Fathers and Youth. How do they feel?
Many years ago I asked a primary school class of children to draw pictures of fathers. This one has always been one of my favourites. It says a lot about the child, the father and God. In an ideal situation. But is that the reality? Research by the Institute of Race Relations in 2011 on Healing the South African family https://irr.org.za/reports/occasional-reports/files/first-steps-to-healing-the-south-african-family noted that the majority of children do not spend most of their growing up years with both their biological parents with most families being mother-headed. However many adults will also say they were brought up by their grandmothers, almost as a surrogate parent. What is most concerning is absent fathers. Some have died, some have not been acknowledged but most of these absent fathers are alive but not living with their own children. Young boys and girls benefit greatly from a father figure but adolescents and young adults too need a role model – for boys or a reference point for girls. The biological relationship does have particular significance, even if the degree of intimacy is not the same in all families and cultures.
“My dad, the ATM,” is a common image and a common mentality albeit with various different meanings. Dad must provide, dad only provides, or, I know that my dad will always be my support. Being the ATM can start with paying damages if a girl becomes pregnant before anything else to do with marriage.
FRONTPAGE FATHERS, a local Fatherhood organisation has held essay competitions over the years inviting youth to write about their fathers. These snippets can reveal much about what the youth think.
“My father was not loved by his father, but he loves me like his father should have. He is caring, ambitious, loving and supportive.” “I know my father can’t be perfect. I just wanted a father who would love me. I guess I wanted too much.” “When I almost drowned my father jumped in the pool and saved me and held me in his arms until I stopped crying.” “Trying to describe my father is like describing the devil himself. He treats people like garbage. I hate him, I hate him!”
From the other side googling what fathers think and say about their kids mostly brought up a lot of advice for positive parenting for which there are any number of websites. But are we seeing and listening to the dads’ stories, dads of teenagers or teenage dads? In all forms of families, whether a father is living with the family or not, the adolescent stage is not easy and relationship skills are essential. One only has to hear of gangs, cases of school violence and cases of teenage suicide to understand that something is not right. Most fathers do love their teenagers, many do get on well but often there is conflict in a family at this stage. If gender-based and domestic violence are such a scourge what is happening in the basic father-child relationships?
A sad incident reached a conclusion just recently. A year ago a dad, dozing in his car while waiting for his son after school work up to hear a knock on his car window. Thinking it was a hi-jacker he reacted, reached and fired his gun injuring his son who was standing outside. He rushed the boy to hospital but the boy died. The father handed himself over to the police. A police spokesperson told SABC television,” we are investigating all angles… We have to come up with different version to understand whether it was negligence, whether it was murder, whether it was intentional murder, whether it was, as he said, fear as we know that we all live in Joburg where it is not safe for anyone to be in a car at night.”
Bail was granted, the case was investigated, the family and the school were interviewed to explore possible aspects of the case. The case was concluded a year later when the father appeared in court. “An emotional Emmanuel Sibusiso Tshabalala was handed a 10 year direct imprisonment sentence, wholly suspended for five years for the fatal shooting of his 16-year-old son, Luyanda.”
Not every story ends in this way. Accidents can and do happen; they can cause life-long guilt and trauma, but sadly conflictual relationships too can having long-lasting effects on family well-being.
Father’s Day 2019 coincides in South Africa with Youth Day and the Church’s Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity. May fathers take up their responsibilities and share with their youth their faith, their belief in the Trinity, a communion of love, of Father, on and Holy Spirit, a model for every family. TR FAMILY WEEKLY 12 June 2019
Fatherhood is a popular cause today in social welfare circles. The SA Department of Social Development and members of its Family Services Forum have a variety of fatherhood or father-strengthening programmes available.
For fatherhood articles, reflections, blessings and prayers search the website.