To be honest, the question sometimes bothers me. Not the question itself but the place where it comes from a place that is a deep, almost genetic, yearning for affirmation.
The fact that boys need their fathers is one that goes without saying. While children derive a sense of safety and nurture from their mothers, boys derive a sense of identity from their fathers. However, a father is like a boy child’s very first mirror; the child sees himself through his father before he sees himself through himself.
In many ways, a mother can teach her son how to treat others, as a human being. However, a father teaches his son how to treat himself. It is through his father that he learns how to deal with his emotions, his frustration, anger and his love as a man. This is because men and women navigate emotions differently, or so society would have us believe.
Many men today are seeing themselves through the distorted shards of broken mirrors. They are forced to piece themselves together from bits and pieces of hopes, wishes and the unfortunate teachings of the streets.
The reason that the question bothers me is what happens when it is not answered? How a child caves in on himself, hollowed out by uncertainty. I am anguished by those little boys who never even get to ask, “Papa, did I do good?” What many of us don’t realise is that the encouragement of a father feeds a son’s very soul. It is food.
It nourishes one’s sense of belonging. It strengthens the bones that hold up one’s sense of presence and his lungs fill assurance, confidence pulsing through his veins, while compassion warms his heart. Yet, young boys are out there starving. Grown men, emotionally emaciated, still crave for the crumbs of affection from fathers long dead. Some children starve in the very presence of their fathers; their stomachs aching, mouths dry from a fear to ask.
Our country was built on the backs of single mothers who have sweat blood to give their children a fighting chance. Many of them have raised exceptional men and women. But they did not do this by being a mother and a father, as it is commonly believed, especially come Father’s Day. A son can’t reflect on his mother and gain an understanding of manhood.
Very often, he reflects on the absence, the brokenness, the space left behind. He will then populate that space with what he feels is missing and call that “filling”– manhood. Until he really discovers himself, a man is merely a process of trying to be more like his father, trying not to be anything like his father or something in between. It is only when a man truly finds himself that he can rebuild himself on his own terms. Till then, many will bear the burden of being fathered by a broken child.