Today is “Father’s Day”. The tradition has been fuelled by commercial interests: that it is a day to praise fathers and shower them with gifts.
Nothing wrong with that, except that, in Guyana, the evidence is clear that while there are many fathers deserving of the praise, there are as many who have neglected their duties as fathers, leaving the care and upbringing of the children they “fathered” up to their mothers and maternal grandmothers. Today we focus on the advice of one such deserted child.
Barrack Obama was an exceptional public figure for a host of reasons other than being the first black President of the United States. While some may cavil at his perceived failure to significantly alter the trajectory of African American historical disempowerment, in the estimation of others, the living example he offered that community, and indeed the world — on how to be a good family man, a good husband and a good father — is immeasurably more significant. And on this Father’s Day, it might be very salutary to reflect on this neglected legacy of Obama’s in a land where the issue is of fathers being more often than not missing in action.
As an individual whose parents were divorced when he was just two years old, and whose father returned to his birthplace, Kenya, after studying for his PhD in economics at Harvard, it was clear from his memoir, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance”, that Obama reflected profoundly on the father-child dynamic and made conscious choices as to what kind of father he would become. Raising two daughters in the hothouse that is the White House could not have been easy, but Obama took special pains to be involved in their upbringing, even as he guided the most powerful nation on earth.
Unlike what appears to be the growing norm, Obama declared in one Father’s Day speech, as he began his Presidency, “What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child; it’s the courage to raise one…We need to show our kids that you’re not strong by putting other people down; you’re strong by lifting them up. That’s our responsibility as fathers…It’s up to us to say to our daughters, ‘Don’t ever let images on TV tell you what you are worth, because I expect you to dream without limit, and reach for those goals’. It’s up to us to tell our sons, ‘Those songs on the radio may glorify violence, but in my house we give glory to achievement, self-respect and hard work’. It’s up to us to set these high expectations, and that means meeting those expectations ourselves; that means setting examples of excellence in our own lives.”
He fleshed out that advice a year later: “As fathers, we need to be involved in our children’s lives, not just when it’s convenient or easy, and not just when they’re doing well; but when it’s difficult and thankless, and they’re struggling. That is when they need us most.”
Today, in Guyana, the norm is for fathers to still see child-rearing as “women’s work”, and this is the fundamental disjunction that has children without positive male role models.
It has become commonplace for leaders to exhort the young to become “educated”, but this orientation towards learning is very difficult without a positive environment, which includes hands-on fathers, not just mothers.
“Michelle and I know that our first job, our first responsibility, is instilling a sense of learning, a sense of a love of learning, in our kids. And so there are no shortcuts there; we have to do that job. And we can’t just blame teachers and schools if we’re not instilling that commitment, that dedication to learning, in our kids,” Obama said.
In conclusion, he advised: “Above all, children need our unconditional love, whether they succeed or make mistakes; when life is easy and when life is tough.”
Happy Father’s Day, Guyana. May it be real.