By: Phakamani Ntentema
“Fathering is an art, a skill and an integral part of life to which investigators of the human condition have long paid insufficient attention” ~Spooner, 1988.
To the child who never knew a father’s love. To the child who always wondered what it feels like to have a father. To the child whose father is the mother. To the child whose father went to find a job but never came back home. To the child who left home because of father’s abusive nature. To the child whose father is an alcoholic. To the child whom lost a father at an early age.
This paper is for raising the consciousness of fatherhood and to show why today we find ourselves in such a predominantly fatherless nation. This paper seeks to narrate why there is a loss of fatherhood and how fatherhood was lost and reshape the societal loss of fatherhood.
Black South African families have been shaped and reshaped by colonization, force removals and resettlement, racial segregation, oppression and racial emasculation.
There are different roles of fathers. The different roles men assume as fathers in the lives of their children and family significantly influence their parental styles and involvement levels. Although emerging research regarding fatherhood has become more focused as the field has developed, discussion of the role of the father often negates the existence of individual variations in the different roles fathers play in their children’s lives, their families and society. While many fathers may not fit into the neatly established categorical roles suggested by some scholars, these roles establish parameters within which to conduct research, and organize research efforts to understand the complexities of contemporary fatherhood.
We must explore the roles of fatherhood, both historically and in the present, whilst taking into consideration individual variations between fathers. Edwards, Borsten, Nene and Kunene (2001) found that, African fathers typically adopt one or more of the following roles: either as a patriarchal figure “controller”, an economic provider “breadwinner”, or as a family man who provides emotional support as a father and a husband. The ‘patriarchal father’ is seen as the traditional role of the father, dating back to the precolonial and early colonial period (Cabrera et al., 2000). The patriarchal father took centre stage within the family structure and controlled the running of the household, financial matters and responsibility for the discipline of children (Smith, 2006). It has been argued that the breadwinner construct evolved from the period of industrialisation where ‘good’ fatherhood involved economic provision for the family’s needs by earning an income (Yarwood, 2011).
Marcisz (2013) points out that, there is a new fatherhood narrative, which consist of three different fatherhood metanarratives that fathers exhibit; the pre-modern, modern and postmodern. Pre-modern fathers are specifically patriarchs and authoritarian whereas mothers are the primary caregivers Thus the parental roles are fundamentally different from each other. In modern fatherhood, the father adopted the role of the breadwinner of the family. The postmodern father, in contrast, inhabits a ‘new’ father role characterised by nurturing and caregiving, thus the divide between maternal and paternal roles has equalised. Per Eerola and Huttunen (2011), it appears that men with higher socio-economic statuses tend to narrate their fatherhood within the post-modern meta-narrative compared to those with lower socioeconomic status. This suggests that a higher socio-economic status in men may increase involved fatherhood or perhaps create a greater awareness of the post-modern or new fatherhood meta-narrative.
The experience of South African fathers has been strongly influenced by the history. The experiences of South African fatherhood have been influenced by historical events that occurred in the country, such as the period of colonisation and the apartheid era. The discovery of gold and diamonds during the 18th century, the Group Areas Act of 1950 under apartheid, migrant labour became an integral part of many Black South African men’s way of life, which influenced their experiences of fatherhood. As Black fathers were separated from their children due to migrant labour practices. Men worked in distant places that are too far from home and were often only allowed to return home to their families once a year, thus the experience of fatherhood was insufficient at the time. Because of migrant labour and apartheid system, many Black kids grew up without a father’s presence in their lives. Also, the political instability of the country at the time had an impact.
The Apartheid regime has left a historical legacy of racial emasculation and thus it is an important factor when thinking about fathers and fatherhood today (Morrell & Richter, 2006, p.8).
However, fatherhood patterns have changed since 1994. The social and historical peak of South Africa post 1994 has become another factor influencing patterns of fatherhood. To understand the status of fatherhood in South Africa, the underpinnings of African culture could offer further explanation. Per Lesejane (2006), the African culture is not homogeneous, there are enough sharing of common attributes to enable generalisation within this broad value system. Mkhize (2006) argues that, fatherhood in African cultures is closely associated with the philosophical foundation of Ubuntu that which encourages the collective social responsibility of the African society. Thus, African cultures understand fathering as the responsibility of the community not the sole responsibility of the biological father.
