Isn’t it ironic that on Fathers’ Day I write about Lathiwe, my mom. She is a formidable woman. Raised seven of us without any formal education.
I have never met my father in my 50 plus years of living. Lathiwe was like a father who provided for us in all respects, be it emotional, material and above all warmth that she created.
We grew up never knowing that we were poor. Looking back, I can realise that we indeed poor. However, here was this single woman who made sure that she instilled hope and optimism in my life and the lives of my siblings.
It is almost 15 years since her passing in 1998. But her footprints, teachings and the values that she instilled in me remain part and parcel of my life.
My mom was in and out of jail for selling the so-called African illicit “mbamba beer”. All of this she did to ensure that we would never go to bed on empty stomachs or go barefoot to school. She faced all of humiliating experiences in the name of raising her kids. It is these heroic deeds that will forever remain with me.
My mom exemplified what all African languages say about mothers: “mma ngwana o tswara thipa ka bohaleng”. Loosely translated, it means ‘a mother will always be at the forefront to ensure that she is the one to deal with any danger to her kids’. I am sure the majority of men can relate to their own experience of their mother’s who single handedly raised them when fathers were never in their lives.
I will not deny the fact that I missed the presence of a father in my life, for various reasons. I am convinced that there where situations that would have been handled by him, had he been around, such as my coming of age, dealing with violence, what it means to be a man. One cannot overemphasize the importance of fathers being in their children’s lives.
Data from 2009, as reported by the South African Institute of Race Relations, indicates that 48 per cent of children in South Africa have living but absent fathers. However, we should caution ourselves from exaggerating that a father’s mere presence in children’s lives will make them better human beings because this may no be so. What will contribute positively to this humanity is a father’s emotional, intellectual, spiritual, physical, even financial support and presence.
Fathers play an important and critical role in the upbringing of our children. Our absence therefore has in some instances debilitating effects. Confusion around what it means to be a man, dealing with anger, abuse of alcohol, taking unnecessary risk, yielding to peer group pressure are some of these effects.
Despite my father’s absence, my mother was able to guide me in all these ways and remains my hero. Lathiwe wherever you are, you remain that figure which is solid, which gave me even the fatherly love. I thank you for that.
I would also like to salute all those mothers who continue to play that is ordinarily supposed to be a father’s role and tell them that it is not in vain. Happy Fathers’ Day to all those single mothers.
I would also like to laud those fathers that are already in the lives of their children. I would like to urge them to continue their emotional investment, because fatherhood is not only about religiously paying maintenance or pushing and filling the grocery trolley. Even though these things are important, fatherhood is also about spending quality time listening, playing, loving and caring for their children without expecting anything in return. It is this investment that all of us, fathers, should be dedicating ourselves towards.
I challenge these amazing men to become examples in their own families, and communities. Doing so will not only be good for your children but will also indicate your own gender activism. Doing gender equality work for men is in some instances a lonely road in that one may be accused of selling out what it means to be a real man but the rewards are overwhelming. To me Lathiwe, my mother, doing this work is in some way payback time for the sterling work you did in my own life. Lathiwe, thank you so my much; I hope you are in peace wherever you are.
Government and Media Relations Officer at Sonke Gender Justice