“Fathers” disappearing on their families

by Curswell Tshihwela

It is every child’s wish to grow up with both parents present in all stages of their life. However, most fathers are deemed ignorant when it comes to this matter, as they’re capable of running away from their families, leaving the children behind with their mothers suffering.

Everything great at the beginning of our marriage (like all marriages and relationships) and I gave him six children. My husband was working at a well-recognised company in the Mpumalanga province. He was very supportive of the family especially financially. He then stopped sending money to us. He then stopped coming home altogether for five years. Painfully I discovered later that he had another woman at work.

A mother who has been left stranded after the husband left her and the kids. She wasn’t ready to take on such great responsibilities on her own as the husband promised to be there every step of the way till the end. The mother is a domestic worker, which means insufficient income is being generated in the household. As life unfolds, things become much harder because basic needs are not met in the household. “I never believed that my only husband I loved and he loves me could leave me with the kids on my own. There were some instances where it will be difficult to put food on the table for my kids.

I would remain strongly grounded in those difficult times, I never ever thought of sleeping around in order to bring food on the table for my children. The younger kids would eat at school during lunchtime as there was a nutrition program which gives free food, but on the other hand with the older ones who were attending high school, it was a struggle, as there was no nutrition program at that time, so they would come home for lunch and they will have to eat pap with salt or water as I was unable to provide something to eat pap with. At times I would climb mountains looking for vegetable so that I can prepare for my kids. It was a struggle as it’s dangerous to place where one could be beaten by snakes. My first daughter who finished school was unemployed which adds the struggle to me as a breadwinner. I couldn’t afford school uniform for my kids, I would have to force them to wear torn shirts and trousers. As for the shoes some will have to use the father old shoes and others will go to school barefooted.

This intensively affected me emotionally terrible. Neighborhoods use to know my suffering as I will borrow stuff like maize meal, salt, sugar. As I grew up from a good family, I used to depend on my mother’s grant money which supported me and my children with maize meal only. Things were tougher at that time but, yet I managed to take my kids to school. At times we would sleep with an empty stomach. Things started to become better when my second and third born son went to Johannesburg in search of employment as they completed their matric, at least some load offloaded from my shoulders. In my opinion, I thought the two sons will try to help me financially to take care of the remaining children, but things went south terribly. I never got a cent from my boys even though they were working in a good company earning a reasonable salary.

The sad fact is that parents in our society are not supported in the fulfillment of their parental responsibilities, and divorced parents, in particular, are often undermined as parents, as reflected in the large number of “non-custodial” or “non-residential” parents forcefully removed from their children’s lives, as daily caregivers, by misguided family court judgments. My target of concern is those responsible for laws and policies that devalue the importance of parents in children’s lives and parental involvement as critical to children’s well-being. In most cases, children benefit from having access to both parents—and parents need the support of social institutions in order to be there for their kids. Researchers have found that children consistently report feeling abandoned when their fathers are not involved in their lives, struggling with their emotions and episodic bouts of self-loathing.

Fatherless children have more difficulties with social adjustment, and are more likely to report problems with friendships, and manifest behavior problems; many develop a swaggering, intimidating persona in an attempt to disguise their underlying fears, resentments, anxieties, and unhappiness. 71 percent of high school dropouts are fatherless; fatherless children have more trouble academically, scoring poorly on tests of reading, mathematics, and thinking skills; children from father-absent homes are more likely to play truant from school, more likely to be excluded from school, more likely to leave school at age 16, and less likely to attain academic and professional qualifications in adulthood. 85 percent of youth in prison have an absent father; fatherless children are more likely to offend and go to jail as adults.

In some instances these children are more likely to experience problems with sexual health, including a greater likelihood of having intercourse before the age of 16, foregoing contraception during first intercourse, becoming teenage parents, and contracting sexually transmitted infection; many girls manifest an object hunger for males, and in experiencing the emotional loss of their fathers egocentrically as a rejection of them, may become susceptible to exploitation by adult men. Most of them are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and abuse drugs in childhood and adulthood. Many fathers’ advocates have stressed the need for fast, low-cost, effective ways for non-residential parents to have their court-ordered parenting time enforced. While access enforcement is important, legislating for shared parenting would be a more effective measure to ensure the ongoing active involvement of both parents in children’s lives.

A legal presumption of shared parenting would affirm the primary role of both parents, and make clear that even in the absence of a spousal relationship, both mothers’ and fathers’ parental responsibilities to their children’s needs are “sacred,” and therefore deserving of full legal protection and recognition.

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