Garth Rattray | Who’s your daddy?
Father's Day is rapidly approaching, and with it comes a flood of varied emotions. I've been told that if a man has serious doubts about being the father of a child, there is a 30 per cent chance that his doubts are well founded. But this is not about paternity issues; it's about being a father. Biological or otherwise, it's one of the greatest privileges on earth.
One of my worst experiences came many years ago when I was trying to enter the Old Harbour roundabout on a very busy afternoon. Eventually, a rough, gruff-looking, balding, greying, unkempt taxi driver took pity on me, slowed down and signalled for me to go ahead of him. However, to my utter distress, this middle-age man looked at me and said, "All right, gwaan, Dads!"
Dads? Who, meee? Fi him dads? It stung so much that I totally forgot to thank him as I sped off, still reeling from the remark. I know that he meant no disrespect but, kooh pon him fi call me 'Dads'! Lawks!
And then, not long ago, one of those 30-something window washers whom I had been particularly kind to, glimpsed me as I crossed an intersection in Half-Way Tree. I heard some sort of shouting, but could not believe my ears or my eyes when I saw him running behind me, in the middle of the heavily trafficked road, waving his arms and shouting, "Dadeeeee!" Who, meeee? Fi him dadeeee? I summoned all 420 horses of my Subaru and warped outta there.
I really don't like it when I'm called 'Dads' by strangers. I realise that it's a modern-day Jamaican show of respect, but I view being a dad as such a serious and solemn duty that I feel that the word should be reserved for men who are biological, adoptive or honorary dads. The greatest risk for crime comes from the lack of a positive father figure, not from poverty, as one might believe. Responsible fatherhood is essential for a healthy society.
Many Jamaican men are acculturated to believe that men 'get' children and women 'have' children. Sometimes, when I ask male patients how many children they have, I get a very quizzical look and they correct my perceived incorrectness by responding, "Man cyaan have pickney, doc, man get pickney." Then, they sometimes go on to tell me that they got five but own three. Some go into how this woman had this many children for them and that woman said that he is the father but he isn't sure because of this, that and the other.
What it boils down to is that many men distance themselves from the responsibility of parenthood by viewing the child as a gift, something that he can either accept or not. They view children as the ultimate responsibility of the mother, who must care for her child. And they view fathers as persons who might help with the child if able.
I knew a man who fathered 34 children but only interacted with about five. And, on the other hand, I know of men who have no biological children but fathered several.
True fatherhood is not limited to, or by, biology. There are several children who have biological fathers who play such minor roles in their lives that they are referred to as sperm donors. This is the kind of social atmosphere that breeds gangs and subsequently marauding criminals and murders, because young men end up seeking male leadership and attach themselves to any strong personality, even if that personality is criminal.
Because of the crucial role that fathers need to play as part of the family nucleus, we need to increase our efforts to make fathers more responsible and accountable. We need to pay greater attention to registration, to do follow-ups on parenthood, create an easily accessible parent registry, and make Family Court more user-friendly. Many women would take errant fathers to Family Court, but they see it as infra dig, embarrassing, time-consuming, prohibitive and not worth the effort.
I encourage men to be good fathers and to play the father role for children who need a male figure in their lives.