We often tell the legacies of our fathers in the fond stories of what we learnt about life from them. Positive, involved fathers help us to live a life driven by values, and guided by tried-and-true principles. Many fathers adeptly play the roles of coach and motivator, encouraging their children to focus on goals and to develop persistence and resilience in the face of life’s challenges.
In the modern world of working parents, fathers have broken out of the restrictions of being sole breadwinners, freeing them to make more contributions to childcare and development. Involved fathers tend to develop deeper relationships and have stronger emotional bonds with their children. They enjoy a more fulfilling parenting experience while children benefit in innumerable, long-lasting ways from their father’s consistent affection and attention.
However, South Africa is a country with a systemic crisis of fathering that goes hand-in-hand with its high levels of gender-based violence. It is estimated that around 70% of South African children are growing up in single-parent homes, and 4 out of 5 boys are growing up without positive male role models in their lives.
Jaco van Schalkwyk, Founder and Director of The Character Company (TCC), a non-profit organisation offering a mentorship programme for fatherless boys says, “This Father’s Day it is important to celebrate all the amazing involved dads in South Africa, as well as to recognise that we are a society where broken masculinity is unfortunately, prevalent across our communities. Growing up without a healthy connection to a positive father or male role model has a staggering impact on too many of our boys. Fathers play an important role in helping their sons navigate masculinity and gender identity. Sons can learn emotional intelligence from their fathers and how to properly regulate themselves and constructively express their emotions. Direct exposure to adult men who act as wise guides can help growing boys develop a healthy sense of identity.”
Research also shows that fatherless boys may be more vulnerable to:
- Fear of abandonment and sense of loss
- Sadness, anxiety and depression
- Poor social connections and relationship-building skills
- Behavioural issues
- Poor academic performance
- Substance abuse
- Exposure to crime and gangsterism
Many of these impacts will change the course of a boy’s life, and the psychological effects may last a lifetime.
Van Schalkwyk continues, “The cards are stacked against a fatherless boy. Of course, not all of them will under-achieve or take a wrong path to adulthood. There are many boys raised by single mothers who will turn out well and will one day become positive parents themselves despite the lack of a father’s love and involvement. But others will unfortunately, perpetuate the generational cycles of broken masculinity.”
TCC harnesses the power of male volunteers for its activity-based mentorship programme which pairs fatherless boys with MENtors. Currently, 250 boys around the country are assigned to 55 vetted adult male volunteers. An outdoors focus helps to promote physical activity, life skills and healthy lifestyles. The boys benefit from exposure to living a values-based life and exploring life challenges and issues under the guidance of adult men in safe and contained spaces.
Van Schalkwyk says, “The programme provides vital opportunities for boys to learn from men – about positive masculinity and the contributions of men to society. The programme’s strong values set high expectations and provides secure boundaries where the boys can gain skills, practice self-regulation and work towards self-mastery. In the absence of fathers in their lives, this chance to develop meaningful relationships with TCC MENtors empowers them by providing caring contact with male role models who are emotionally intelligent, consistent in their actions and true to their commitments. Our TCC MENtors step up and be part of ‘the villages’ that we need to raise all our children well. For South African men looking to make a difference to our country, getting involved in supporting and mentoring fatherless boys is a gift that is going to last a lifetime. They will never be forgotten by these boys. Even though they won’t be able to tell stories about what they learnt from their fathers, they will still have a heartfelt story to tell about what they learnt from their MENtor.”
Find out how to volunteer as TCC mentor here
Learn more about The Character Company