The social influences of fatherhood; the ways in which fathers practise fatherhood entail approval of masculinity and gender relations. Patriarchy in African fatherhood can, however, easily be ‘blamed’ in the production of the absent and irresponsible Black father in the current society. The traditional patriarchal father figure in African cultures, per Lesejane (2006), is not just the head of homes but also carries many responsibilities that reveal good fathering. The responsibilities may include enforcing moral authority, guidance and being responsible for household affairs; being the primary provider of the family’s material needs such as food and shelter; being a ‘protector’ of the family and children against any perceived threats and becoming a good role model especially for their sons so they can embody the values of good fatherhood.
Furthermore, the current gender issues include the increased levels of employment of women in the workforce. The increased levels of employment in women have challenged the traditional model of hegemonic masculinity and the old assumptions about fatherhood. When mothers are employed, fathers are more likely to be involved in the care of their children and the household (Show & Gerstel, 2009). Although masculinity exist in the South African context, the notion of hegemonic masculinity emphasizes competition, wealth, aggressiveness and heterosexuality. Hegemonic masculinity can be considered a version of masculinity whereby male dominance is supported and perpetuated within a society.
Hegemonic masculinity encourages certain forms of expression of gender and masculinity which are viewed as superior to others. The exploration of how dominant masculinities are reproduced in fathers is imperative in understanding how they negotiate fatherhood. Challenges to the traditional construct of hegemonic masculinity require new negotiations of gender relations in parental care and perceptions of fatherhood (Shows & Gerstel, 2009). “Classic constructs of masculinity; work, sport and body are being replaced with child-centred rhythms and new measures of accomplishment” (Morrell, 2006, p.21). By restoring the value of fatherhood in constructs of fatherhood, men can adopt new fathering identities that foster positive father-child relations (Morrell, 2006).
Economic influences per Shows and Gerstel (2009) argue, most men emphasize employment as being central to the understanding and practice of fatherhood. South Africa’s increasing rate of unemployment, especially among Black males, limits the ability for fathers to provide financially for their children. Understanding fatherhood may vary when considering the socio-economic status of fathers in South Africa. The working-class fathers living in townships or remote rural areas may differ in their experience and conception of fatherhood compared to middle-class and upper-class fathers.
However, Lesejane (2006) pinpoint that, due to several historical and social factors discussed above, the traditions of ‘African’ fatherhood have become distorted.
The African culture is not a negative influence and I think that the morals and values of African culture that symbolizes fatherhood should be revisited just like culture, understanding the function of religion in the formation of fatherhood ideals and practices is useful for increasing the understanding of paternal interest and behaviour among religious communities (Furrow, 1998).
In the post-apartheid era, Black South African fathers remain influenced by contemporary social and cultural factors. Despite the positive changes associated with living in a democratic country, Black South African fathers currently face high levels of unemployment and changing constructs of masculinity whilst negotiating traditional cultural ideals with the pressures placed by society on Western ideals of fatherhood. In the 21st century, “social changes are forcing adjustments in both popular and scholarly conceptualizations of fathers” (Cabrera et al., 2000, p.127).
Summing up, Swartz and Bhana (2009) found that the teenage fathers in their South African study who grew up in fatherless families used their adversity as motivation for being present in their own children’s lives. Literature has shown that men who had absent fathers or reported negative childhood experiences with their fathers avoided replicating those mistakes with their own children. The youth is taking up responsibilities for the children and we cannot deny the fact that there are fathers who care, love and nurture their children. Therefore, it is up to the new generation of fathers to reshape the concept of fatherhood and inspire other fathers to be actively involved in their children, not only financially but emotionally and physically.
Fatherlessness can be traced in historical terms but what is the post-apartheid black father doing to reshaped society as a father figure is the integral part of the fatherhood process. We need to prevent the historical absenteeism of fatherhood within the African society. We need to understand that time has changed therefore, father roles changes with the change of time.
Lastly, Happy Father’s Day to the father out there making change in our society. May you continue taking up your responsibilities, even with low socio-economic status. We must remember that no child asked to be made, therefore do not be a sperm donor, take charge of what you co-created.
“I was raised by a single mother, I felt that something was missing. It always emotionally depressed me knowing the fact that there was no father figure to protect me against societal threats. Knowing how it feels to exist without a father figure made me appreciate my mother, the community I was raised by and make it a point that my child should not go through what I went through. I encourage all fathers to nurture their child and combat the stereotypes that Black man do not have affection and are useless”.
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