Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Fatherless sons (and daughters)

The new US campaign launched by Oprah is to address the problems surrounding fatherless sons is interesting as it throws up more problems and conundrums than there are solutions. In the traditional sense, to be fatherless is to lose your male parent through death, divorce or some family situation that has prevented a son from cultivating a relationship with his father.

The is a highly emotive subject for me as I consider myself to be fatherless, even though my father is still alive, still married to my mother and continues to be a presence in my life. We have a reasonable relationship but, in the spiritual sense, it’s a poor one. When my father should have been the strongest influence in my life, during the formative years, he was absent – emotionally and psychologically.

I was the only girl amongst three boys and certainly received more attention than my brothers but it was meagre.  My father was a domineering and  terrifying figure in a lovelorn childhood. Our days and nights were filled with the stark realities of the cost of living. My father would often remind us children (and my mother) of the price of food, clothing, water, electricity, gas and petrol whenever a bill came in. In short, we were the barrier to his financial success! There were no kisses, hugs or gentle words from Daddy.

My mother, sadly was a woman of her era, and ingrained with subservience to the man of the house. Her overriding belief was that woman is a home-maker and man is the provider. My mother did work for some of her life but it was borne out of sheer financial desperation and any high self-esteem she possessed was eroded by the rantings of my father. Nevertheless, my mother was and is a cheerful soul due to her undying Christian faith and that, I believe, was our saving grace. If grace has an amazing power then I have been witness to it in my mother’s forbearance.

There are many fatherless and broken families. Yes, children suffer when their fathers are absent but they also suffer when their fathers are present. When there is no love in a man’s heart or if his love is conditional then it is not love. You only need to scratch the surface of many families, rich and poor, to see that many a father is an “angel” on the street but a “devil” at home. Abuse of any kind is abhorrent, especially when the perpetrator is a father against his defenceless children, but emotional abuse leaves a disastrous legacy than few people can recover from.

The recent news story of the three girls in Ohio, abducted in their early teens and held captive for ten years by three men – all “loving” fathers, “good” neighbours and “conscientious” employees no doubt – highlights the seemingly unsolvable problem of the male psyche. It will be interesting to find out the girls’ back stories and to note if there was a strong and loving male figure in their early lives.

Tanya Kach, is another example, of a girl kidnapped at 14 and held hostage for ten years by a man, aged 37, who worked in her school as a caretaker.  It has been many years since her release but Tanya says she will be in therapy for the rest of her life. In her book, “Memoirs of a milk carton kid,” she lays a large part of the blame on her father. Her parents’ marriage had broken down and her mother had serious mental problems. Her father, who became her main care-giver, did not support her emotionally and during this particularly turbulent time, found himself a new wife. There were clashes between her stepmother and so Tanya found emotional refuge in Thomas Hose who befriended her and later used and abused her.

Tanya, quite rightly, says that the dysfunctional relationship she had with her father was the reason she found Thomas Hose’s attention attractive. This is how it is for millions of girls and boys who are emotionally neglected. It was the same for me and my marriage also had to end as I felt I was re-living the negative past with my father. Why has society not woken up to this fact and what is being done to help fatherless children?  

Self esteem classes would be helpful for father and child and it needs implementing soon before more children turn into adults of the lost generation. Fathers need to be told how to think, talk and behave around little children, especially their own.

Men are from Mars and they should stay there….until they acquire some emotional intelligence.  It is not intelligent to marry a woman and see her as inferior. It is not intelligent to hurt a child’s fragile heart. It is not intelligent to be selfish. It is not intelligent to crave material things and forego love and peace. It is not intelligent to be feared in your own home. It is not intelligent to look at your children without eyes of love. It is not intelligent to run up debts and leave financial messes behind. It is not intelligent to take alcohol, drugs and wind up in prison. It is not intelligent to raise your voice in anger unless your life is being threatened. It is not intelligent to behave in malevolent ways towards your family.

Effective fathering takes intelligence and with that comes responsibility. In my book, less men should become fathers are they have neither the sense or sensibility to create a truly loving atmosphere in a home. Many men have no idea what a home is beyond that of house. Bricks, mortar and the equity are valued above the people who dwell inside those walls.  Until men understand that there’s more to life and family than what the eye can see, poverty in the male spirit will prevail.

A strong woman can be a good father!
It is of great irony (and divine planners need to take note ) that really good fathers die young. They are absent for the mere fact that they are dead. They die in freak accidents, heart failure at cricket matches, car crashes on the way to work, sailing disasters etc. Those are the fathers that evoke the sincerest emotions from their families. A champion in life and death is how they’re remembered. I commend such fathers and I hope I have one in another lifetime.

Perhaps it is an uncommon sense to not experience a father’s love on earth or is it an uncommon spiritual experiment to have a dysfunctional one? Wisdomona is challenged (and scared) by this particular truth less ordinary.

 Oprah’s campaign will raise awareness (and I support that) but the answer to the issue of why children lack fathers is still blowing in the wind.