The issue of fathers and their roles and responsibilities in the family and society as a whole will take centre stage tomorrow (Sunday), when Guyana joins other countries — mainly those in the West — in celebrating Father’s Day.
Normally, once Father’s Day approaches, religious organisations and other social groups utilise the opportunity to re-emphasise the need for fathers to take up their responsibilities more seriously, so as to help create and build stronger family units. Some also use the occasion to highlight the sacrifices some fathers make in raising their children, especially in those homes where the father is the only parent present. There are many fathers out there who each make sacrifices daily to ensure that their respective family enjoys the best of what life has to offer, whether in material things, education, security, a stable home etc; and they should be recognised for this.
In Guyana, while there are no readily available statistics, it is believed that there is a huge percentage of children growing up in single parent-headed homes, in most cases without the much needed guidance and support of a father figure. No one can deny the importance of fathers in helping to nurture and care for children, especially in their early stages of development.
According to a new UNICEF analysis, more than half – or 55 per cent – of children aged between 3 and 4 years old in 74 countries – approximately 40 million – have fathers who do not play or engage in early learning activities with them. The UNICEF analysis, which uses Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) data on parenting behaviours, looked at whether children aged 3 and 4 engaged in any play and early learning activities with their fathers. The activities include having their father read to them; tell them stories, or sing with them; take them outside, play with them; and naming, counting or drawing with them. The MICS is the largest collection of comparable data on parental behaviours in the world.
According to UNICEF, advances in neuroscience have proven that when children spend their earliest years in a nurturing, stimulating environment, new neural connections can form at a once-in-a-lifetime speed of 1,000 per second. These connections help determine the children’s health, ability to learn and deal with stress, and even influence their earning capacity as adults.
Research also suggests that exposure to violence and a lack of stimulation and care can prevent neural connections from occurring; and when children positively interact with their fathers, they have better psychological health, self-esteem and life-satisfaction in the long-term.
The Lancet’s Series, Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale, launched in October 2016, revealed nearly 250 million children under 5 were at risk of poor development due to stunting and extreme poverty. International organisations such as UNICEF have embarked on a campaign to encourage governments and the private sector to increase spending and influence policies to support early childhood development programmes that focus on providing parents with the resources and information they need to provide nurturing care to their children.
As stated by UNICEF: “We must break down the barriers that prevent fathers from providing their babies and young children (with) a conducive environment for them to thrive, including love, play, protection and nutritious food. We must ensure that all parents have the time, resources and knowledge they need to fully support their children’s early development.”
That said, it is generally accepted that when both parents are present in a home, and carry out their roles fully in nurturing and providing the necessary guidance and support for children, the children turn out to lead more responsible and progressive lives as adults.
Certainly, much more could be done to encourage more fathers to play an active role in their children’s development. The relevant government agencies, religious and community organisations must continue to highlight the importance of love, play, protection and good nutrition for the healthy development of young children’s brains.
On this Father’s Day, it would be good if communities; meaning the religious organisations, community leaders, and NGOs, spend some time reflecting on and reviewing what our fathers are doing at present, and what more could be done to help them better fulfill their roles in their homes.