It is without doubt that every child needs a father. However, circumstances force many children to either grow up without them or take on the role of a child-father. Dumase Zgambo-Mapemba explores this issue.
Mark (not real name) was a form 2 boy at one of the government secondary schools in the city of Blantyre, until the day he left. He was brilliant in class but rarely smiled. He struggled to pay fees.
The teachers discovered that his parents had divorced and this had hit him hard both financially and socially. Not only did his father cut off contact with him but with his mother, his sister too. He did not support them financially.
He was forced to go and stay with his uncle who mistreated him and preferred to pay fees for his children rather than for him.
The uncle asked him to find his own school fees by carrying peoplesâ€™ baggage at Chilobwe bus stand. This at times affected his school attendance.
Upon discovering the boys predicament one of the teachersâ€˜ volunteered to pay for his fees. He managed to sit for his Junior Certificate exams and got Aâ€™s and Bâ€™s (grades). All throughout his school days, the teachers could sense the impact that his fatherâ€™s leaving had had on him. Academically he was striving but socially he looked out of place and rarely interacted with friends.
After getting his brilliant JCE results he decided to leave. When the teachers asked him to continue with school he echoed their fears that he was the one who needed to solve his familyâ€™s financial and social problems. He was later heard to have been recruited by one sleazy politician.
This is just one of the many cases of children who are left fatherless by divorce, death or other circumstances. Studies have shown that many children who do not have a father figure or whose father left tend to show certain trends of negative behaviour socially and academically.
According to Mrs. Jordan Nkhata-Chilinda, who is a secondary school and a trained special needs teacher, having no father around affects most children.
â€œMost of them feel rejected and this affects them psychologically which in the end affects their academic performanceâ€ says Nkhata-Chilinda.
She goes on to say that most of these children are not dull despite performing below expectation. It shows that they lack fatherly love, care and guidance. Their mother may try to play both roles but the children still feel the impact of their fatherâ€™s absence.
In her experience as a teacher she has discovered that most of them are filled with anger, thatâ€™s why they are delinquent and sometimes violent.
Mr. Louis Makaka, Acting Head Teacher at St. Pius CDSS concurs with Nkhata- Chilinda. He also points out that there are other pupils who are forced to become parents to their siblings.
â€œIn this school we have a girl who is a child-parent at 16 years old and is taking care of her siblings. The parents died. Unfortunately, they get little support sometimes from distant relations.â€ He explains.
He goes on to say, apart from attending classes she has to play a parental role to the siblings which subsequently affects her class performance. She performs badly despite getting extra help from the teachers. She seems distracted most of the times.
Studies conducted at the University of Michigan found that warm affectionate fathers help children develop positive self-esteem and influence childrenâ€™s gender role behaviour. For instance: boys learn male interests, activities, respecting women and other social behaviour. Girls can learn from their fathers to develop a trusting comfortable relationship with men.
Absence of a father was linked to behaviour problems, low IQ, and most children did not do well in school particularly in Math and Science subjects. A father is as important as a mother. For divorced or non-residential fathers, it is advisable to keep regular contacts and try to spend quality time with the children.