However, before we got to talk about what they appreciated about their mothers, I took quick stats. I asked how many of those boys lived with or knew their fathers. It turned out that 18 out of the 20 were fatherless. At that stage, I parked the issue of fatherlessness and focused on what they appreciated the most about the women in their lives.
The boys said very beautiful and heart-warming things about their mothers. They appreciated their consistent love, support and the extremes they went to just to make sure they had food and clothes; basic things a child needs to survive.
It was all sweet and well until we got to my aunt’s son, Chris.
I looked him in the eye with discomfort because I am practically his brother and it was close to home, literally and figuratively.
He said: “I appreciate the lesson my mom taught me about loving others. She has taught me a lot about loving other people.”
Knowing that Chris, just like me, was growing up without a father, I pushed him a little bit further. I asked: “Wouldn’t your father teach you how to love others if he was in your life?”
He replied: “If he knew anything about love, he would have started by loving me enough to be a part of my life. So, to answer you; I don’t think he would have taught me anything about love, especially love for others.”
We all had a moment of silence. His answer wasn’t what I was expecting.
These are teenage boys who have their own challenges of growing up in relatively poor households and in the village.
I pleaded with them not do what their fathers did to them to their own children in the future, because of the pain I saw in their eyes.
They are teenagers, but the scary thing is the absence of their fathers is a scar that is seemingly permanent.
We have a serious social ill in this regard. However, we can’t always blame apartheid without pointing out ways to tackle this fatherlessness curse that continues to degenerate our society.
According to research conducted in the past five years by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the SA Race Relations Institute (SARRI), 60% of South African children have absent fathers, and more than 40% of the mothers are single parents.
However, the plague of children who grow up without fathers does not take away the amazing job done by women with the difficult task of single parenthood. It is in no way to discredit the present fathers who play active roles in their children’s lives.
It is about the continuous absence of fathers. In the black society, for example, black men do mob justice for almost anything and everything. They come together, burn tyres and block roads. They even burn buses to be heard.
We do all these regressive things but never come together and bring the country to a standstill demanding; “Let’s be responsible fathers. Let’s teach each other to be present in our offspring’s lives.”
We don’t mete out mob justice to fatherlessness. We are labelled a generation of stepfathers and stepmothers due to the high levels of non-lasting relationships we have with the mothers and fathers of our children. That, too, is a societal issue that we need to look into.
The absence of my father made me a better man. However, there are many people, young and old, who have serious daddy issues that affect their development and growth.
What are we doing as a country or society to put an end to this societal ill?
Overall, the boys appreciate their mothers (biological and not), their mother figures and understand that they are enough for them.
However, they do wish their fathers were present in their lives and actively involved.
Let’s save the next generation of children from fatherlessness, especially the boy child.
Research from the SAIRR has found that boys growing up in absent-father households are more likely to display hyper-masculine behaviour, including various forms of aggression, and get involved in unhealthy relationships, crime and addiction. TheNextGenOfMen #TheBoyChild.
* Kabelo Chabalala is the founder of the Young Men Movement. E-mail [email protected]; Twitter, @KabeloJay; Facebook, Kabelo Chabalala.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.