The cycle of fatherlessness

File image.

The statistics are shocking, showing over 60% of South African kids are in homes without fathers.

On the 9th of January 2019, I had the opportunity to chat to Thabo Shole-Mashao regarding the concept of “dead beat dads” on the radio show Power up on Power FM. The concept encompasses the notion of a man that fails to fulfil his parental responsibility.

Often, men leave at the knowledge that they are expecting. Some are still present but parent periodically. Our conversation centred on understanding why we still have a generation of men that make a child but run away from their responsibility.

This is the generation of dads that were raised by single moms who are parenting the best way they know how. I have so many people in my close circle that have absent dads. It sometimes feels like a “me-too” campaign when we have conversations about our fathers. They either don’t know their fathers, their father raised them until they were two and then he left, or their fathers are in and out of their lives. My one close friend does not even know who her father is. It is heart-breaking when you are child and you start questioning if you were not loved enough by him, or maybe you were the cause of his departure.

I have identified this as a vicious cycle of men that never had present fathers and do not know how it is to take responsibility. One of the callers- Themba, called in to explain how scared he is of procreating because he was raised by a woman and he would not know where to start should he have a child. For a man to admit this openly (or even to himself) is a rare experience.

Themba expressed how he feels mothers are more than capable of being parents, even if they are doing it for the first time because of the motherly instinct. This kicks in for a lot of mothers’ right after childbirth. Fathers do not experience the same phenomenon. They do go through a transition. They hold their children and they fall in love.

The fear of potentially failing their kids like their fathers failed them overshadows that love, for some dads. This is even if they get the opportunity to hold their child as some leave earlier on in the pregnancy.

We have also seen a wave of fathers in our generation that have sworn to take care of their children because they do not want their kids to have the same fate as them. They want to raise their kids differently by playing an active role in raising their children. I have heard this too many times: “My father was a perfect example of the type of dad I do not want to be”. I am raising a child with one of these men. I do not even think the thought of leaving us has ever crossed his mind. These are the men that I take my hat off to.

There are single fathers out there who are doing a wonderful job at parenting. Our first caller, Jacob, is a single father of two children and he is in a circle with men that understand what it truly means to be a man and a father.

The statistics are shocking. Over 60% of South African kids are in homes without fathers. Ten percent of these households have lost the father due to death, and 50% of the fathers are alive but are not present in the lives of their kids. These stats were acquired from the Stats SA General Household Survey 2016/2017.

Do we understand the extent of the psychological effects “dead beat dads” have on their children? The resentment and loneliness children feel due to having an absent father and a mother who is busy working twice as hard to make sure the child is taken care of. Could this be why statistics show that 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes? Kids grow up with misplaced anger which statistically shows that they will be more prone to violence. Girls grow up with “daddy issues” and live the rest of their lives trying to find a father figure.

They end up committing themselves to men with displaced anger that use and abuse them, impregnate them, and leave. Do you see the cycle?

I am no expert; I am just a young woman who spent days waiting for a visit from a father that failed to see his promises through numerous times. I understand fully how angry this makes you, how you constantly question his love for you- his own child. I watched my aunt make excuses for my father and trying not to bad mouth him. Where do women draw the line? To what extent do we protect a man that has failed at his role as a father? Are we enabling them with the excuses? Is this a cultural thing?

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