Of fathers and baby daddies

By Thandekile Moyo

MY ENTIRE life, my father has been my safety net, my comfort zone and my safe place.

He has played the roles of protector, provider and disciplinarian willingly, wholeheartedly and effectively. I never had to ask my father for anything, he always did the asking. What can I bring you? What do you need for school? How much will you need for that trip? How can I help you? Are you sure you can do that homework on your own?

I am now well into adulthood and my father still has my back.  He has taken me out of problems that I got myself into against his advice. He has gone out of his way to cushion all my falls and get me out of several sticky situations.

I remember one day, during my primary school days, my good friend, the late Langalethu Tee Magagula, decided, much to my horror, to throw a live millipede into my T-shirt and down my back. I recall screaming and wailing so hard that I thought I would die as I felt it on my skin. My father came shooting out of the house and asked what happened. He chastised us and told us to play nicely but his reaction that day showed me that my father was just one scream away, one tear, one call or one text away.

As a teenager, in a small, ‘dead’ and boring small town, the only fun we ever got in Gwanda was when someone had a birthday party, a farewell party or a get-together braai. We were quite creative, so we always had an excuse to get one parent to throw at least one party every school holidays. My father was always there to drop off my friend Nancy and I, and to pick us at the agreed times. My father trusted us and believed in us completely. I sincerely regret all the times I broke that trust and wish I could undo some of the stupid decisions I made in my life.

I once stole money from my mother’s purse and was promptly caught and asked to explain why I had taken it. My parents let me sleep as it was late at night and I had to go to school the next day. I remember sleeping peacefully that night thinking I had escaped their wrath. The next day, peculiarly my father, was already home when I got back from school and he called me to their bedroom.  He calmly asked me what I had done the previous night and I sheepishly answered that I had taken money from mum’s bag.

“What is that called, MaMo?” “Stealing baba,” I replied shamefully. “Well, my daughter, when people steal, they get punished,” and with that he whipped my buttocks with a belt. When he was done he told me to sleep it off and rethink my behaviour. I have never been so heartbroken in my life. The fact that I had disappointed my father hurt me so much that I sobbed more from guilt than from the pain of the belt. I learnt two valuable lessons that day, stealing was wrong and there were nasty consequences to bad behaviour. Secondly, I learnt the art of disciplining a child successfully and with love.

Having such a loving father, I cannot understand the type of fathers roaming the streets today.

The so called “baby daddies” of this era. How does a man father a child and fail to be a father to that child?

How does one sleep at night, not knowing if his child ate, not knowing whether he is warm, safe and happy? It is mind boggling to me, that there are men out there who have no idea how much fees their children pay, what shoe size their children wear and what extra curriculum activities they are involved in.

It breaks my heart to think of the number of children who have never known the joy of riding on their father’s shoulders or the thrill of finding out what their father brought them from a trip. How is it that we have men who will move mountains for their offspring and some who will sow their seed and never look back?

This century has seen the family dynamic changing, whereby we find ourselves with different and new types of families and setups. We have the traditional family, where the mother and father live together with their children. Even in this setup, it is shocking to realise that there are fathers who live with their children but play no role in their lives be it socially, financially or emotionally.

These are the fathers who just go home to sleep and change for work in the morning. They have never shared a meal with their children and have never attended a single school function or even helped their children do their homework.

These fathers come in two forms, one who is unavailable but financially supportive. Materially the family lacks nothing, the only thing the children miss is their father’s affection and time but he tries to compensate for that with money. The second is the total flop type of father; he is never there and does not contribute financially.

The wife provides everything and his job is just to eat and complain.

The second family unit is the one where the mother lives with the children and the father is away working or they are no longer in a relationship with the mother. In this setup, we have fathers who make up for their absence by telephoning their children regularly, frequently visiting and also facilitating for their children to visit them. This father also supports his children financially. These are the fathers who go out of their way to father their children, even from a distance and that is commendable.

The rogue element, unfortunately, can also be found in this type of setup. We have the father who is not at all bothered about his children’s needs. He will not contribute a cent towards their upkeep and will turn up once in a blue moon to take the children out for a US$0.50 ice-cream. Once in a while, he will send the children a T-shirt each from Pep Stores and if it’s a leap year, he will pay fees for one term and keep the receipt so he can show everyone that he pays his children’s school fees. We call this one the ice cream baby daddy.

Finally, we have the rare breed of fathers; those who make sure their children are well taken care of in all aspects of their lives.

Fathers who offer to drop off and pick the kids from school, regardless of whether or not they live with them. Fathers who want to spend weekends with their children.

These fathers know the meaning of the word responsibility and they do not need excuses, neither do they wait to be asked for anything. These are fathers like mine, who know what they have to do and ask if there is more they can do.

I then ask myself, does responsible fatherhood come naturally? Is it instinctive, inborn? Or is it a conscious decision a man makes? Is it a skill learned or acquired over time?

Why do some men embrace the responsibility and why do others run away from it? I wonder, do you ever ask yourself; am I a father, or a baby daddy?