When I was a child and even a young adult I never thought about the importance of my father’s presence in my life. I did take stock when as an adult attending an event in Toronto a few years ago I listened to a man speaking about the hurt and betrayal he felt at the lack of his father’s presence in his life. I recently read an essay on fatherhood written by US President Barack Obama and realised that I was fortunate to have had my father as a constant presence in my life from childhood to adulthood. Like the man who spoke about his father’s absence from his life, President Obama lamented the lack of his father’s presence also. He acknowledged that he has made efforts to be a presence in his children’s lives because his father was not there for him. In his essay President Obama expressed that he has grown to understand what his daughter's need from him as a father. He wrote: "Through my own experiences, and my continued efforts to be a better father, I have learned something over the years about what children need most from their parents. They need our time, measured not only in the number of hours we spend with them each day, but what we do with those hours. I’ve learned that children don’t just need us physically present, but emotionally available – willing to listen and pay attention and participate in their daily lives.” Sometimes men make various excuses for their non-presence in the lives of their children not realizing the hurt this causes to the children throughout their lives. There are also many men who are very involved in their children’s lives and even act as role models and father figures for fatherless children. There are fathers who feel that taking care of their children is a baby-sitting chore and there are fathers who take absolute joy in parenting their children.
This year we celebrate our fathers and father figures on Sunday, June 19. When we hear about men who are shining examples of fatherhood they are mostly famous fathers like President Obama, Bill Cosby, Samuel Jackson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and Dr. Ben Carson. However, there are many men in our community whose names and faces might never appear on television, in a book or magazine who are very involved in their children’s lives and are excellent examples of fatherhood. These fathers spend quality time with their children and are caring, loving parents. There were several of these fathers attending the recent Muhtadi International Drumming Festival at Queens Park. One young father Kwabena was there with his wife and children, 7 year old Makeba and 4 year old twins Abena and Kwabena. It was obvious that Kwabena is a caring and loving father who is very involved in his children’s lives. The children were comfortable accessing Dad’s arms, back, lap and shoulders when they were tired of dancing and playing. On Saturday, June 11 as I was traveling to Kipling subway station I noticed a young African Canadian man who appeared to be in his late 20s traveling with his son who seemed to be about 3 years old. This young man was very patient with the antics of his child, answered his many questions and even allowed the little boy to play games on his cell phone. What a confident, happy child he was having the undivided attention of his father! At Kipling subway station as I was trying to find my way to the passenger pick-up area I spoke with a very helpful father and son team who steered me in the right direction. The very confident and chatty 7 year old Delano told me that he was planning to buy a Father’s Day gift for his Dad.
My father was a very young man (early 20s) and my mother still in her teenage years when they were married so when I was born they were both very young parents. As the first born child of my parents I had a very special relationship with my parents and grandparents. I heard many stories from relatives about the special relationship I enjoyed with my father when I was a baby and toddler. One of my favourite memories is of my father rescuing me from the flooded school yard of Kitty Methodist School on William Street, Kitty in Georgetown, Guyana. I was about 6 years old and although we lived next to the school on that day of the flood my mother with two younger children could not leave them at home to get me from school. The sight of all that muddy water which drove us to the top floor of the school was a scary sight for a 6 year old. Then there came my Papa, striding through the muddy water, still dressed in his police uniform, lifted me up on his shoulders and took me home. I cannot remember a time during my childhood when I was not proud of my very handsome, always nattily dressed father who in my estimation stood head and shoulders above everyone else’s father. A recent anonymous quote I read which made me chuckle may have been some people’s experience but was never mine: When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.
Children blossom when they are loved and feel loved by their parents and other adults in their lives but no-one however well meaning can replace the presence of a caring dedicated father in a child’s life. In the North American culture the ideal images of a family to which we are all treated is the nuclear family with a father, mother and children. Television sit-coms like The Cosby Show and other television images tell us that is the ideal. Growing up in Guyana where there were extended families and even blended families where children who were not related biologically were members of extended families it did not seem to have the same effect on children who did not have a biological father in their lives. Speaking with some of those people who now live in North America and are influenced by the television images, they cite the lack of a father when they fail to achieve the “North American dream” life.
At the recent birthday party my niece held for her son Ameen’s 5th birthday the family gathered (minus Papa) who decided to move back to Guyana to enjoy his retirement. I admired the younger generation of fathers in my family interacting with their children, their nieces, nephews and other young relatives. I realised how many years have passed because there was LeAndre our very first nephew, like me so many years ago, the first born of our family’s next generation. I commented: “It seems like just yesterday we were celebrating LeAndre’s 5th birthday now he is a father.” My nephew, like many of his generation, is a proud father, very caring, loving and involved. To all the fathers and father figures, Heri ya siku ya kina Baba! Happy Fathers Day!