This past Sunday was Father’s Day. My church has a culture where the church gives gifts to mothers on Mother’s day, and to fathers on Father’s day. So on Sunday the chairman of the men’s group started calling out fathers to go pick their gifts. First, of course, came the Senior Pastor. Then he called those who have been fathers for over 30 years. Nobody stood. 25-30 years, nobody stood. 20-25 years, several men went to the front to collect their gifts. As he did the count down, I was debating whether I was in the category of “0-5 years” or not. I mean, my seed is in my loins, so I am technically a father, even if for zero years.
But he managed to beat the trap, and called out only those whose offspring are already born. Then he called out those with pregnant partners. I hoped he would then call those whose children are in their knee caps. He didn’t. Instead, he called out those women who are heading households that do not have male figures. I was almost overcome with emotion as I watched my friend Christine walk to the front and dip her hand into the gift basket. She is a single mother with a lovely young boy. I felt so proud of her.
But later in the week I read an article by a single mum who was irked by a friend who had told her “happy father’s day”. Her argument was that while she is an excellent parent, she will never be the father of her child. Because a father is necessarily a man, and she is a woman. That she can never be able to play the role of a father, and that imagining she could do so would encourage more men to shirk responsibility. I totally agree with her. A mother cannot be a father. Never. However, I do not see anything wrong in celebrating single mothers who step up and raise their children after the death of, or desertion by their partners.
This is especially so because society has a prejudice against single mothers. Instead of celebrating them, they are shunned, even though in subtle ways. They are seen as loose, immoral, name it. But there are various ways in which a person can find themselves in that circumstance. Perhaps they were sexually abused. Or perhaps their partner died young. Or left to be with another. Or to be with others.
Or, let’s face it. Maybe they were reckless in their youth. Maybe they made mistakes that led to the conception. But should those mistakes define their entire lives? Mine is an emphatic no. Judging anyone by their past is blinding ourselves to a fact called growth. We all make mistakes, and learn from them. Besides, while having casual, unprotected sex was a mistake, the child is not a mistake. No child is ever a mistake. None. Plus, the women who make such mistakes and step up to take responsibility are way better than the men who bolt immediately they learn they have planted a human seed.
Unfortunately, even the children are sucked into it. And by the church no less. One evening, while I was in college, an acquaintance came to me excited. She had spent the day at a session of Daughters of Zion, a women empowerment programme run by the Jubilee Christian Centre.
“Aki Edward, I pray that God does not make me fall in love with the son of a single mother,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Unajua leo tumefunzwa, girls should not be married to single parent’s sons. Because they are confused and unstable. They will just ruin your life”
“That is interesting,” I replied. (#PrayerPartner gets irritated when I say something she said is interesting. Often, I say that when I have nothing more useful to say).
“Yes! Unajua…” She went on and on about the sins of the sons of single mothers.
What my acquaintance did not know, and what I did not bother to tell her, is that I am the son of a single mother. I have a good relationship with my father, but my parents separated when I was young, for reasons best known to them and which I have no interest in knowing. But the point is, I was brought up by a single mum. And I think I turned out fine.
That is not to say that children do not need both parents. They do. I am particularly disturbed by those people who imagine that children are their property. Children are not property, they are human beings like you. So I frown at those chest-thumping women who say they can just have children and bring up on their own. You cannot decide for another human being whether they need a father or not. Even if you are their mother. Similarly, I am appalled by those men who do not want to take responsibility and so deny their children fatherly love.
But the point here is that single mothers are not social misfits. It does not matter how they got into that situation. The fact that they stepped up is reason enough why they should be celebrated. As for their children, they are not failures just because they were brought up by single mothers. Some fathers, like my father, do get involved in their children’s lives even after the separation. For other children whose fathers do not step up, there are many other responsible men who can mentor them.
In any case, we all know about a man whose father bolted and he turned out okay. More than okay actually. His mother married another man so he got a stepfather. But that marriage also hit the rocks. So he was brought up by his grandparents and a single mother. But he turned out fine. He has a marriage that many women around the world drool over, and is the father of two lovely girls. Also, he became the 44th President of the United States of America. Yes we can.
Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/baby-africa-african-black-happy-429750/