Fathers are the ATMs of a family. They provide the cash, while it’s the mother’s job to give love and support to children.

This, according to a new study, is the view that has fuelled half of SA children growing up with living, but absent fathers.

The Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at the University of Johannesburg and the Sonke Gender Justice Network engaged 40 absent fathers around the city to examine their understanding of fatherhood, their perceptions of the causes and the consequences of their absence.

It was found that fathers are generally perceived of, and perceive themselves as, providers primarily.

When they can’t provide financially, they would rather distance themselves from the family.

The study says the fathers did not object to providing material and financial support to their families, but argued that there was an overemphasis on the monetary contribution of fathers.

“Whether you are unemployed or employed, you should provide,” said one father.

This pressure results in a strained relationship with the mother of the child or her family, and fathers have limited interaction with their children.

“As you lose your job, you start feeling the distance, you start making the distance. All the time when I go there, I don’t have anything. I must stop going there, how is my child going to look at me, what will my child say?” explained one father.

“Men are capable of so much more, but they need to be supported and enabled to do so,”said Eddy Mavungu, of the CSDA.

“Mothers, children and fathers themselves will benefit from closer relationships with their children, but fathers need to know that they can be more than ATMs.”

The study found that the emphasis on a father’s financial contribution was also reflected in African cultural practices, such as lobola, or paying damage fines.

“The mother should value more that the man can come, the presence of the person coming.

“Even if he brings something, if he brings money, what they should value more is the human being coming,” said one father to the study’s interviewers.

“These perceptions of fathers solely as providers must be challenged if fathers are to engage more meaningfully with their children and share care responsibilities with mothers,” said Desmond Lesejane, of the Sonke Gender Justice Network.

“While it is imperative that men honour their responsibilities and ensure that they prioritise financial contributions to their children, there are many other ways in which a man can be involved in the life of his children,” said Lesejane, and this includes “ensuring that he treats his partner and children with respect and never uses violence”.