Fathers Are Humans, Too

June 17th, 2018

In Jamaica, there is a tendency towards idealizing specific family roles. On Mother’s Day, we are smothered with roses and pious texts, and reggae singers croon their undying love for their “Mama.” On Father’s Day, it is much less intense. For our own cultural reasons, there is less emphasis on the father, who is often absent or otherwise engaged. According to the Early Childhood Commission, more than a third of Jamaican children have no father figure. But simply being around your child does not automatically mean you are a “good” father; the quality of the time spent is as important as how many hours you spend.

Father’s Day in the United States is June 17, as it is in Jamaica. It was officially declared in 1972 by President Richard Nixon, who began his proclamation of this special day thus:

To have a father—to be a father—is to come very near the heart of life itself.

A father’s purpose, President Nixon suggested, is to establish “our identity in name and nature, our roots in home and family, our very standard of manhood.” Ideally, he is a role model of what a man should be, and not just for sons but perhaps especially for daughters too. Ideally, too, he should be the solid foundation on which a family can rest, providing security and protection – a nurturing that is somewhat different from that of the mother, but equally valuable.

An idealised view of the father-daughter relationship.

An idealised view of the father-daughter relationship.

I had a very close relationship with my own father, who passed away some years ago now, and I am always thankful for that. He still crosses my mind every day. “Daddy would like this,” I say to myself. Or: “I wonder what Daddy would have to say about Trump, or Putin, or Brexit?” (he was always very politically aware, although his politics were way to the right of mine!) Looking back on our relationship now, I realize that part of the reason why we were so close was that we were aware – at times, almost painfully so – of each other’s weaknesses. We sometimes pointed our failings out to each other, as our relationship developed. It certainly had its high and low points, but we were loyal to each other. He was a man whom I had absolute trust and belief in. He protected and supported me through some very difficult times, as I was growing up. What more could I ask?

I never did ask for more.

The problem I have with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, perhaps, is that they are so static – as if we all have Model Parents, who embody all the virtues of parenthood indefinitely, never changing. At least, that is what we are all pretending on those days. This is real life, though, not a Hallmark card. Family relationships, more than ever, are in constant ebb and flow. The “nuclear family” concept is retreating fast into the background, however appealing it is in theory. There are different versions of family nowadays (and I don’t mean this in a negative way). I recently learned a new word: “alloparenting,” which means caring for a child who is not yours, at least on a temporary basis. Parents need to share the burden sometimes, because they are under pressure.

Elephants are good at alloparenting, which actually strengthens their sense of community. "It takes a village to raise a child" is the idea.

Elephants are good at alloparenting, which actually strengthens their sense of community. “It takes a village to raise a child” is the idea.

So, let’s not put our mothers and fathers on a gilded pedestal. They are not perfect. They have made their mistakes – in their personal lives, in their parenting, in their relationships with each other and with others – before or after you came into existence. They may not both be with you on a regular basis, often for reasons they cannot themselves control. They may have gone from your life completely; they may have passed on. Whether they are currently in your life or not, simply appreciate them for who they are.

Nine times out of ten, they are doing their best in life. Striving, too, to maintain their dignity. This is a word not valued much these days, but critical for fathers and an essential element in my father’s character. As the spiritual teacher Amit Ray said:

There is no teacher equal to mother and there’s nothing more contagious than the dignity of a father.

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5 Responses to “Fathers Are Humans, Too”

  1. […] many challenges, including those that face the family in general, on my Jamaica Gleaner blog post here. We know that often families struggle to stay together and to maintain some sense of cohesion. […]

  2. Angela Ramsay says:

    Wonderful article. Good to know that you were so close to your Dad – and thanks for describing that new term ‘alloparenting.’

  3. EmmaLewis says:

    Thank you so much, Angela! Yes, “alloparenting” was a new one for me! Although a much older concept…

  4. winnihall says:

    Can you just imagine all the boys who dreamed of having a “good father” turned out to be the father they craved? How our lives would be glorious. All the Kings would see a prince turning up ask for their princesses hands in marriage. Am I dreaming?

  5. EmmaLewis says:

    Haha! I wish it could happen – it’s a nice dream to have!

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