15 December 2017

Give the guys a break!

I’m a daddy’s girl. I have to admit it. Some of the fondest memories from my childhood are the excursions my dad used to take us on in search for blackberries, of sitting on my dad’s shoulders to wave at passing trains, or watching football together on cold winter afternoons. I realise now how lucky I was to have a dad who was so involved in my childhood. A dad who wanted me to succeed and did everything in his power to ensure that I could.

In many parts of the world being a ‘hands-on’ dad is frowned upon. Childcare is woman’s work and that’s where it should stay. It’s just not culturally acceptable. Culture is a fabulous thing, it’s what makes the world such a vibrant and exciting place, but we need to discern those cultures which enrich and those which enslave.

In South America there is a strong culture of ‘machismo’, a notion of excessive masculinity where men are expected to be tough, strong, sexual and all-powerful. There is no space in machismo to read a child a bedtime story or brush your daughter’s hair. It’s all about the attitude and bravado. And in some Indian communities, giving birth to a girl can cause such disgrace on a family that fathers flee in search of a new wife who will give them a son.

It breaks my heart to think of little boys and girls the world over who will never know that loving kiss or protective arm of a father. But it also breaks my heart to think of those fathers who will never know utter joy when the soft fingers of your child intertwine with yours, or the climb into your lap for an impromptu cuddle.

But let’s not get too down on the men. Across the world there are waves of fathers who are rising up against the chains of culture that prevent them from being the kind of dads they long to be. 20-year-old Allus Yikwa is just one example. He’s part of the Wamena tribe in Papua New Guinea where gender lines are as strong as anywhere. When Allus lost his wife the pressure within his community to give his son Yalimur away was fierce.

He faced a lifetime of rejection and shame, but still he stood firm. “I do not want to give Yalinur to someone else, including my relatives or wife’s relatives,” he says with resolution. “I should take the responsibility of taking care of him. I cook, wash, plant, and take care of Yalinur by myself. I have lost my wife. I do not want to lose my son.”

Thankfully Allus has found somewhere he is accepted and supported. When Yallinur was registered as a sponsored child into Compassion’s Child Survival Programme, Allus found staff to help him learn how to take care of his son and become the father he longed to be. Life is not easy, but Allus no longer has to walk it alone.

So as we celebrate Father’s Day, perhaps you can spare a thought for dads across the world who are breaking down barriers, bucking social trends and putting themselves out on a limb for their kids.

Kate Sharma