June 11, 2013 by Trevor Davies
Across the African continent and across the political spectrum, we are dedicated to ending the curse of fatherlessness that is maiming our children and coarsening our society. Whatever its other advantages, a society in which large and growing numbers of adult males cease to nurture their offspring is a failing society. We call for an African fatherhood movement.
Every child deserves a loving, committed and responsible father. As men and women, black and white, rich and poor, we are all committed to restoring the institution of loving fatherhood as the birthright of every child, the sure expectation of every mother, and the joyful obligation of every man who helps to bring a baby into this world.
We view fatherlessness as one of the greatest social evils of our generation.
It is a principal cause of deteriorating child well-being in our society. It is also an engine driving our worst social problems, from HIV and AIDS, crime and teen pregnancy to child poverty and domestic violence.
Today’s mass separation of African fathers from their children is historically unprecedented. Never before in our continents history – despite colonialism – despite apartheid – despite war – have so many men been so radically estranged from their children and from the mothers of their children. Never before have so many children grown up without knowing what it means to have a father.
Everyone, or at least almost everyone, now realizes that fathers matter. Not just a little, or in some circumstances; but a lot, for every child. Increasingly, all our studies concur, all our experiences show, the spread of fatherlessness in our generation is a profound social crisis and a legitimate cause for alarm.
The question, then, is no longer whether we have a fatherhood problem. The question today is what, if anything, we are prepared to do about the problem.
We seek an African fatherhood movement that is broadly based.
Overcoming barriers of nationality, income, race, gender and politics, represented by many voices and organizations, active at every level of our society and united by one idea: for every African child, a loving, committed and responsible father.
We seek an African fatherhood movement that demands and teaches higher standards of male responsibility for children and higher standards of male accountability to mothers. An African fatherhood movement premised upon equal regard between men and women, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives.
We seek an African fatherhood movement that recognizes cultural renewal and economic opportunity not as opposing ideas, but as two complementary and essential strategies for one idea: the fatherhood idea.
The African fatherhood movement we seek is already beginning to happen, embodied in the pioneering work of devoted leaders and new initiatives across the continent.
Some of our colleagues are reaching out, especially to new fathers, teaching them better ways to care for their children and challenging them to become better men.
Some work for economic empowerment and greater economic opportunity for young fathers, and other low-income fathers, recognizing that, for many young men, economic prospects and fatherhood prospects are closely related and mutually reinforcing.
Some work to improve the conditions and life prospects of poor children and their families, recognizing that all children need fathers who will provide for and nurture them, and that the spread of fatherlessness in our generation is inextricably linked to the spread of child poverty.
Some are leaders in efforts to strengthen marriage. Some are active in efforts to reform divorce and gender-sensitive property laws, requiring counselling for troubled marriages, and, in cases of contested divorces, putting obligations for child care above argument.
Others, working through their faith based organisations are leaders in efforts to improve pastoral counselling for engaged couples, create better faith-based marital enrichment programs, and establish new community-wide ecumenical policies aimed at strengthening marriage and reducing divorce.
Across the continent, new leaders and new initiatives are emerging. The potential for real social change exists; the seeds of a movement have already been planted.
The challenge is to ignite a broad-based movement for African fatherhood.
Some will disagree with this goal.
Others, including many experts, will concede that fathers are important, but will urge us to accept the current trend of fatherlessness with dispassion and equanimity, they will advise us, focus instead on more realistic solutions.
More child support payments from absent fathers. More support for single mothers. More attempts to find adequate substitutes for the missing fathers.This work, although necessary, is not sufficient. The truth is that the contribution fathers make to the well-being of children are unique and irreplaceable. Consequently, we assert that any fatherhood movement worthy of the name must ultimately be guided by this overriding goal: loving fathers for all our children. We assert this goal, not because we are unrealistic or lack compassion, but precisely because we wish to be as realistic and compassionate as possible.
We propose to reverse the deterioration of childhood by bringing back the fathers, for unless we reverse the trend of fatherlessness, we see no realistic possibility of reversing the current downward spiral for children into poverty and powerlessness. Passivity in the face of this crisis is indefensible. We come together because we believe that our society can change for the better.
We come together to call for African fatherhood.