“Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance”.
I do not have kids of my own…none that I know of at least. On that score alone, I am the most ill suited to give advice on fatherhood. What do I know about midnight runs to the chemist and the pressure of paying school fees or the agony of a teacher’s strike?
But this article is about transitioning into manhood and why it is important for boys to be mentored into mature men. In Drivers of Violence- a study on Male Disempowerment in The African Context, Kenyan author Anzetse Were makes a strong appeal for concerted Male empowerment.
“African men in particular must make a deliberate point to acquire knowledge and actively seek mentors to help them transition into manhood. Once those in our generation evolve into men, the future generations will be better off. For their children will have mature men to guide and encourage their transition into manhood.”
Even though my own father passed on when I was in my puberty years I have never lacked fathers. Traditionally, I was brought up to understand that anyone who was of my father’s generation was a father.
Many assigned themselves to me, many others I adopted along the way. I quickly learnt that fatherhood is not limited to a biological link. Fathers come in all shapes and sizes. All one has to do is pay attention.
At home, several uncles stepped in to break me into manhood. I learnt how to swim in a fast flowing river, throw a decent punch and compose witty opening lines that took the stress off learning the ropes of courtship. In school, there was always the teacher who urged one to work hard and harness one’s potential.
At work, older colleagues showed me the ropes and who not to piss off. On the sports field, experienced players mentored me and picked me up when I was down. I can declare that it took a village to bring me up. In the end, I turned out, okay, I think.
Fathering a child is largely accidental for most men. One moment you are hanging out with a girlfriend and the next instance you are staring at a swollen stomach, the miracle of genetic engineering. The child pops out, he posts a picture on Facebook, lights a cigar with his mates to celebrate and reverts back to playing single.
The assumption is that so long as a man provides for the child’s upkeep, he can play. No wonder, young men these days believe they have to secure a fortune to sustain a child. They just never had enough great examples to manage fatherhood differently.
Fatherhood is a man’s most important life’s work and for that very reason, it cannot be limited to bringing up your own offspring.
Kids unfortunately need a lot more than a regular meal and a proper formal education. They need attention but not the kind that is secured in exchange for an ice cream cone. They need constant reminder of the values that count and not just glamorous birthday parties.
They need guidance, love and importantly adults around them who they can believe in and trust. Someone has to prepare them for vagaries of life. It is those we trust that educate us.
On the flipside, is Over parenting, that prolongs many offspring’s infantile patterns. They are not given a chance to exhibit the adult behavior required. The attachment is driven by fear. It is a harsh world out there. We are getting to that place where is it almost impossible to find trustworthy adults to leave children with.
The onus falls on those closest to the child, irrespective of a biological link. Sometimes it can become a thankless task. Take consolation though. You cannot always get a medal for every good deed you do.
Fatherhood is a man’s most important life’s work and for that very reason, it cannot be limited to bringing up your own offspring. Men can be extremely maternal but we are cultured to look down on that trait as a weakness. In our society fathers continued to be consigned to sperm donors, cash dispensers or recurring headaches.
Stereo-typically good fathers are an exception, absent fathers the norm. The underlying message is that it is okay for men to horse around. Women on the other hand have to be responsible. As a result, the presence of men is not been felt, in the one place where it is most crucial; the marital front.
You tell a man’s behavior and worth by how he talks about his father. You judge a man’s character by how he describes his parent.
There is no way around it. We simply have to be the men that we want our sons to be.
PS: This article is from the OP archives. Originally published in Adam magazine 2009.