Part of a progressive constitution and democracy is to look at giving new fathers ample time to spend with their children, says the writer. File picture: Wikimedia Commons
American actor, producer, rapper, comedian and songwriter Will Smith said: “There’s so much negative imagery of black fatherhood. I’ve got tons of friends who are doing the right thing by their kids and doing the right thing as a father - and how come that’s not as newsworthy?”

This got me thinking about a lot of things that have to do with fatherhood. Yes, I am thinking about being a father. I also want to see my lineage continue. I grew up fatherless. I grew up without a father figure around and this makes me anxious about fatherhood, especially now that we live in a world of fatherlessness.

I do understand where Smith is coming from; fatherlessness is so rife in this world we live in, so much so that there is an inclination, a void that screams so loud for us to celebrate fathers who chose the road less travelled, which is to be present or active fathers.

However, there is the other side of things, the laws that govern us. How much has been done to encourage fathers to play active roles in their children’s lives?

Society has set standards on how we should expect men and women to act and behave. We have taken the full responsibility for parenting and made it a women’s thing. Yes, as men we can’t breastfeed and do the many other things that only women are capacitated to do.

Nevertheless, there are things that a man or a father can do. As I think and plan on being a father, I’m looking into the laws of South Africa regarding paternity leave. On November 28, Parliament gave the thumbs up to a bill that will give fathers in South Africa the right to 10 days’ paid paternity leave. However, how do we justify 10 days?

That is not enough. It is certainly not enough for a father to have so little uninterrupted time with their newborn baby.

As a modern man who will be changing nappies, I will be fathering the baby as her mom tries to catch up on some sleep. I will also be helping to care for the baby much of the time as the mother recovers, should it happen that she gives birth through the C-section, which takes a few weeks to recover from. Ten days is not enough. Even if she has a normal vaginal birth, she still needs time to recover.

As a progressive, yet traditional man, I know that a motherly figure will be there with her from the day she gives birth, but I also want to bond with my child as early as possible.

We can’t talk about the lack of participation of fathers in their children’s lives and not see the importance of also giving them some significant time off work to bond with their children.

Part of a progressive constitution and democracy is to look at giving new fathers ample time to spend with their children.

For instance, I wanted to be home every day when my sister gave birth. I was home most of the time, even during the week, so I could see my niece. We are lawfully allowed to take a maximum of three family responsibility days. As if that is really enough.

Imagine when it is my own baby. Let us not push the millennial fathers to fake illnesses and consult doctors for necessary sick notes only because they want to spend time with their children. I think six to eight weeks will be enough to just be around their babies.

Of course we may be snoring at 2am when the mother is up to feed the baby. But come morning, we will look after the baby, help change the nappies as the mother tries to catch up on some sleep.

To have paternity leave would be great for fathers because so many fathers don’t experience how it goes to care for a child from birth. Equally so, I think paternity leave will be good for fathers to bond with the children from day one.

Let’s create a society or a nation that encourages dads to play an early active role in the lives of their children.

* Chabalala is the founder of the Young Men Movement (YMM). Email [email protected]; Twitter @KabeloJay; Facebook Kabelo Chabalala

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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