Many people think that looking after children is primarily a ‘woman’s role’. The subject of fatherhood is often neglected. Both parents should be actively involved in bringing up their children. The role of a father is very important to me. I am a 54 year old man from Zambia. I have been in full-time Christian work for the last 31 years in Zambia, Zimbabwe and the UK, and currently work as a church minister in north London. My wife and I have been married for 25 years and we have two grown-up daughters.
Good role models
My role model as a father was my own biological father. He taught me many things, mostly by example. Through his relationship with my mother, my father showed me that a good father loves, respects, honours, provides and cares for the mother of his children. He taught me to respect other people, both neighbours and strangers, and to be kind to them. My father took his responsibilities seriously. He worked hard to provide for his immediate family and at times his extended family. We did not have much but we were not hungry, naked or homeless. My father made no distinction between his seven sons and five daughters. We were all treated exactly the same. Our father made sure that all twelve of us received education.
It was from my father that I learnt that the jobs I take on do not make me the man I am. Rather, he taught me that the man I am will affect the manner in which I do every job. Because of that lesson I have never considered any job beneath me. I have enjoyed and still enjoy housework, including taking care of the children, cleaning the house, shopping for food, cooking, washing up, laundry and ironing.
Harmful role models
Cultural definitions and expectations of fatherhood vary. Sadly, there are many poor models of fatherhood in the world. For instance, there are those for whom fatherhood begins and ends with sex. They take no further responsibility for caring for their partner during pregnancy. They certainly do not consider it their duty, let alone a joy and privilege, to bring up their children. There are so many single mothers who have to bear a heavy and unfair burden in bringing up children alone.
While some fathers neglect their children, others actually abuse them. This could be mental or emotional abuse, such as withholding affection or constantly criticising the child. Some hurt their children physically, or abuse them sexually. These men are failing in the role of a father and inflict terrible damage on the child. Communities and families should take responsibility to ensure that caregivers do not abuse children.
It is a real privilege to be a father. Some of us become fathers biologically; many others take on the role of a father through different circumstances, such as through caring for orphans. However one comes to fatherhood, it is important to take the role seriously and to focus on the needs (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) of the child. Fathers need to invest time and effort to care for their children and help prepare them to face the challenges of the future. When the children are young, a good father will take every opportunity to look after, comfort, pray for and provide for his children. He will seek to bond with them in a relationship of love and care. It is not just a question of providing physically or financially for his children. Fathers have a role to play in creating a good, warm, safe and friendly home environment in which to bring up the children, in disciplining them and in teaching them about culture and values. A father should help his children to learn to choose what is right, to respect all other human beings and to prepare in turn to be good parents themselves to the next generation.
Rev Joe M Kapolyo is a minister at Edmonton Baptist Church in London. He has previously worked as a Scripture Union Travelling Secretary in Zambia, a Baptist Minister in both Zambia and Zimbabwe, and a theological educator in Zambia, Zimbabwe and the UK. He was principal of the Theological College of Central Africa in Zambia and subsequently principal of All Nations Christians College in the UK.