Monday, June 20, 2011

A World Without Fathers

The typical South African village is composed of hordes of young children, a few young people, some mothers, a great number of gogos and a few old men. The number of fathers hovers between zero and none. Where's daddy?

In the most functional of family units, daddy is at work. Many men are employed by mines across the country and their families are unable to accompany them. Thus, the wife and children stay behind in the village while the man is at work. He will likely come home once per month, after pay day. This is the best-case scenario.

There's a wide variety of worst-case scenarios that result in a no-show dad. Perhaps the most unfortunate is death. Poverty kills, particularly in South Africa where HIV/AIDS, rampant alcohol abuse and dangerous roads all make a potentially lethal lifestyle widely available to the country's poor.

Even if a man survives to become a father, he is still likely to be absent. I attribute this mostly to cultural values, or a lack thereof. Children are seen as a financial drain, and thus men have a compelling reason to deny responsibility. By and large, women let them do it as the importance of having a father figure around is ignored. Additionally, most children are born outside of marriage. The father has very little link to the child, who is often packed off to some distant relative and then, effectively, abandoned.

The results of a fatherless society are disasterous. The young, fatherless men of South Africa are poorly educated, frequently unemployed and often part of the large criminal class that makes South Africa such an infamously unpleasant country. This should not be surprising. While the young girls of Loopeng have role models in the gogos and aunts who look after them, clean their homes, cook their food and budget their money, the young boys have role models only in the men wasting away on the front stoop of the bottle store. It's no wonder that they grow up to be the same thing.

While most development projects focus on the plight of girls in third-world countries, I've found the suffering of boys in South Africa just as, if not more, troubling. Without appropriate male role models, young boys in this country are set adrift in the sea of adulthood utterly unprepared to make good decisions and the result is a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty.

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