A tribute to fathers

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Sunday June 19 is Father’s Day. As my sister and I were growing up, our father was often heard sighing to himself and quoting, “A troublesome thing is a daughter to own!” It annoyed us then, but now we know there is more than a grain of truth in that.

In all the noise made by our loud proclamations on women’s empowerment, gender parity, feminism, safe motherhood and the rights of the girl-child, it seems to me that we are in danger of drowning out the voices of fathers.

When we do hear about fathers, we tend to hear a lot about what men aren’t doing right, about how fathers have let families down and about their potential to be abusive.

But spare a thought for the dads who actually are where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to be doing, and serving their families in the best way they know how.

The last decade (before dollarisation) in Zimbabwe found many fathers stuck between a rock and a hard place, where they had to make the tough choice between staying with their families and facing snowballing poverty, or leaving the country to go and fend for their families elsewhere.

It was a damned-if-you-do-it-damned-if-you-don’t situation.

On the one hand it was heartbreaking to stay with your family and watch them (and yourself) gradually depleted in stature, health, wealth and opportunity.

On the other hand to leave your family vulnerable to all kinds of social and political dangers while you went away for long periods to eke out a living as a second-class citizen in some other country, was equally fraught.

Yet another option was to stay in Zimbabwe with one’s family and engage in some sort of illegal activity to get you through the hard times.

Many fathers found themselves engaging in a little of all three scenarios. Others picked one and braced themselves for the consequences.

There was also the tragedy of fathers of grown up children who watched as their families dispersed far and wide, fathers who even now don’t know when they will see their children and grandchildren again because they have left for distant countries.

These fathers have had to re-envisage their vision for old age, and reconfigure the meaning of family.

Having stood for years as the head of a house, they are now no longer sure what that house is or who they are heading.

The socioeconomic and political nightmare that Zimbabwe lived through caused us to renegotiate many things we had previously thought were not negotiable.

But perhaps now, in consciousness we can bargain our way back to a definition of fatherhood that we can all live with.

One of the world’s most glamorous fathers at the moment is American President, Barak Obama. He authored a book Dreams From My Father in which he examined his heritage. On fatherhood he says:

“Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognise and honour how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it”.

Sure, this may not be true of all fathers. But I believe the majority of fathers want to see their families do well, want to lead and to model a decent life for their children, want to protect and provide for those they care about. Whether we are Shona or Ndebele, black or white, rich or poor, Zanu or MDC, our aspirations regarding family are the same.

For Christians the role model for fatherhood is God. We love him, yet we are charged to fear him. The definitions for what that “fear” means are many and varied, but in that dichotomy we come face to face with the modern father’s dilemma: Do I want to be a father who is feared, or one who is loved? Can I really be both?

Every adult wants respect, and fathers probably more than anybody else. But what does that respect look like when its sitting across the table from you eating its porridge, or when it comes home from school with a less than perfect report card, or when it has to confess to sleeping with a boy and is now pregnant?

Every father must decide how he wants to be looked up to. And everyday he must choose whether to use the rod or the staff, whether to inspire with praise or caution with criticism.

And of course he must face both the short and long-term consequences of his fatherhood style.

The parenting manual Growing kids God’s Way defines the father’s mandate as being: “To rightly reflect the truth of God and to develop a relationship of trust with his children based on that truth”. That’s a huge undertaking.

To be the man who models godliness for a child is a monumental responsibility. And yet, if you look around you, if you can look past the bad press and the imperfections, past the few extremes and on to the silent majority, you will find everywhere fathers who are taking a fairly good shot at it. Fathers we can believe in. Like my father. Perhaps like your father too?

On the shoulders of such men we place the hopes of the next generation. Because what is a father for, if not for leading?

Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on www.twitter/localdrummer

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