As we commemorate Father’s Day today, let us consider the object of our attention: fathers of Guyana. The headlines of the last few years have not been kind to them. Almost daily, one or another member of that group has been accused of chopping, hanging, stabbing, battering, or finding some means or another to injure their putative “better halves”.
Attention is rarely given to the other dyadic relation they share, and is immanent in the word “father” – their children.
Father, mother and children, of course dubbed the “nuclear family”, comprise the paradigmatic “family” in Guyana, and this in itself sheds much light on the present status and position of “fathers” today. Dragged from Africa and sold as a slave, the African male was denied his role of being a father to his children. He and his mate and children were chattels to be sold, bought, whipped, killed, or bred as the owner saw fit. We used the term “mate” advisedly, since there was no legal relationship between the male and female beyond the instruction to “mate” and produce new slaves.
It is easy to say that after more than a hundred and eighty-three years since the abolition of slavery, those relationships ought to have been transcended, and the ideal “nuclear family” be adopted. Human socialisation, however, is not as simplistic as that, even if there was not the added complexity of the fact that, in Africa, the nuclear family was not the dominant family structure. Just as with the Indian indentured labourers brought to replace their labour in the sugar plantations, the extended family, which included grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, was the norm. This form of social organisation was destroyed by the imperatives of the plantation’s total institution.
In modern Guyana, therefore, we have the institution of the “child father”, with the maternal grandmother taking the pivotal role of the father in the nuclear family – all descended from the slave experience. The practice is now spreading into the cultural repertoire of other groups. From the slave days also, we have retained the image of the ideal male as a “stud”, which he literally was back then. The male was valued by the number of females he could impregnate – which still strikes a responsive chord in males.
We then ended up with a situation where many men did not take the responsibility for their children very seriously, since there was the existential situation in many homes where the children were not their biological “own”. After slavery, this practice was coupled with the complementary dominant patriarchal premise of the ruling class, that women were the “property” of men – to be possessed at will. This patriarchy also fits right in with the mores of the Indian immigrants, who did in fact take the responsibility for their children rather seriously. What it meant is that, while men in general might now boast about “sowing their wild oats”, they did not take too kindly to being “cuckolded”. As the dictionary advises, such men are “objects of derision”.
And this, to a large extent, explains – but certainly can never excuse – the exploding violence by husbands against wives, where the “best interests” of the children are seldom taken into account. What we would like to advise on this Father’s Day is that fathers, mothers and children are inextricably linked together as a family that would sink or swim together. While the exact roles of each would inevitably be altered as they are impacted by larger forces in society to evolve, the family would always remain as the earliest and most important locus of socialisation of the young – the children.
Efforts to introduce communal rearing have always collapsed. It therefore behoves both fathers and mothers to take their role as parents much more seriously than is evident today. While the emphasis on “me first” might sound attractive, ultimately, if it means neglecting our children, we are all doomed.
Happy Father’s Day!!