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Today, Guyanese and most peoples worldwide celebrate Father’s Day. The fact, though, is that fatherhood is not afforded that same level of honour as motherhood, even on the special day set aside for that purpose. Guyanese will also acknowledge that tokenism, lip service and scant regard are too often the approaches to celebrations of fatherhood. There is not enough recognition and appreciation of the father’s importance to families and communities. This unfortunate state of affairs is undesirable. Experts agree that the father fills a unique and important role in the family and the community. The average Guyanese, though, do not need experts to tell us that; we already know the truth of the matter.
Being a father is much more than contributing biologically to the conception of a child. In fact, the notion of fatherhood has evolved over the years as human civilisation has developed. A father figure may not be biologically related at all to the child or children they care for; he may be a stepfather or may have adopted a child or children. Those differing dynamics do not change the underlying reality of fatherhood nor the responsibilities that come with it.
The recognition of the important role of the father is a relatively recent development. The emergence of scientific studies — including psychology — in the mid-1800s revolutionised the way that people view the role of the father. It is now firmly established that the father figure has well-defined responsibilities and areas of influence. Prior to the present age of enlightened thought, a father was regarded as little more than the person who provided food for the family. On the other hand, we now know that fathers, and mothers, are pillars in the development of a child’s emotional well-being. Children look to their fathers to make and enforce rules and boundaries. They also look to their fathers for security, both physical and emotional. Children want to make their fathers proud, and an involved father promotes emotional growth and mental strength to their children. Studies have shown that when fathers are affectionate and supportive, it greatly affects a child’s cognitive and social development. It also instills an overall sense of well-being and self confidence.
Fathers not only influence our personalities, they also affect how we relate to other people. The way a father treats his child will influence what he or she looks for in others. For example, a child who has an attentive and respectful father will expect other people to have those same traits. In that way, the child is more likely to have healthy relationships throughout life.
The experts say that fathers influence their daughters and sons in somewhat different ways. A report by the Pediatric Association of Franklin in the United States states the following: “Young girls depend on their fathers for security and emotional support. A father shows his daughter what a good relationship with a man is like. If a father is loving and gentle, his daughter will look for those qualities in men when she’s old enough to begin dating. If a father is strong and valiant, she will relate closely to men of the same character.” Regarding a father’s influence on his son’s life, the same report states that, “Boys model themselves after their father’s character. Boys will seek approval from their fathers from a very young age. As human beings, we grow up by imitating the behavior of those around us; that’s how we learn to function in the world. If a father is caring and treats people with respect, the young boy will grow up much the same. When a father is absent, young boys look to other male figures to set the “rules” for how to behave and survive in the world.”
Based on the findings of experts and what we know from our own experience, the father is just as important as the mother to the general welfare of a child, and by extension, the community. Further, how fathers relate to their children today will determine how those children will relate to each other in the future. As such, as a society, we should give due recognition to the importance of fathers, even as fathers must work towards earning the honour and regard that comes with the title of father.