother and seek the attention of their father. This is why a father must be present, not just physically but also emotionally. When fathers are absent, children are likely to resort to risky behaviour such as smoking, early sexual experimentation, and involvement in drugs.
Tupac Shakur, one of the most iconic and influential musicians of the 1990s, admits to doing drugs in one of his song. When a father is present, he affirms identity. In what practical ways can a father get involved in his child’s life?
Fatherhood is relationship not rulership. It is more than paying bills. It is more than donating sperm. With more mothers now participating in the labour market (previously a forte for men), fathers can now also spend time with the children.
Engage children in conversations or activities that they will enjoy, while you listen to and guide them. Ride bikes together or take excursions to a tourism site. Whatever excuse you find to be together with your children, take them along. Time spent with your children is never wasted; it is invested. The cost-benefit analysis of results outweighs and outlasts the resources expended in the process.
Words of affirmation
The quintessential African man does not show affection. He is all stern and strict like Okonkwo was to Ikemefuna, in Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe: “ Okonkwo never showed any emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger. To show affection was a sign of weakness. But there was no doubt he liked the boy.”
Words are to a child’s heart what manure is to soil; they fertilise it. Every young boy or girl needs to hear words of affirmation from their father. Tell them you love them. Tell them they are valuable and see them soar like eagles above the storms of self-doubt, peer pressure, fear and depression.
Work on your marriage
It is important that the child knows that their parents love each other. This provides a bedrock upon which a child can sensibly interpret the love he or she receives. If family was a tree, children would be the branches, parenting would be the stem and marriage would be the roots.
Pray for your children
No one understands your child (or should) like you do. You know their pains, joys, frustrations, likes and dislikes. You are, therefore, the perfect person to pray for them.
How a father can get involved in a child’s life
If possible, be part of all your children’s “firsts.” The first time they travel on a bus, their first day at school, their first gardening experience, their first …whatever memorable first time, be there. When they are old, they will look back and appreciate you for the good memories.