Orville Taylor | Honour fathers every day
Yesterday, Fathers Inc celebrated 30 years, and if age is just a number, I understand why I don’t like math. Unfortunately, too many Jamaicans dislike numbers, too, and live in denial of the facts which stare at them like a thieving puss.
Today is Father’s Day and unlike Mother’s Day, it is more low-key and generally some kind of consolation prize. Images and stereotypes are hard to overcome, because perception is reality; and reality is a source of discomfort. True, we need better parenting in this country and it includes more work by biological fathers. However, using bad mangoes to define the whole harvest is just silly and cruel.
A man is walking with his four-year-old daughter. He is comfortable. She is placed neatly in the carefully sanitised shopping chart as they diligently look through the offerings of cereal on the shelves. She clearly adores her dad as he wipes her nose. You might think it is rare but it is ‘snot’. Thrilled by the picture, a woman steps over and delivers an insult which, poor thing, she thinks is a compliment. “It is so nice to see a father with his children out these days!”
He looks askance and asks her, “What do you mean!” She continues, “Well, you know, most fathers are not in their children’s lives; so this is refreshing.” An expert in the art of condescension, he replies, “Well, you must be a very special researcher, because you know something that the sociologists, demographers, STATIN, RGD and all the data collectors don’t!”
Clearly, she knows about the cover of the 1957 book by Edith Clarke, My Mother who Fathered Me. But like so many Jamaicans, she is quick to embrace the worst about us, even if it is not true. It might be shocking, but the statistics at independence never pointed to the majority of households having a missing father or that most children did not have a relationship with their biological dad.
STRIPPED OF EVERYTHING
Nothing can be ‘father’ from the truth. Jamaican men of African origins were stripped of everything during slavery and even after. A man, naked of prestige, wealth, proper housing, education and identity had nothing but his sexuality and masculinity. Thus, it is easy to understand that the post-slavery Jamaican male reaffirms his manhood by his sexual prowess. Think of it, white male comedians make self-deprecating jokes about their unflattering dimensions. Black men never ever do it.
Every black Jamaican is a ‘stulla’, who boasts of the merits of steam fish and crackers and the rhyming noun which results.
Beyond that, a man who is unable to procreate biologically is a ‘man guinep’ just as bad as an infertile woman, who is shamed as a ‘mule.’ Being a father, and a good father at that, is a source of pride among men. Thus, it is easy to understand why in this country, between 10 and 30 per cent of self-admitted fathers who take paternity tests ‘fail,’ even when they get the exam paper to prepare and take home. It is counter-intuitive that high ‘paternal fraud’ and low father responsibility could coexist. Thus, the mother-fathering narrative ignores Clarke’s findings that 70 per cent of households were male headed and she needed to explain the other 30.
Never mind what the American numbers say about African Americans and their 67 per cent of single-parent households or similar numbers not having a biological father present in the lives of children under 18. This is Jamaica and our female-headed households with mother and no children comprise 18 per cent of households. I keep referring to the JA Kids Study, an 84 per cent census carried out by Prof Maureen Samms Vaughn, Jody Ann Reece, Charlene Coore Desai and Sidoney Pennington. Irrefutably, it demonstrates that of the children born in 2011, around 75 per cent of the parents are still together and more than 80 per cent of the fathers have relationships with their children.
I dare any reader of this column to do a head count of the houses in her neighbourhood or any she knows, and find any street or community, where the majority of households are fatherless or most fathers have no relationships with their children.
Unfortunately, so much national policy and non-governmental interventions are guided by ignorance and narratives. So, simply because most persons who seek the intervention of the Family Court are women, seeking maintenance, one stupidly thinks that this unrepresentative sample is a reflection of the overall responsibility of our males.
Thanks for the one token day, but an acknowledgement of what Jamaican fathers do daily would be a better honour. To the majority of fathers who are trying I say, “Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine, we’ll understand it all by and by.”
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.