OPINION - Father’s Day is a time to reflect on what it means to be the patriarch of a family as much as Mother’s Day examines matriarchy.

Many of us, though, are so hell-bent on looking for the perfect gift that we tend to forget the real significance of this day. After all, it is not so much about presents as it is about a father’s presence in the life of a child.

As much as children want to acknowledge the love for their fathers, it should also be a time when fathers become introspective and deeply conscious of their important role as responsible parents.

What have they done to raise the next generation optimally imbuing trust, building confidence and teaching moral and social skills?

Socialisation of our children into responsible human beings is what distinguishes us from the animal kingdom. In highly evolved societies the socialisation of children tends to be more competitive and indulgent than poorer societies, where much of the rearing is dictated by the need to survive.

Daily we witness the growing numbers of children who are left to fend for themselves as feral children, begging at street corners cloistered by meth- and tik-smoking outcasts. Without parental guidance and love, they are at the mercy of forces outside of the home.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of absent fathers in sub-Saharan Africa. One father out of two is absent from his child’s life. According to population stats, of all the registered births in South Africa, 62% have no fathers’ details. It is estimated that 2.13 million children in South Africa are fatherless, and 9 million grow-up without fathers, thus placing family life in serious jeopardy.

Research has shown that where the father is absent, it is reflected in the development of both masculinity in boys and femininity in girls. It is estimated that 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes. Indeed, the absence of fathers has been associated with poor educational outcomes, anti-social behaviour and criminal activities.

Many children experience a father hunger: a deep, persistent desire for emotional connection with the father.

I asked a young man in therapy, who was struggling to come to terms with maltreatment from the only father he knew, to write about his feelings. His response was a heart wrenching one common to many children from fractured families today. With his permission, I quote:

“A father completes a home. A home is the people around who give me peace, a sense of belonging and identity. I have no home and I am no home. I was born out of anger and confusion which was the result of infidelity. My father, who was supposedly to be my home, doubted and hated me since I was two months from my mother’s womb. Everything was a result of that anger and confusion.

“Before I was even born, I’d already lost my identity and sense of belonging. Basically I have lost my home. For as long as I can remember I have been searching for my identity and sense of belonging and it wasn’t easy finding it because it was hidden from me.

“Perhaps it was a good thing that it was hidden because I got tired of searching at some point and decided to establish my own. But then how do I become a home to someone if I don’t have a home and I am no home?

“How do I love if I wasn’t loved? I guess this means that I should find peace, identity and a sense of belonging from within, but that will start by healing the little boy inside of me.”

The implications of this social crisis raise a serious debate on the subjects of morality and socio-economic stability of a nation.

Last July the first State of South Africa’s Fathers report was released by civil society group Sonke Gender Justice and its MenCare initiative, and was discussed in Parliament .

The report found co-residence is very dependent on race and income level. If you are white, your chances of living with both parents are nearly double than if you are black.

The magnitude of the problem differs according to race groups, as the proportion of children under 15 years living with a father is 30% for Africans, 53% for coloureds, 83% for whites and 85% for Indians.

This phenomenon is also more prevalent in rural areas than in urban areas, and there is a significant correlation between income and father involvement irrespective of race.

As we celebrate Father’s Day, let’s do so meaningfully.

Let’s spare a thought for those children without fathers, and think and act consciously of addressing this national crisis together.

Rajab is chairperson of the Democracy Development Programme Board.