Transforming Fatherhood – Understanding the Context

I was recently involved in a heated debate at a different forum about the effects of a failing father figure at home. The context of this debate was a post from a friend who had observed some form one students reporting to high school accompanied by their grandparents or their mothers. He raised a concern about absence of fathers in the academic journey of their children at a time it was just taking a new turn. To quote his last line, he said, “It’s time men took full charge of their responsibilities”

His post elicited a myriad of comments mostly bemoaning the lack of commitment by the modern day father in the lives of their children. I’ve taken the liberty to create a summary of the responses in the graphical word cloud above. Looking keenly at it elicits very strong feelings of the disappointment caused by the lack of presence of a father. These strong feelings although shared through the lenses of “third parties” far removed from the situation, reflect responses from persons directly affected as sons or daughters of parents and direct parents of children themselves.

Countless research material exists about the importance of a father in the lives of their children. Without belaboring the findings, there is need to find pragmatic solutions to this problem. There are a thousand ways of describing the problem of fatherlessness at home, but few if any, clear cut practical ways to deal with the issue. Many solutions provided, border on prescribing scriptural verses and giving errant fathers an ultimatum along the realms of “wake up now or regret later”.

I have over time become very solution oriented, having worked at an audit firm where I prepared and submitted assessment findings that generally exposed problems. Beyond exposure though, clients needed guidance on the next steps which was often not forthcoming. The solution provider in me opted to jump ship and venture off on my own. That being in my DNA, it has been my analysis that solutions provided for fatherlessness lack context. Context is king in unlocking how fathers need to reconnect or regain their position of responsibility where they have willingly or subconsciously abdicated it.

In the spirit of establishing context, the father of a child joining form 1 in 2016, is likely to be in his 40s with the exception of a few in their late 30s. Their fathers therefore must have been born in the mid 1940s to early 1950s and were most likely teenagers at the time of independence. In this context, these fathers possibly grew up having little contact time with their fathers (of the 1920s, 30s generation) due to the world war and the agitation for independence. Those 1940s fathers learnt that “being out there” showed responsibility for the family. At the time and in that context their fathers (the 1920s generation) had to do what they needed to do to protect their land and their families.

Enter, the 1970s generation, a little over a decade after independence. The unschooled or half-schooled father (because school was a privilege at the time) was ill-equipped to nurture this young man to think and dream different because of change of context. It was a struggle to transition from what their fathers handed down to them, in order to hand it to their own sons in a new context. So the context of “being out there” continued to be cascaded to young minds as they attended school in the early 80s. Whilst in high school in the 90s, their dads now about mid 40s were facing mid-life crisis. An increase in “being out there” in order to safeguard the future of their children soon joining university was the order of the day.  This saw the gap between provision and pro-vision widen, with giving vision and direction to sons compromised at the expense of giving substance for sustenance. Back then information about fatherhood and the finer details of what matters to sons wasn’t there. The world wasn’t hyper-connected and a whole world of information wasn’t available at the click of a button.

Fast forward to the early 2000 and the 1970s born is now a father. The context of his father’s being “out there” attained him a university education, a job, a wife and family. He has perhaps joined church or parenting forum that teaches fatherhood 101, but is still largely governed by a parenting style driven by the context he grew up in. He subconsciously he thinks his son is “okay” because he has done enough and has good support systems. The reality is his son is not okay because he feels that dad’s absence means he doesn’t care. His dad doesn’t relate to this context as his premise is that dad’s presence means he is not working hard enough to provide for family.

The point here is, we cannot give what we don’t have. In other words, when we talk about transforming fatherhood, it must be unpacked and understood. Well-meaning fathers are subconsciously branded “irresponsible” just because their parenting context is misunderstood. Should their ill-equipped parenting methods be excused? No. However, they need to be given an opportunity to expose their context, recognize it is flawed, find solutions to deal with it and start the journey of change. Maybe some 1970s dads need to start by apologizing to their 1940s dads for carrying a deep-seated grudge that “dad never showed up for an important event in school” and in the process subconsciously do exactly the same thing for the 2000s sons?

Peter Muya, is an entrepreneur, Co-founder and Managing Partner of PTI Consulting, an award winning enterprise transformation consulting firm in Nairobi. He has been married for 14 years, and is a father of three – a 10 yr old son,7 yr old and 8 month old daughters. He is an author, a youth mentor and a member of the family care and enrichment ministry in his church.

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