Becoming a good father

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I went to visit one of my brothers last week and since it was him and a handful of his sisters, we went into deep conversation as a family. We began to unpack the realities that come from being born a black Zimbabwean with the notion of the extended family.

We also explored the lives of being part of a polygamous Shava clan and it was a mixed bag of emotions for each one of us, as we retold what it meant to belong and grow up in our family as we did.

What struck me was how real our stories were, but above that, how so familiar these stories sounded from the very many spaces I am a part of. It seems like the very same story, different days and also different players.

A common thread in our stories from that day and many other days was how fathering seems to have been taken for granted. Fathers seem to assume that it is okay to be absent in the lives of their children and expect these children, once grown, to become close to them. Hello, this is not a fairytale, this is life!
This struck a chord. I thought we could walk through this today in the hope of inspiring a new way of fathering that will facilitate for transformation in the lives of many people.

MUMBAI, INDIA:  US actor Angelina Jolie (L) holds daughter Zahara as husband and actor Brad Pitt (C) carries son Maddox during a stroll on the seafront promenade at the historic Gateway of India, (R) outside their hotel in Mumbai, 12 November 2006.  Jolie and Pitt are in India's financial hub - Mumbai to shoot for her film "A Mighty Heart", based on the life of the slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in which Jolie portrays Marianne - wife of Daniel Pearl.  AFP PHOTO/STR  (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images) ]

The dream family, has a mother and father of a heterogeneous mix, with the father assuming the “leadership” role of the family, while the mother is the right-hand girl, who runs the show. However, like I said this is the dream scenario. From the many lived realities of women and men, boys and girls that I work with each day of my working life, I have come to learn that it is the women who seem to be both the mother and the father. Fathers, for some reason, are busy trying to make their lives make sense and are pre-occupied with other things that do not seem to include their children being a priority.

In some instances, the fathers facilitate for the coming into the world of the children, but do not play a part at all in ensuring that their child is raised to have a near semblance of a “normal” life. Now, do not get me wrong here, I am aware of the hardships that humanity faces from time to time and parents fail to be adequately present in the lives of their children — that is a given.

However, my story is around those who are alive and still decide to do whatever, they deem important, and excluding their children. Fathering, I suspect is not easy, but is a very critical aspect of life once we have a child coming into this world.

In the 80s and 90s, there was a growing trend of fathers leaving their children to father other children elsewhere. This meant that polygamy became almost acceptable and I remember growing up most fathers in our neighbourhood had left their homes to stay with other families. This generation saw mothers sweating it out to ensure that their children were looked after and they did that single-handed and proudly.

Our mothers then did their best to protect the person of our fathers and helped us grow to be a generation that worked hard, was meant to cared for them and ensure that we care for our siblings. Fast forward to the millennium, the 2000s, the so-called “small house” issues began. Fathers stayed with their families, but there was a growing trend of having another family that was cared for elsewhere, however, the fathers still maintained their first households in small ways, but others chose not to.

We still had absentee fathers and with the declining economy and Diaspora issues, this was pretty huge, as fathers left their families in search of greener pastures.

In all these cases, we cannot deny the brutality of emotional baggage that comes with such lived realities. The children would grow up confused, angry and with little respect for the notion of family. Fathers would carry the flimsy narration of being the father and thus deserving respect at all costs.

Some fathers were wise enough to realise the need to be reconciled to their children, father them and ensure that the family fabric was upheld and maintained.
Other fathers chose to remain distant concerning relationships with their children, but seemingly loved them from a distance.

No judgment passed, but the truth is that children grew up with serious issues, they would need a good therapist to deal with. Unless we begin to realise, we continue to perpetrate the same lame culture of fatherlessness.

Having said all this, it is clear that Zimbabwe needs a difference culture of fathering. We cannot continue to perpetuate this culture of absentee fatherhood and reap the benefits of balance and a good social fabric. I am not talking here of the growing trend of homogenous families — for today, I focus on heterogeneous families.

If Zimbabwe is going to become a progressive nation, fathers need to stop and reflect for a while, how they have fathered their children. It is not about siring a child — it is about being a daddy to that child. It is about spending time and not money. It is about being there to celebrate the highs and deal with the lows. It is about choosing to exert an alternative kind of masculinity that does not exude machoness, but tenderness, love, care, concern and being there.
Christians talk about honouring one’s parents and the same Bible talks about parents not exasperating their children.

There is need for each of us to pause and breathe for a bit and explore new ways of being which will enable us to develop healthy relationships with our children so that they will one day grow up and look at us with pride as we know that we walked the road with them as fathers.

It is never, ever too late to start hugging your child, loving them and being a cool dad — as long as you realise the need, just do it. It might seem awkward and weird initially, as we are socialised differently, but those who had the opportunity to experience this do attest to what a huge difference it makes. This is not the time to be holding onto conventional ways of being a parent.

It is time we embrace what we deem good of the current world and we move on with it so that future generations can look back with pride at what we chose to do differently. Zimbabwe needs a different kind of fathering so that our nation can be the epitome of a good family example. We each have a role to play; you do not have to be a father to explore what we are talking about today.

Do not be left behind, as we transform Zimbabwe, one life at a time one child at a time, there is no time to waste at all. Let’s do this!

 Grace. Ruvimbo. Chirenje writes in her personal capacity and loves stimulating conversation. She would be excited to hear from you. You can contact Grace on graceruvimbo@gmail.com, follow her on twitter @graceruvimbo or Facebook: Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje. Chat soon.