Ernest Hemingway once told the story of a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.” On Saturday, 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.
We all agree that our country is facing serious crises. Unknown to many, however, the problems we see at the local, state and national levels have their roots in the home. And one of the problems in most homes is the increasing absence of fathers. In a lot of those homes, the children are yearning for their fathers – to lead, guide, and provide the support they need to be useful adults and citizens in the future. Sadly, the fathers are nowhere to be found.
The question is: Where are the fathers?
Some homes do not have a father because the man is out there in search of the Golden Fleece and so does not have time for his children. Some are without a father because the man has irresponsibly taken a walk and has refused to look back. Some are without fathers as a result of premature and needless deaths arising from the incessant wars and violence ravaging our continent. In some cases, there is no father because the woman thinks she does not need a man in her life. Yet, if the truth were told, we would all realise that homes need fathers now more than ever before.
Fathers have a powerful and positive impact on the development and health of children. There are tons of research reports that prove that children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, confident enough to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections with peers. These children also are less likely to get into trouble at home, school, or in the neighbourhood. A survey carried out in one developing country showed that 67 percent of respondents had their fathers present while growing up. Of this percentage, 82 percent said it made a positive difference on who they are today.
Unfortunately, the number of homes where there are no fathers is on the increase in practically every group or community. In Africa, children without a father’s love and nurture are said to be in excess of 60 percent. (Political wars and divorces account for a large chunk.) Though statistics are not readily available on the situation in Nigeria, the vast majority of children are said to be raised under pressure in traditional homes where the father has abdicated his role or in different formations of non-traditional homes without a responsible male head of household. This, more often than not, has a negative impact on the children.
It therefore becomes very important that every father should stop and think of the consequences of not being there for his children. As fathers, we need to take up the mantle and be that tower of support our children need. We need to sort out issues with our partners and establish a relationship with our children in which we are the disciplinarian and the caregiver, not just financially but physically and emotionally. We need to show our sons how to be a man and show our daughters what kind of man they should be with when they grow up. We need to occupy the esteemed position God has ordained for us. We need to help to mould the future leaders of this country. Children may get mentoring elsewhere, but it is not the same as having their own father to look up to.
Childhood memories often linger, and it is our responsibility, as fathers, to make those memories worth having.
For Women Who Go it Alone
Now, you will agree with me that being a single mother is not easy. Raising a family alone requires that the woman perform the roles of two people: that of the father and the mother. Even where she has the financial muscles to be the provider, without a father in the home, she will necessarily have to combine that with the roles of a disciplinarian, comforter, guidance counsellor and many more. And naturally, even at her best, she will feel overwhelmed by the challenges and stress that come with the part.
One single mother said to me: “…though I feel I’m stretching to fill two roles at once (I’m trying, at least), I know, and my six-year-old son knows, that it is not the same as having a man in the house. There is a certain type of energy that’s missing. Yet there are also moments when I sit down and cry, without knowing why or for whom.”
If you are bringing up a child alone, it is important that you do all you can to ensure the child knows his/her father and that the father has access to him/her and is involved in his/her upbringing. But where he cannot be trusted to be a good influence on the child, you need to deliberately let the male members of your own family be involved in their upbringing and be the father your children do not have. These could be your own father, uncles, brothers or other male members of the extended family with good character. They can drop in from time to time to provide necessary encouragement and discipline.
You may also want to look for good male role models for your children, outside your own family. These could be teachers in school, neighbours, pastors or elders in church, and exemplary leaders generally.
A time there was when raising children without fathers was the responsibility of the whole community, but a lot has changed with modern development. You therefore need to deliberately and prayerfully select those who you would want your children’s lives to be modeled after and establish a relationship between the child and the desired models. Please ensure that such a person is not one who would want to take advantage of you or your children.
For your well-being and that of your children, I advise that you seek help as often as you need it. Fortunately, some churches now have single parents’ fellowships through which they provide support and meet the needs of people in this group. However, if your church does not have any, look for one where you will fellowship constantly, without necessarily leaving your church.
For single parents who want to marry or remarry, please be sure that your new husband understands your situation perfectly well and is ready to be a father to your children. There have been situations where the step-fathers have been anything but fathers, and this has greatly affected the psyche and well-being of the children. You definitely do not want this to be the case of your children.
For the married, it is very important that you do all you can to ensure the peace and stability of your home. Do not give any opportunity for strife and bitterness that often lead to separations and divorces. Keep the peace as long as it depends on you. That means you will not be quick to ask for a divorce or throw out your wife or husband if there is the remotest possibility of the issue(s) being resolved amicably.
God keep your home.
Taiwo Odukoya is the senior pastor of The Fountain of Life Church. He is an avid believer in the role of the Church in the social and economic life of the nation. He is the host of The Discovery for Men, The Discovery for Women, The Woman Leader, and Ruth and Boaz, quarterly meetings that reach out to thousands of men and women from all works of life and denominations. He lives in Lagos with his wife, Nomthi, and children. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org