The view from here
Unhappy Fatherless Day
Sunday, June 18, 2023 was celebrated in many parts of the world as Father’s Day. It was a day of celebration for many people, especially fathers and their children who took advantage of the day to deepen the special bonds that weld parents and their offspring together.
Some lucky fathers got special treats such as sumptuous meals or much valued presents; at the very least, most fathers got a nice message.
Unfortunately, for many people, including young children, in Ghana, the day was meaningless because there was no father to celebrate. I know that this is a curious situation given the traditions of kinship succession in all Ghanaian cultures. Traditionally everyone has a father because when the father is deceased, unavailable or even downright irresponsible, there is always a surrogate “father”, usually related to the absentee blood father.
However, increasingly, there is a crop of children who have no fathers. Literally, no fathers.
A few weeks ago, I explored this phenomenon in a couple of articles in which I described the situation as Ghana’s hidden shame.
This situation came into sharp relief during several media discussions over the past weekend when fatherhood was put on the scale.
It is obvious that we have not given much thought to this trend in our national reckoning, but it appears to be a side effect of the rapid urbanisation that has occurred here in the past 30 years or so.
We have gone from a mostly rural country to a situation where the majority now live in urban communities. However, this development has not been planned. It has been spontaneous and haphazard.
The upshot is that accommodation or lack of it is at the centre of this sad phenomenon.
As reported in this column a few weeks ago based on the real-life stories of some poor young women, the problem has turned out to be bigger than it appeared to be at the time. This situation is widespread.
No one knows the number of men who have run away from unplanned pregnancies for which they are responsible, but the number must be hundreds of thousands of fatherless children.
As explained in the previous articles, what happens is simple. A young woman moves into the urban enclaves without a plan.
She meets a man who provides accommodation, however modest. In no time, sexual relations begin, and the inevitable result is pregnancy.
Both would-be parents are surprised and unprepared, but while one can move away from the unpleasant surprise, the other cannot.
The stigma attached to this outcome for young ladies is that they just have the baby and carry on as best as they can with the little they have.
This throws the life of the woman out of gear as she is often saddled with a baby who was not part of the greener pastures dream when she set off from her hometown. Consider for a moment the impact of not knowing one’s father.
Interestingly, this subject has come strongly into the public sphere due to Yvonne Nelson’s courageous book on her own search for her father. As it is easy to imagine, for people in this kind of situation, Father’s Day must have been a day of sadness, loneliness, and longing.
Naturally, growing up without a father can have a profound impact on a child’s life, affecting their emotional, psychological and social development.
The absence of a father can leave anyone, especially a child, feeling empty, lost, and disconnected from the world around them. They may feel like they are missing out on something important, and that they are different from other children who have fathers.
They may struggle with feelings of abandonment, rejection, low self-esteem and may have difficulty forming healthy relationships with others.
Research has shown that fatherless children are at a higher risk of a range of negative outcomes, including poverty, poor academic performance, behavioural problems, drug/alcohol abuse and mental health issues.
This is because fathers play a critical role in a child’s life, providing emotional support, guidance, disciplines and serving as a positive role model.
Unfortunately, due to the social stigma and lack of any coherent public policy on this situation, people who find themselves in this situation are suffering in silence and isolation. The state has so far not recognised this situation at any level beyond expecting the poor mothers to take their issues to the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU).
The point is that neither the women nor their children know where these fathers are or how to track and find them. It is doubtful that DOVVSU can help this huge number of people involved in these situations.
It is important for society to recognise the impact of fatherlessness on children and to take steps to address this issue. This includes supporting programmes and initiatives that help the MEN who make women pregnant in these circumstances to own up and be supported.
As we heard from many discussions on such matters during the Father’s Day weekend, poverty is often the reason why such men run away.
We have to intervene as a society before these unwanted pregnancies occur. There has to be a vigorous programme of sex and social education at all levels, especially involving the media.
In the short-term, that could be an important part of the solution. Men and women have to know that they do not have to bring children into the world that cannot be supported just because they have sex.
In our current inordinately sanctimonious atmosphere, such a message may be deemed to be too provocative since we are pretending that we are a nation of virgins who only break their virginity on their wedding night.
I remember what happened at a church some years ago when a doctor gave a lecture on HIV-AIDS. The doctor was going through the well-known ABC formula: abstain, be faithful and condom.
The pastor, standing next to the doctor, agreed with the medical expert when he recommended abstinence and faithfulness. As soon as he got to the C-word, the pastor interrupted him and declared that in his church no one needed condoms because they were all living a moral life blah, blah and more blah.
We cannot go on leaving the future of millions of people in the throes of ignorance. The state has a duty to intervene, and with our vast array of media, we should be able to launch campaigns that can change attitudes.
That is in the short-term. We also have to tackle the rapid urbanisation by investing in the rural areas to keep people there. In addition, the state has to provide social housing for the millions of people living hard lives in the urban areas of the country.
The most urgent task is to find these men. They must be found in these 238,533 square kilometres or wherever they may be in our universe. Of course, when we find them they must be made to pay for the children's upkeep and education, but the priority must be placed on persuading these men to come forward and acknowledge their children. This will not be easy, but it must be done and education is key.
People must be educated to understand why everyone must know their parents. We know that some mothers also disappear from their children’s lives, but they are known and can be traced.
There are medical reasons why knowing one’s parents or ancestry may become critical, but people who have no knowledge of their parents live in a genetic limbo that may prove to be costly.
In the matter of persuading the “disappeared” men to come forward, the state can collaborate with traditional authorities to mount the campaign and some form of incentives to smoke them out of their figurative holes.