Boys / Children / Class / Fatherhood / Gender / Masculinity / Men / Violence

The Absence of Violence is the Result of Mutual Nurturance, not High Halls and More Policing

It is fact that many South African children are fatherless. The two main reasons for this are death and dumping.
The reasons are connected to each other. Both arise out of and contribute towards the hegemonic form of masculine identity. Both are connected to a third reason still: the uncommonness of nurturing fathers and lack of models how to raise caring boys.
Both fatherlessness due to dumping and death are, then, about different forms of masculinist violence men do to others and themselves. The real antithesis of violence is of course care, not narrowly-conceived safety. The absence of violence (episodic and structural) is the result not of more policing and high halls, but rather of nurturing each other.
The fact that violence in not unusual in intimate relationship only goes to show how, even in intimate spaces, our lives are characterised by the motive to oppress.
Blame us on history if you wish.
The gender dynamics that have propelled HIV – sex without due answerability – can indeed be read as the interstice where death meets unfeeling culture. The same is true for gender dynamics that underpin men’s violence against women and other men: we violate each other from the location of violation. In simple language, we take it out on one another.
Now, perhaps the death of a father is a better reason to have no father if a choice is to be made between the losing him to death or though desertion. I doubt it though that it makes much of difference to a child who needs being cared for each passing day by a present father as well as mother. Ever heard a three-year old ask: Why is dad not coming back? Why did he die?
bell hooks writes that ‘no one hungers for male love more than the little girl or boy’. I understand that to mean that all children die to be loved, forever, by their fathers, not just mothers. It implies that prior to knowing how to love others as adults, children need to be shown non-controlling, non-abusive love by adult males as well as females. All children know that the hunger for adult male love is constant, daily, hourly.
Our mothers, to be sure, are our first loves. Ironicaly, because, when they love us well, we end up taking their love so for granted, mothers can’t compete with the hunger for father love. Why?
Because demonstrative father love is scarce. In our society.
Because this society, as a consequence of our history and current inequalities, desperately needs many more men who privilege nurturing others rather than controlling them.
Because, in contrast to mother love, which comes in many forms, starting with feeding on the body of the mother, father love is a rare commodity, often sporadic, unreliable even.
Though research evidence is contradictory, there is support that father love deficit, in conjunction with other structural and subjective facts, is a contributor to men’s violence against others and inner-directed violence.
To say father love is infrequent does not mean all fathers are distant and merely good-time dads. However, it does suggest that, in the majority of cases, mothers’ affection is so close up to be unobservable. It points to the fact that in contrast to men’s often discontinuous involvement with children, the love of a mother comes through in taking the children to the clinic for their shots, wiping snot, catching the vomit in the hand, wiping their buttocks, preparing food, doing the washing, taking them to school, remembering the birthdays, all kinds of uncelebrated acts that make us into social beings.
Michael Chabon writes that in contrast to the low standards we expect from fathers, “good mothering is not measurable in a discrete instant, in an hour of rubbing a baby’s gassy belly, in the braiding of tangled mass of morning hair”. And yet many of us fail even these low standards.
The collective gendered failure of men to nurture others, and themselves, predicts the fact children are most likely to lose fathers than mothers. It means adult men are much more often than women likely to ditch their offspring.
As a matter of fact, it is estimated that 2.5 million children in South Africa are what are called paternal orphans, meaning father dead. Of every 3 children only 1 lives with both biological parents. A quarter of children live with neither biological parent.
Obviously, many more children live without father love. It’s not only orphans and children with non-residential fathers. Sometimes the father is gone even when he is in the house. Sometimes the father can only relate to the child and mother through emotional abuse, withholding economic support where he has income, or overt violence.
So far we have been concerned with biological fathers when mentioning fathers. Some men – brothers, uncles, grandfathers, stepfathers, teachers, coaches, and other social fathers – have stepped into the breach left by biological fathers and taken up the fathering responsibilities.
These men – and often women who take up both mothering and fathering roles – in their many little ways, are the invisible buffer between the present and a future democratic dystopia. They are the cushion between life in bunkers – underground or behind high walls and boom gates – and the apparent increasing circle of human misery around us. And their caring acts cue the fact that many of us adult males, mostly, and society in general, have given up on boys, or turned away from them.
Here we can adduce the example that although there are visible and necessary programmes such as the ‘Take the girl child to work’ day, they unwittingly neglect the boy-child. Also, there is no equivalent programme that aims to take boys by the hand towards healthy masculinity and compassionate fatherhood, if they want to be fathers.
Empowering girls and women is vital for the well-being and development of our society. Unquestionably so. Abandoning boys to father themselves is not, however, advisable.
We might then not have foreseen that turning away from boys to take care of themself would generate the forms, severity and levels of men’s violence against women and other men that we are witnessing. I suspect that young men who mutilate women’s bodies, or policemen who can stomach dragging another human being behind a van as happened to Mozambican taxi driver Mido Macia, stem from childhoods where paternal care was very insufficient.
Therefore, going on neglecting boys and young men does not appear to be the best strategy to cultivating nurturing relationship between the sexes and amongst males or making sensitive adult men.
Boys and young men will find it hard to be nurturing fathers or just adult men if there are a few adults who show them how to do it. Actually, no one can learn how to be authentically caring for others and himself if he is not taught how to care.
It is not unreasonable to expect a man who has abandoned his biological child to not care for any other child. What, though, of us who do take responsibility for our children?
How do we square up our concern for the next generation in our families and our lack of concern with children who come begging at the gate? In what kind of world are our well-fed, well-looked after, and well-adjusted children going to live in, where most of their contemporaries have grown up without being cared for? Let’s take a guess.
I predict that it will be a world even less caring than the one we live in. A world where the fences in the middle class neighbourhoods will be much higher still. A world in which there are more social problems: more drugged people, more alcoholism, more depression and suicide, and more inventive ways of hurting each other.
Is that too pessimistic? Perhaps. The numbers of fatherless children are not overly optimistic though, are they.
Still, there is time to restore hope and push back the dystopian male future. We, men, have some models from the men, and women who man the barricades, who are working against the bleakness.
Seems to me that what is needed from South Africans is clear. Nurture boys as much as we are empowering girls. Teach adult me how to father for this time, this society.
In my view, learning and teaching children to care for each other is the most important force against violence.

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3 thoughts on “The Absence of Violence is the Result of Mutual Nurturance, not High Halls and More Policing

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