“Widespread fatherlessness has been a growing trend that is amongst other things seen to be contributing to our generation’s social ills and degeneration..”
Things to keep in mind before we proceed: the need to interrogate such a layered issue takes nothing away from the mothers or female figures who have had to take on the task of single parenthood by themselves, in the absence of emotionally present and meaningfully contributing fathers. This is in no way also critiquing the roles of women who decide to become single mothers, nor parents in same-sex relationships.
I, like many, grew up with an absent father who either chooses to ‘parent’ on a part-time basis [on Christmas] or is just completely not around and his whereabouts or existence is unknown to his offspring. The South African Institute of Race Relations has found that “the proportion of South African children with such fathers increased between 1996 and 2010 from 42-to-47%. Almost half of all South African children are growing up without their fathers, though their fathers are alive”. Widespread fatherlessness has been a growing trend that is amongst other things seen to be contributing to our generation’s social ills and degeneration.
The symptoms caused by the absence manifests differently amongst the respective genders, but regardless, most young people are likely to react destructively in situations where they don’t have a positive male role model to learn from. Fatherlessness serves as the start to a snowball effect that results in a generation of young adults who are ‘social misfits’. Research has found that “boys growing up in absent father households are more likely to display hyper-masculine behaviour, including different forms of aggression”, getting involved in unhealthy relationships, crime and addiction.
Whereas, girls with absent fathers are likely to grow up with low-self-esteem, leading to increased possibilities of high-risk sexual behaviour, teenage pregnancy or unhealthy relationships with the opposite sex. It’s also been estimated that 63% of youth suicides are also from fatherless homes. This is the same people we expect to understand consent, to respect women’s bodies, to know when to walk away when faced with a violent partner, and to be entrusted with the responsibility of raising the next generation. The culture or widespread trend of fatherlessness is at the root of our generation’s ills.
There are many other complex socioeconomic, environmental, geographical and political nuances that contribute to the increased phenomenon of absent fathers. But in the case of South Africa, factors like our apartheid history and black culture have influenced this. During and post-apartheid black men were forced to migrate to the cities from rural areas to find jobs, and many of them left their families behind, and unfortunately, some never returned home. Their wives were left behind with the responsibility of raising the kids by themselves or with extended families, whilst the husbands only visited once every few months, only to leave the women pregnant again.
Black culture comes into play because we have the practice of paying for damages or ilobolo in cases where the female falls pregnant outside of marriage. The man responsible needs to pay the woman’s family for having ‘damaged’ their daughter. Thus in some cases, the man isn’t allowed access to their child if cultural protocol/requirements aren’t met. Depending on the culture, the man with no financial means to appease the family in question could lose out on a normal/open relationship with their child.
“We should all be alarmed when a whole generation of men is learning about manhood, relationships and sex from either pornography, their friends or pop-culture references..
Hence we need to take stock of the fact growing without a father is more common within black communities than any other racial group in South Africa [population ratio accounted for]. According to a study conducted by Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the South African Race Relations Institute (SARRI), “you are far more likely to be raised in a single-parent household if you are both black and poor. Single parenting correlates strongly with class and race”. So once again, black kids get the rotten end of the stick.
We should all be alarmed when a whole generation of men is learning about manhood, relationships and sex from either pornography, their friends or pop-culture references. This, by the way, does not in any way absolve our generation of any accountability when it comes to individual actions that people engage in as a result of such neglect. Emotionally present fathers can play a fundamental role in the development of their child, being a financial provider is no longer the only requirement for fatherhood. The reality is that people of a certain age, in general, are more likely to listen to their fathers or the male figures in their lives than their mothers/female figures. There is a level of respect they afford the males which unfortunately us women are not privy to, even young girls like being their ‘father’s daughter’.
Those who grow up with present fathers often claim that the love of a father taught them about the kind of love they would expect from a romantic relationship, they get involved with men who would love and respect them as their fathers emulated. I have a 17-year-old brother who learnt from his 22-year-old cousin that ‘real love’ with a woman needs to hurt, be aggressive and destructive, who knows what else he’s learning. He’s at that impressionably delicate age where he thinks he’s got things figured out and is more inclined to listen another male (relatability/resonance I guess) than he’s likely to hear anything I or his mother says.
Absent fathers do not only affect the children they leave behind, they also affect the lives of the single mothers who have to carry the responsibility alone. Women who didn’t actively choose to play the role of mother and father, breadwinner and emotional support, friend and discipliner. Generally, a father’s absence disadvantages both the children and the women left to raise them, thus a study done by the University of Illinois in 2015, found that single mothers earn considerably less than single fathers.
The above-mentioned article further states that “single mothers are far more likely to live in poverty than single fathers, and they do not catch up over time”, this fact results in a generation of kids who struggle along into adulthood. In South Africa, this could manifest in different ways: young men who drop out of school to turn to crime to help financially support their mothers and young girls who engage in sexual relationships with older men for money, only to continue the cycle of poverty and single parenthood.