The Role of the Father Figure

The Role of the Father Figure

HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around masculinity in the 21st Century, and the pressures men face around identity. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, from bringing up young boys to the importance of mentors, the challenges between speaking out and 'manning up' as well as a look at male violence, body image, LGBT identity, lad culture, sports, male friendship and mental illness.

Having grown up in Southern Africa as a child in the 1970's and 80's, presented the opportunity to observe and experience a diverse range of cultures from which this article offers a reflection of the common thread of the role of fathers.

If there is one 'stand out' or common theme to fatherhood among all cultures, on a macro scale, it would have to be that the father's role is primarily there to support the child and family as the financial provider.

In the African culture this commonly meant that communities were structured with the elderly, women and children at home and the male working class generation generally having to migrate away from their homes to work places (even if living at home, daily commuting meant leaving in the early hours and arriving home well after dark). The child's grandparents were typically the head of the home and in more recent times the devastating AIDS epidemic meant that whole communities were left with the young children being raised almost solely by the elderly, with the natural parents being too ill or having died from the disease.

Common with the Indian culture was large family units sharing one dwelling where the father's parents would be head of the house in charge of the man's spouse and dominant in the raising of the child, where again, the male role was to be at work and generally exonerated from family duties.

In the English, Afrikaans and other European communities (being predominantly Caucasian), the father figure was somewhat different in that the father's role was portrayed as the head of his home and 'dominant' bread winner as he enjoyed relatively more of a work/life balance. But commonly his contribution to the child's upbringing and around the home was limited to directing and 'supervising' from a distance.

My experience as a child was very much that of being raised by my mother, with my father working long hours to provide for us materially and I clearly recall how he championed this role and it was never to be questioned or challenged as to its utmost significance.

And so the automatic choices were ingrained when my own family began and I reflect on how many heated discussions in the home were always resolved by my authority that being the provider was key to the raising and support of the children, after all we're 'programmed' by society to provide the utmost opportunity for our children to 'succeed' in life.

That this role of being the provider was so entrenched by society, there was little doubt that I simply did not question it and could not possibly see the self-limiting grasp it held on my own life and therefore how if affected my three sons, though on reflection I never felt fulfilled in the role - work was always a matter of striving for the next promotion and providing always meant having to provide more: be it a newer home, bigger car, better education options and more entertainment and life's distractions.

And it is interesting to observe that this same model, which was predominantly suppressed in the African and Indian cultures during the years of political domination, has now begun to spread through these communities too. Whereby the struggle to simply provide for survival, has become the struggle to provide to keep up with society's pressures of conforming to material gains and making sure one's children are offered all of life's experiences, opportunities and treats.

So too have I observed that this is, in fact common in many parts of the developed and developing societies throughout the world.

And so as a father I have felt the pressures and expectations of me to not only provide but to continue to provide more and more as technology advances and the cost of living increases. There would appear no end and no way out...

There came a point when I realised that playing this role of provider, so entrenched, left me exhausted, dis-illusioned, regularly feeling overwhelmed and frustrated until it dawned upon me that I was 'playing this game' for self-identification alone.

Letting go of this self-identification proved to be a tricky task at times because of the ingrain-ness of the tendency to rely on this behaviour, having stayed focussed and committed to the best of my ability to be free of this idealistic imprisonment, and doing so has been one of my greatest achievements in this life.

Today, having re-connected to knowing who I am, offers a fresh perspective of my role as a father - of being the provider. That this begins with 'providing' for me the space to begin to honour who I am, to care for and commit to offering myself true love and tenderness first and foremost, in all that I am and do and then only from this foundation may I begin to truly provide for the family and society.

Perhaps, the stand-out affirmation of this personal choice I have made to 'break the mould' - of being identified by what I do for the family as the provider, has come from my three sons when I sense the relief in them that they are no longer bound by the expectation to have to submit to a certain role in life - that they are free to honour what feels true to them and therefore have the choice whether or not to conform to any role 'expected of them'.

Freeing ourselves, as men, of the burdens we subscribe to for identification, opens a world of opportunities to begin to fully engage with all that life has to offer in every relationship we enjoy and every task we perform.

My personal development in this manner has certainly transformed my relationship with myself, my family and all those I interact with, and going to work and continuing to provide for the family is ever more joy-full and less and less the arduous task it once was

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