No one wants to be a deadbeat dad

2018-06-17 10:09
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Father’s Day has to be the most confusing day in the life of an African child. While we can recite with glee what we did for Mother’s Day, we often stumble at the hurdle of a day that is meant to celebrate the fathers in our lives. Perhaps it is not so much that we are unsure of what we should say to them as it is about finding them in the first place.

Some are privileged to have had, and still have, a father in their lives. But for many others, fathers were absent, more like ghosts. This is not meant to be a father-bashing exercise, but rather an attempt to exorcise the worst within us, so that we might learn from their failures.

Let me begin this way.

We are all familiar with how white oppressive domination broke the backs of our fathers, stripping them of their masculinity and reducing them to “boys” who would serve their masters’ every need. We certainly do not need to repeat the horrors of social castration to which black men were and continue to be subjected to.

As a result of this emasculation, black men had to find ways to “reassert” their authority, to find their stolen voices and so become “men” again, which is not to be confused with being whole. As with many of my peers then, I would tremble at the sight or voice of my father. Even though he would make friendly banter with our neighbours and even find his playful voice with our dog, he would transform the minute he walked into the house. His booming voice would rattle the little peace in the house and his violent fights with my mother were the bane of our lives.

Growing up under this shadow of violence prompted me to imagine my masculinity differently. Or so I thought. I imagined the sort of father I wanted to be and concluded that, unlike my old man, I would not treat women as objects that were the building-blocks of my masculinity. I made it a point to seek refuge in positive masculinities in my neighbourhood. When I realised that even the men I looked up to were infallible, I concluded that perhaps I should become my own pathfinder. After all, I was armed with the knowledge of what I knew I did not want to be. Or so I thought.

My early relationships should have been a warning. It’s a pity I was too self-absorbed and drunk on my own arrogance of being “a know-all” that my ears were deaf. For example, when my girlfriends asserted that “I was too stubborn” or when they lamented that, “until I learnt to love myself, I would never be able to love someone else”.

Now the thing about masculinity is that, unlike a good perfume that is subtle and pronounced only at certain moments, it unfortunately veers towards a cheap cologne, the scent of which is violent to one’s nostrils and its acute vulgarity a key selling point.

When I reflect back on my relationships, I realise how, for the most part, I loved only to the extent that the women loved me more than I could ever love myself. Somehow I know that most men suffer from the same thing, hence it has always been hard for men to forgive cheating girlfriends because they have to deal with being ousted from the throne of love. The recent incidents of femicide remind us of how men struggle to deal with this displacement and so respond to the clear and present danger to their masculinity.

I could be wrong, but it would seem to me that most men rarely confront their masculinity precisely because our society glorifies images of men who kill, rape, hurt and wound.

About five years ago, I was accused of sexual harassment by the students I was teaching. The accusations forced me to confront my “manhood” to deal with the way I had normalised hurtful and violent aspects of my masculinity. I had to ask myself how I became the very violence I was running away from. If I could, I would make the suggestion that, as part of “ulwaluko/koma/lebollo”, we should dismantle the violent founding ethos that we so readily embrace as the thrust of transition from boyhood into manhood.

As we commemorate Father’s Day, I would like to urge all men to consider “revisiting” their masculinity so that they, too, do not wake up one day like me to realise they have become the very thing they vowed to not be.

- Mamatu is the convener of Madoda Masithethe based in Gugulethu, Cape Town. For more information, email wamamatu@gmail.com

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