In many parts of the world, the third Sunday of June is earmarked for the celebration of the vital contributions of fathers and father figures to human progress. Father’s Day, as it is known, seeks to extol the sacrifices dads make for the wellbeing of their children and communities. Its essence derives from the fact that family stability, which is the bedrock of social harmony and economic progress, is almost always in jeopardy, when fathers are not alive to their responsibilities. “Fatherless” families pose many development-retarding challenges to society. The converse is true as well. Good fathers fast-track national development.
The alarmingly high number of out-of-school children in Nigeria points to the crisis of fatherlessness. Children can have fathers, and yet be fatherless. If a father fails to provide affirmation, protection, direction, and demonstrate affection to his child, that child is fatherless. Fatherhood is not a title, it is a function.
Steve Job affirmed the fact that there is no such thing as nominal fathers. According to Walter Isaacson in his authorised biography of Steve Jobs, Steve disclosed to him that, “Paul and Clara are 100% my parents. And Joanna and Abdulfatah - are only a sperm and an egg bank. It’s not rude, it is the truth.” On this day, every father should ask himself: “How would my children ultimately see me?”
Paul Jobs demonstrated that a good father exceeds the worth of a hundred teachers. Education begins with fathers, not with teachers. Paul taught Steve how to work on electronics. Their family garage was a laboratory of sorts, where Steve cultivated the habit of technical tinkering. No nation can have zillions of educated souls without good fathers. Teachers can soundly educate minds, but they cannot shape the total person without the active support of fathers.
The children of absentee dads are more likely to embody vices, use drugs, revolt against constituted authorities, cause mayhem, drop out of school, commit crimes of passion, and become teenage parents. When fathers fail, generations are affected negatively. It induces a circle of multi-generational poverty and knowledge gaps. These could weaken the foundation of a just, inclusive and prosperous nation.
Some children consider their fathers as fifth wheels in their family, for they are hardly at home. If fathers will bear in mind Sigmund Freud’s postulation: “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection”, children will be happier. They will be poised to create better societies.
If the problem with Nigeria is leadership, the solution is with fathers. Fathers are natural leaders. Children learn leadership lessons from them. Many great leaders in history were influenced by the exemplary leadership ethics and style of their fathers. Therefore, if every father in Nigeria will make a commitment to be a role model of moral, ethical and mental excellence, the root of Nigeria’s perennial leadership failure will be extirpated very soon. Weak families hardly produce great leaders. The strength of a nation to attain enduring greatness starts to wane, when families fall apart.
Fathers have the power to transform society and shape the future. Their seemingly little contributions to posterity oil the wheels of civilisation. Children become what they are taught. Shakespeare said, “It is a wise father that knows his own child.” A father’s intimate knowledge of his child set the tone of the child’s future and by extension, her orbit of influence. No father can sufficiently provide protection, instruction and direction for the child, he does not know deeply. Unfortunately, urban realities, economic hardship, and workplace pressures debar many fathers from knowing their children. Hence, we have a generation of reluctant grown-ups raised by domestic helps and morally tutored by screen goddesses.
Our blame culture creates docile fathers. Everywhere, fathers are disparaged. Everything worthy of celebration about fatherhood is in the past, some affirm. In fact, berating fathers for their shortcomings is becoming a marked feature of Father’s Day observance. They are largely seen as the instrumental cause of most societal ills, because of their inability to outdo mothers in terms of childcare. Many grown-ups readily attribute their character flaws, failures and elusive happiness to their fathers’ lacklustre parenting style. They insist they cannot soar to stratospheres of honour, innovation, fortune, and power, because their “father did not give them feathers.”
Fathers are supporters. Care-giving cannot be separated from fatherhood. Failure to provide holistic support retards the growth of children in many facets of life. Evidently, many fathers have not achieved balance in providing cash and care for their family. In a bid to guarantee the material comfort of their family, they fail to cater to their emotional, moral and spiritual needs. Hence, the significance of Father’s Day observance is a subject of hot debate. If “father” becomes synonyms of love, care, and support, the narrative will change.
I agree with Abby Prevost’s claim, “The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature.” This is why every year on Father’s Day, I call my loving dad to let him know how grateful I am for all his sacrifices to ensure my concept of the good life is achieved. After such calls, I keep asking myself “Is that all I can possibly do to demonstrate my enormous affection and appreciation for who he is and what he embodies?” In other words, I ask myself, “What is the reward of fathers?”
The greatest tribute we can pay to our fathers is to live out their humane values. The men of my father’s generation prized integrity and good reputation. They knew integrity is the cornerstone for an inclusive and progressive society. Think about the cultural and moral renewal that will transpire in Nigeria, if we all choose to honour the legacies of our forebears. In the days of our forebears, people could leave their wares on the table knowing nobody would steal them. Those who needed the wares duly paid for them even when no one was watching.
On a day like today, it is wise to ponder on the words of Pope John XXIII: “It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.” If our children cannot say they will love us till eternity ends, it may mean we are mere sperm banks.