Mon | Jul 15, 2019

Mark Wignall | Good fathers and proud sperm donors

Published:Sunday | June 16, 2019 | 12:19 AM

It doesn’t take a long reach into levity to declare that Father’s Day is kind of like the second-eleven team to Mother’s Day. And I believe it should rightfully be so.

Let me explain, again with some levity attached. At the very least, the man is equipped with all the tools of procreation and he doesn’t have to be particularly good at bringing pleasure to the woman during the sex act.

What he, basically, needs are sperm cells that aren’t too lazy and are prepared to work without going on strike. And he needs them in large enough numbers to create a race to the prize in the hope that the fittest cell that gets there first is likely to create the best possible child.

If the man is a lout and, worse, a young fool who prides himself on having multiple baby mothers, then he is not likely to respond well to the next woman who announces to him that she is pregnant.

“Guess what honey, we’re going to have a baby.”

“Whoa there,” says the lout. “Correction. You’re going to have a baby.” And it goes way downhill from there.

Good men tend to make great fathers, but great men do not necessarily make good fathers.

My friend of the 1980s, Frankie, had about 12 children with four or five babymothers. A taxi driver, every Friday he would purchase from a grocery shop multiple pounds of rice, sugar, flour, detergent, and tinned goods, pack them out in his beaten up old Morris Oxford into smaller packets and visit each house to deliver the goods.

He was never afraid to tell me that he could neither read nor write, but he said, “Mi feel shame to go learn now and mi in mi forties.”

I accompanied him on one of those visits, and at one house, the lady shared out two hefty plates of steaming hot stew peas and rice for us. It occurred to me that we were getting more than he had left there. Somehow, all of the women understood that he was simply trying to be the best father he could be.

Last Thursday, a man suggested to me that it takes a good woman to bring out the best of fatherhood in a man. I told him that I agreed with him but only partly. A man who is a father is more into his fatherhood role if he has a guarantee that the mother of his children is standing beside him.

CREATING A BAD FATHER

Want to find a man who is a horrible father? It’s probably to be found in his father. And he may not be too comfortable sharing it with his conscience.

For two days last week, I went out and asked women and men what, in their view, made a man a good father. The unsurprisingly major view was, “Him have to look after him children.” Others were the man “standing up to his responsibilities” and “having a good relationship with the children”.

One woman said, in earshot of a 40-year-old man, “I don’t know what makes a man a good father.” As she said it, another man who had recently told me that a good father always gets his children to respect him, blurted out: “A lie she a lie! Bout shi nuh know wha mek man good.”

The Jamaican society is very definitely not pro-father, and, sadly, it is the fathers who should be blamed for that. For many generations now, probably at least four, women have been at the centre of providing leadership in households (taking care of the children and marshalling the meager income to get the best out of the unit) while the man has claimed his kingship over the household and the more important parts of the society.

The bigger leadership in this country, mostly a male one, has never fully satisfied itself that it has a special interest in calling out its past failures as a way to point it towards its own redemption. And, who knows, maybe climbing back to helping the woman in her loud shout to forging a better society.

It comes hard on men in Jamaica to accept that we have never truly stood out as outstanding fathers even as we have displayed an inordinately huge footprint on the global stage as macho men in athletic pursuits.

MANY GOOD FATHERS ARE FLAWED

He was and still is a powerful man in this country. About 25 years ago, his conscience was approaching a point of explosion. He was married to another professional and they had two lovely children, a boy and a girl.

After many bouts of fights inside his head, he decided to tell his wife. He gathered the wife and the two children and told them the truth. He had another child outside the marriage and the child was in the same age group as the in-house kids.

The wife kept her rage subdued and then she asked the killer question: “Was it before or after we were married?”

He felt sweaty around the collar as he answered: “After.”

And then the wife responded as most women would. She chased him through the house, grabbed dishes in the kitchen and hurled them at him. She even reached for a long knife as the man ran next door and sought a temporary haven.

After about half an hour, the wife summoned him by saying that she would not harm him on that day. Maybe later. They spoke more and they cried together, and, along with the children, they all hugged.

The next day, the wife told him to “go get our child”.

I never fully determined how he made arrangements with the other woman (from an inner-city pocket) to get the child, but what I do know is that that outside child is a doctor today and is a mother.

Without being slavishly attached to an ethical mooring that requires me to accept an ideal over a reality, I have found in my lifetime that a man’s affinity for having two or more intimate relationships outside of his main one, whether it is a certified marriage or a common-law partner, does not necessarily make him a terrible father.

G-Boy had three distinct households. Each with a mother and each with G-Boy’s children. He had a number of garages, and work came in steady, and apparently, he gave as good as he got. Each Christmas, all three households would get together at a big party in the hills. Many men envied G-Boy, and what made it so painful for those other men was that G-Boy was not that good-looking.

When I first became a father in 1973, my first response was utter fascination. Miracle was never a word in my lexicon, yet it was the only word I could reach for to explain how such a delicate little human could make its way into the bright light of the world from its dark confinement of nine months.

Good fathers are those who move on from that early fascination to facing and dealing with the harsh realities of that great part of the parenting equation. Those tougher things come later.

One woman said to me last Thursday that her man was a good father because “he was always there for my children and me. Him did leave mi one time and although him was with this other woman, him never leave wi out. Now wi back together long time, and all the kids live abroad.

“Because he has been a good father, I push myself to make sure that him feel good as a man.”

If you are failing as a father, it is not too late to catch up and do the right thing.

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.