‘How do I get my child’s father to take responsibility?’

Posted by: Tracy Engelbrecht | Date: August 28, 2014 | 4 Comments

Web stats are funny things. Sometimes obvious, sometimes surprising, sometimes depressing. For three years, without fail, the number one search that gets users to the Young Mom Support site is “How do I get my child’s father to take responsibility?” Falling squarely into the “depressing” category. I do have an answer for them — but it’s not the answer they’re hoping for. (Spoiler alert: You can’t.)

Combined with this is another fairly high ranking search — “How to talk to girls on Mxit” (not sure how they find their way to us on that, but it’s not as baffling as the recurring “girls with dirty feet” search term). I’ll soon be forced to do a post on this. It will be very short. Talk to girls as if they’re humans who interest you. The End.

So, we have boys who have no idea how to talk to girls — and clearly nobody to ask — and moms struggling with irresponsible fathers. Talking to young dads and expectant dads, the connection is becoming clear. For girls, things are moving forward (one step at a time, with 117 steps back). Not always in the right way but more people are at least THINKING about it. But. Here’s the problem.

Nobody is talking to the boys. About anything much. Cos “boys are easier”, apparently? Girls need fixing, sorting, empowering (ha), protecting, teaching. Boys, however, somehow need to figure all this stuff out by themselves. Not just about sex and relationships, but their place in the world. An example: schools who want teen pregnancy workshops, but only for the girls: “Oh, it’s not necessary for the boys.”

For boys who don’t fit into the macho entitled bro culture with all that entails — this sucks. They’re left behind. They don’t have a blueprint for how to behave. Fit in or … yeah. You might think it’s easier for the boys who do fit — but at what cost to themselves and those around them? How many are acting a part? How IS that ol’ patriarchy working out for all of us? Read a newspaper lately?

Another example: I’ve asked young dads why they aren’t involved in their children’s lives. Overwhelming answer: because I can’t afford to support them financially. And mostly when they’re young, they can’t afford to. Not in a substantial way, not at first.

“That’s what a father does. He pays.”

So many seem to believe that this is all a father does. That if he can’t afford to pay, he has no place in his child’s life. So he walks away. Of course, in some cases, this is just fine by him. But in too many others, he walks away because he didn’t know it doesn’t have to be this way.

When I talk to boys about a father’s real role — emotional support, love, presence (even if you don’t live together), guidance, commitment — you can practically see the lightbulb going *PING* above his head. He’s simply never thought of a father’s role this way (as being exactly the same as a mother’s role, in fact). The measure of his fatherhood — of his maleness — has always been only in his ability to provide financially.

The young moms I speak to, while they need dad to help with money, this isn’t their main concern. “Why doesn’t he just want to SEE his child, at least?” They want baby to have a relationship with dad, and they don’t understand why he’s seemingly not interested. Everybody’s expectations are screwed up. There’s not much talking happening and when it does happen, it’s at such cross-purposes it might as well be an episode of Days of Our Lives.

Nobody’s ever told him — or shown him — what a father is really for. This applies equally to boys who have grown up WITH their own fathers, as to boys who haven’t, as well as across different cultures. Exceptions abound, naturally. But the pattern is there. Boys being told that manhood is this one thing — this one mould, and by god you better fit in that box.

Boys are hurting. We’ve woken up and realised that girls have other options than those traditionally allowed for them. ALL the options. We have not yet done this for boys. They’re still stuck.

When our sons are born, sweet chubby-cheeked boy babies — we want everything for them. Then we set the rules — maybe unconsciously — with talk of how boys will be boys, with a different set of behaviours and expectations. Be A Man™ comes from everywhere, relentlessly.

Nothing will change until we start teaching Be A Person. Our sons and daughters will continue to suffer, and so will our grandchildren.

Hug your son today. Ask yourself if you really *truly* don’t have any silly gender-defined expectations of him. Ask yourself again. Check that all your interactions with him are not defaulted to “He’s a boy”. He is a person first.

Let him BE that person first. Show him the love and comfort that he needs, in order for him to give it to others. Let his rules of engagement with the world be about who he really is and what he has to offer, rather than some nebulous concept of manhood that just screws us all over.

Please, do it soon.

Image – Two men push their children in a stroller during a race walking competition in Brno, Czech Republic, on April 7, 2013, World Health Day. (AFP)


  • Ntuthu

    It is funny how you do not mention that, if the father cannot provide financially for the child, to the mother he is less than a man and will not see his child. Secondly, women are empowered, that balance of things have been tempered with, if you can easily be told i can do without you and “we” don’t need you hence “I can provide for me and my child”, nobody wants to be where they are not valued, let alone not wanted!

    • mpho

      its all about us, what do we know. The less informed about issues the more we make mistakes. The issue is about making sure you understand the consequences of your behaviour. If couples understand the implications of engaging in unprotected sex then we assume they will be able to carry the burden. It is unfortunate that new beginners think it wont happen and by the time it happens lights become dimmed . Know and understand what you do , think if you are ready for your actions and have the ability to carry the load, if not seek alternatives not all sexual activity ends with newborns!

  • Greg

    Hi, as you state, so many fathers are branded ‘crap fathers’ if they can’t afford to pay maintenance to the tune of what the mother thinks is fair that they feel if they can’t or shouldn’t be part of the children’s lives.

    Speaking with ‘alienated’ fathers it is often raised that mothers who don’t receive the maintenance that they want largely believe that the fathers don’t deserve to receive the joy that the children will bring them. This resentment by the mother does not take the children’s needs into consideration and when played out can lead to a sort of self fulfilling prophesy for the mother when the father stays away to avoid the the abuse.

    Your article does not seem to address this impact that (financially) demanding mothers have on the fathers lack of participation with the children.

  • Willem

    Thank you for the article. I found that a lot of women simply do not offer their man the change because they have been consciously or unconsciously locked into what they think the roll of a mother is. My wife has her own business and me too. I bring in the bulk of the money and work from home. I spend at least 3 hours a day with my wife and children and run the routine in the house. If I can offer some advice, step a way to give room for him. If you do not do that he will not be able to get more involved.