Men And Their Children

8

Something changed with men. Sometime before I was born, a massive shift happened. Somewhere along the way the bond between fathers and children was broken and it’s having a direct effect on society.

Men’s relationship with their children has changed greatly over the past few decades, ironically in an era where we feel that children and parents are breaking barriers and should be getting closer and understanding each other.

If we look at history, a few decades ago, in the Mau Mau era,many of the veterans raised children who were not theirs when they came back home. Some of the women had been raped by the home guards but some of them had gotten into arrangements through their mother in laws to get men to have children with so that the soldiers would come and find a ‘home’-meaning complete with children. A lot of the soldiers would come back home,empty the few bullets they had left into their wives and then disappear for another few months or years but they came back and raised the children as their own. Their concept of fatherhood was one I would like to understand because it wasn’t particularly based solely on monogamy.

There were acceptable situations where a women would have sex with a man outside her marriage and have a child. When the man was infertile, mothers-in-law would look for a suitable tag-team partner who would discretely impregnate her and the child would be raised as the husband’s. In some communities, if the man feared that he would be cursed together with his bloodline, his wife would have children with another man, discretely and the child would be raised as a part of the family. We shouldn’t also fail to mention the real reason a lot of Kikuyu men would come into their compound singing or shouting at the top of their voices-they were making sure that in case another man was on the offensive in his bedroom, that he would retreat as a respectful gesture. This did bring about a lot of different problems sometimes, though and this is why before a child was celebrated, the mother in law would come for an inspection to ensure that the child was from their lineage through analysing body features.

Point is, men wanted their children, no matter what. No matter what happened and sometimes even where the child came from, men fought for their children, claimed them and took care of them. Even what we call wife-inheritance had the intention and effect of every child having a father. The wife inheritance was more complex than a man gaining another wife – some men were dissatisfied with the arrangements but they still took care of the children and the wife. This was the era where men would have children with other women, bring them home to their wives and have them raised as their own children. This is how much men valued the children they sired irrespective of the consequences on his family situation.

Women getting custody of children a few decades ago was tedious on several fronts. 1. The men wanted the children and would forcefully stay with them or 2. If they went to court, the court would many times give the children to the bread winner who was more often than not the man and 3. they would face the challenge of going back with the children back to her parent’s house depending on her parents,among other problems because she was taking away the children from their ‘real family’ which she had been married into.

Then came the era where men walk away from parental responsibility. This is the era where you’re wary of your friends meeting your sweet female friends because if they got them pregnant, they would probably walk away. Men sit together to laugh about how they got out of paying child support.Half of my high school class were from single-mother households and the situation was not unique . Men walking out of a marriage has been there for a while and that’s a decision affecting two consenting adults but it’s suddenly become acceptable to walk out on our children.

I know an acquaintance who has two children with two different women but he didn’t want to pay alimony. When he was eventually taken to court,he said that he doesn’t have a job and that he does irregular menial labour which ends uo paying him 5,000 Kshs a month so the court ordered 4,000 split between his 2 children. He laughs about this while expressing pride in his intelligence. He is not a bad man. He is a decent man who works, has logical viewpoints on the world, he reads broadly, he treats people decently and he is a courteous guy but somehow thinks it’s acceptable to have two mothers fend for themselves and for his children. Many irresponsible fathers aren’t bad people in totality. They’re probably great people at work, are great friends, they might even be kind. They’re the men all around us who suffer from chronic post-coital amnesia.

Where did we get here as men? Where did children become burdens? When did it become acceptable to be an absentee father?

Has any research been done on this because I think this is a very pertinent issue and it may lead to long-term solutions to responsible parenting. I feel that there are great societal contributions to this shift, and understanding it is more effective than fighting the men. The sad thing is that even men may not have noticed the exact moment the change happened or even understand why.

Note: This isn’t a bashing space for frustration to be expressed. It’s a safe space to listen to real viewpoints from different people.

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