Irresponsible fatherhood; a canker with far-reaching consequences

BY: Doreen Hammond

At the funeral of an uncle a few years ago, I was brought to reality in terms of the relationship existing between some fathers and their children.

A few days before the funeral, one of my aunties had hinted me that my uncle, in his youthful days, was a womaniser who had literally littered children all over and that it was likely most of these children would attend the funeral. 

True to her prediction, as the day for the funeral drew closer, children kept pouring in from all nooks and crannies. In all we counted six known children and four others who were not known to my late uncle. These were besides the seven he had with his substantive wife. What baffled me was the remark one of my younger uncles made.

He said he knew the children would come one day because it was natural for children to go and look for their fathers once they were old enough to do so. To buttress his point he added that the six had come out of their own volition to look for him at different points in time. I jokingly asked one of my cousins how he got his father’s name and he told me his mum told him so he also took it.

As I retired to bed that night, not only had I lost respect for my deceased uncle but also wondered how on earth a man could beget children and not care about their feeding, health, educational and related needs.

It then dawned on me that mothers were worshipped for good reasons and not by accident for their selfless devotion to the welfare of their children.

Sometimes some have had to sell their cloths to ensure that their children remained in school to gain the necessary education to become responsible citizens. This responsibility, many mothers have had to shoulder single-handedly even when fathers existed.

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There are many fathers in our society whose responsibility ended as soon as mothers announced that they were pregnant leaving them to bear it all alone. As a result, many mothers have had no respite or comfort in life as they are always thinking about where the next meal would come from while many fathers have had a field day doing as they pleased without any shred of concern.

Though this practice may not be peculiar to our world, what happens is that elsewhere such men are compelled by law to contribute to the upkeep of their children. It is not also uncommon for the state to provide accommodation and other respite for such mothers. Though similar laws abound here, their enforcement has not been encouraging.

The reasons for such irresponsibility are many and include the harsh economic realities and the thinking of some men that it is a way of exacting revenge on their estranged partners. Then also is the cultural angle which say “onyin a obeba” (s/he will come look for dad when s/he grows up).

Sadly the consequences of such irresponsibility to the family and society at large, are often negative. Research has confirmed that most deviants and criminals in society trace their problems from such upbringing. Streetism, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and dropping out of school are all derived from the above scenario. And then comes cyclical poverty.

Thankfully, we have laws to deal with such infractions. The question is: why are the laws not biting? Going forward we need to ensure that irresponsible fathers are brought to book and the necessary penalties applied. In some cases, the penalty has not been worth fighting for coupled with the accompanying frustrations within our penal system. Some affected women may still not be aware of the avenues available to bring erring partners on track. In some cases too the fama nyame (leave it to God) syndrome is applied and in other scenarios, family members have restrained mothers from seeking redress in court on the basis that you cannot send your child’s father to court. The results of all these have even engendered more irresponsibility from some men within our society and the cycle continues.

As the saying goes, “one must advise the cat and cured fish together” in order to achieve good results. While using education and penal means to get men to keep to the narrow path of responsibility, there is also the need to make our sisters aware that it takes more than the mere ownership of a machete to be a farmer. The fact that a man can impregnate you does not make him a father. A bit of circumspection will help.

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