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Maruping Phepheng
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Children and their absent fathers.

12 June 2014, 05:00

This morning when I drove to work I saw a child – he must have been seven or eight, cross a busy road in order to find his way to school.  He was on his own, with no one helping him cross a busy road.

I felt like stopping to see him cross safely, but I was on the fast lane with no chance of stopping without possibly causing an accident.  So I drove on, hoping he makes it across the road without a car hitting him.

As I drove on the boy stayed on my mind and a few questions hit me.

Why would such a child be on his own in such a dangerous situation?  Where are the parents?  Where is the care?  I know we are busy but why does it seem like there is no arrangement in place ensuring that children arrive safely at school?

OK. Maybe to conclude he has parents in the first place is a bit assuming on my part.  So where are the guardians?  Siblings?  Neighbours?  Anybody?

Amid all these questions my mind meandered to a point of wondering if the parents of that boy are still together.  I know some of the people I went to high school with have moved on and married women other than mothers of their (in most cases) first born babies.

And so forth meandered my mind, wondering how all the children who are growing up without fathers actually cope in such difficult times.  Put differently, I wondered how me being an absent father affects the children.  {Let me pause here to say my inclination is toward speaking of fathers because I am one.  This admission does not serve to absolve mothers, if there are absent mothers out there.}

Many of us have in our youth done things we cannot undo.  Some of us had kids in our teens, early and late.

Many of the children born during our youth are now under the care of their mothers alone.  This in a very important way complicates the lives of everyone involved.

What happens to the child when the father marries a different woman?

What happens to the child when the mother gets married to a different man?

Indeed what happens to the child amid all these developments?  Who is responsible for what and how is the responsibility executed, if at all?

This is a complex problem which has a potential to wreck lives.  Marriages fail because of the ‘complication’ that the child suddenly becomes, while the child herself loses out on proper upbringing in a loving environment that has both the mother and the father involved. 

They would together instil proper values in the child, making sure for instance that she does not end up doing drugs, or opting for things like prostitution in her desperate quest to make ends meet.

I looked into the matter a bit and found that contained in a Journal of Behavioral Medicine 17 (1994), is that in a study of 700 adolescents, researchers found that “compared to families with two natural parents living in the home, adolescents from single-parent families have been found to engage in greater and earlier sexual activity.” {Source: Carol W. Metzler, et al. “The Social Context for Risky Sexual Behavior Among Adolescents.”}

This piece of research is for me significant because it supports the question I want to ask: without the guidance of both the father and mother, what is to stop these children from repeating the same mistake(s) that we committed?  Before you conclude that I am now branding our kids ‘mistakes’, hold on a bit and understand the simple context.  Isn’t it true that when we were 15 or 16 or 17, we were just having fun without worrying about the consequences?  Or would we say we actually planned to have children at that time of our teenagehood? Of course we didn’t.

So for me the key thing is to seize the opportunity and ‘use’ these children to attempt to permanently correct what went wrong.  For instance, we could encourage our boys and girls to wait a little longer before they engage in sex.  This will delay the potential of unwanted pregnancy, and, most importantly, it will hopefully allow children enough time to know about HIV and Aids and how to keep safe even before they get deprived of their virginity.

But then again that complication rears its head: many of us are unavailable for this responsibility because we have ‘moved on’; and, sadly, some parents aren’t even in speaking terms to be able to carry out collective parenting.  At times you find that these kids themselves have decided to cut the father and or the mother out.

The million dollar question then becomes: what now?  I am honestly not sure, but I do know that we must try.  We must at minimum make an effort to show our young ones the way.

Just to complete the picture, I also came across this startling revelation when I went through an article published late last year: “Only four out of 10 black children under the age of 15 live with their fathers. Of the remaining six, three do not have regular contact with their fathers and three have absolutely no contact with their dads.”

We really must correct this.

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