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Absent fathers are major catalyst for social problems in our country

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
Men must come to the party and nurture their children if we are to succeed in ending this vicious cycle of fatherlessness, says the writer. /123RF
Men must come to the party and nurture their children if we are to succeed in ending this vicious cycle of fatherlessness, says the writer. /123RF

On June 16 we will be celebrating father's day. In 1986, I was shot and paralysed by a bullet fired by the police during a march against rent increases in Sharpeville.

It was in that instant that I realised - for the first time in my life - that I missed having a dad intensely.

The void that had been there all the years I was growing up without a father and not knowing who he was or where he was, grew wider and wider at that very moment and caused me so much anguish.

My strong and resilient mom who had been with me could do nothing, but break down in tears in hospital. I joined her and we cried together.

Ever since that seminal moment in my life, I have realised that growing up without a father is probably the most difficult and painful life experience for any young boy or man, especially.

It is one thing to know that your father isn't alive to give you the moral, financial and spiritual support you need as a boy, or even as a girl child.

But knowing that he is alive somewhere and yet is not there with you when you need him, must be the most difficult challenge to overcome.

Yes, mothers play a huge role in many of SA's female-headed households. But they too are swimming against a strong tide and can't raise the boy child alone, judging by the increase in the number of social ills, such as violence in our schools, drug and alcohol abuse among boys and young men and increased teenage pregnancies among children who come mainly from families where fathers are absent.

Studies have put the number of children growing up without fathers in SA at a staggering nine million (and still counting) and this includes an estimated 3.95 million orphans.

It is estimated that 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes. Research has shown that the absence of fathers has been associated with poor educational outcomes, anti-social behaviour, lack of confidence in girls and behavioural problems in boys.

As men, we cannot live with a clean conscience knowing that we are contributing to the destruction of our society and the future of our children. Time is against us and we need to change our behaviour drastically to try to avert a crisis.

What more must be said and done for men to realise that they are part of the social problems faced by this country?

It is no longer acceptable for a man to abandon a woman with children, only to go and start a new life and raise a new family elsewhere, far away from his other children as if they never existed.

Those tendencies that were fuelled by the apartheid migrant labour system cannot continue in a democracy where people are able to move freely between cities and provinces to find employment.

Men must come to the party and nurture their children if we are to succeed in ending this vicious cycle of fatherlessness.

I learnt good lessons when I was struggling to put my life together again without my father after that fateful day in hospital. I also learnt to understand and empathise with young boys who, through struggle and pain, have to find their way in the dark without a father.

On this upcoming father's day I wish to extend greetings and encouragement to all the mothers who play a dual role as both mother and father to their sons and daughters. To them I say a well-deserved happy father's day. I would also like to extend my greetings to the present fathers.

As for me and my only son Raphakisa, I have learnt to keep him close and to be the father I never had. It wasn't easy for me because I had no point of reference.

Please join me and other men for a men's dialogue (fathers can come with their sons).

This will be held on Saturday, June 15 2019, 9am at the Glen Methodist Church on corner Keeshond and Hilda Botha streets in Garsfontein, Pretoria East. The entrance fee is R150.

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