The Setswana phrase “O goletse mo ntlong ee senang kodu” which literraly translates to “he was raised in a home without a musculine voice” is never said as a compliment.The traditional wisecrack which extols the power of a father’s voice is ussually expressed as a snide remark to explain why a child turned out bad.This sexist conventional wisdom is however validated by local social scientists who agree that children growing up without fathers struggle with their emotions and are full of self-loathing.
Dr Poloko Ntshwarang, senior Social Work at the University of Botswana explained that, “we should be aware that there are many forms of absent fathers, there are those who are there psychically but emotionally unavailable, those who are there emotionally but not physically and there are those who are both emotionally and physically but alive. This affects kids immensely, for both genders. Boys are affected most, they grow up with a lot of anger, abusive (it may be all kinds of abuse), some kids lack fatherly attention so much so that they can engage in antisocial behaviors, things like shoplifting. For some children there are no father figures in the home at all, influential family figures such as uncles, grandfathers, older cousins used to play a huge role in a child’s upbringing. Nowadays not so much as people lead very busy lives, those uncles and older cousins don’t really do much.”Against Dr Ntshwarang’s nuggets of wisdom, Botswana Vitals Statics report released five years ago makes a very sobering read: “76.0 percent of mothers who registered births in 2012 were single, accounting for the largest percentage of all the births, followed by the married with 23.0 percent. The lowest percent was for the divorced who accounted for less than one percent of all the births that were registered in 2012”, states the report compiled by Statistics Botswana.
This means most Batswana children will be growing up without fathers.
Kgomotso Jongman of Jo’Speaks in Gaborone says, “In many families, there are prolonged periods of separation, which limit the father’s opportunity to engage in direct interaction with his children and which reduces the ability of the father to positively influence the children’s development. We might not realize it, but countless areas that concern our personal lives and well-being are linked to the kind of relationship we have with our fathers. The role of a father in his child’s life whether from a young age or at adult level is important. How fathers perceive themselves as men, how they interact with their wives or significant others and how information on sexuality and being a man is all conveyed to his children. Amidst all the changes in society, children still enjoy a greater advantage when their fathers are involved in their lives.”Dr Ntshwarang and Kgomotso Jongman’s expositions tally up with Botswana’s traditional body of ideas that the natural order of the family is for the man to have authority (not power) to lead and when that authority is taken away a void is created that will certainly be filled elsewhere. That the absence of a father has multiple social reverberations including crime, violence, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, child and adult sexual abuse and gender-based violence.
Fathers set the bar for social relationships. The way a father treats his child will influence what the child looks for in other people. Friends, lovers, and spouses will all be chosen based on how children perceived the meaning of their relationship with their father. Usually, the patterns a father sets in the relationships with his children often dictate how his children relate with other people. An emotionally available father not only provides a sense of comfort and safety, but can provide the growing male with a day-to-day example of what it means to exhibit both strength and vulnerability. Most young adults have distorted and fabricated notions of masculinity and corresponding behavior. They often romanticize depictions of patriarchal masculinity adopted from the media and popular culture.
There is a growing body of research that suggests that females without father figures often become desperate for male attention. Females who lose their father figures to divorce or abandonment seek much more attention from men and have more physical contact with boys their age than girls from intact homes. These females constantly seek refuge for their missing father and as a result there is a constant need to be accepted by men who they aggressively seek attention from. A lot of the times, losing a father alters a female’s perception of men, and they develop abandonment issues and have trouble forming lasting relationships with men.As adult men the hurt of an absent father eventually resurfaces in other areas of their lives. The unexpressed hurt and anger often transfers onto their love relationships, parenting, challenges at work, and problems with authority.