Africa: Reward the deserving parent this Father’s Day!

Date: June 15, 2012
  • SHARE:

Johannesburg, 15 June – As another Hallmark holiday approaches, I wonder what I’m going to get my mother. Sunday 17 June is Father’s Day and shop windows announce gift suggestions such as shavers, cologne and a host of other “manly” gifts. Every year I buy a mug and a card for my mother and father on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

The only problem is that my mother is my father. Looking into shop windows this year I can see that none of the gifts on offer will suit my mom, because she is in fact a woman, and in practice does not wear cologne. Words like “father” and “mother” are words with overt gender associations that have mistakenly been assigned based on sex, rather than to deserving owners of the title.

Mother is a title that is earned, like president, judge or manager. This means that men can make wonderful mothers and women fantastic fathers. The term mother has for decades been wrongly assigned to women.

So one could say: “Selma had a baby girl, she’s now a mother.”

Wrong. Selma had a baby girl; she has now given birth to a baby girl. Whether she becomes the child’s mother is yet to be determined. While childbirth requires a woman, motherhood on the other hand, is a choice. And so is fatherhood.

The assumption that giving birth and being a mother are synonymous is misleading. Becoming a mother is a conscious decision that is undertaken by an individual, who may or may not biologically have given birth to a child. And a mother or father is something one becomes, something we learn and adapt to – not a natural birthright we inherit via the genetic lottery.

The age-old lie

Calling those women who give birth to children “mothers” assumes that all women make mothers, or that one needs to be a woman to be a mother. This robs men of the exciting opportunity to become mothers.

Many men go on impregnating sprees so they can boast of their ability to “father” children – what people say “separates the boys from the men.” But if we understood the term fatherhood as the action of caring for offspring – in the same way that women are taught to understand motherhood – then many men fall short of fatherhood’s expectations.

If being a mother, not even a good one, just a mother, is determined by our sex, then we will hear things like “Gosh, she’s such an awesome mother because she has such huge breasts.” Or “Mark is so phenomenal with little Petrus because he has the biggest muscles I have ever seen.”
We don’t hear that – ever – because being a parent has nothing to do with being a woman or a man. We do, however, hear things like “Marie does a great job with Ipumbu because she reads to him every night.” Or the odd “Silas is great with Ivy and how he teaches her how to throw and catch a ball.”

Being a mother is a choice that is sadly forced onto many women because of the gendered nature of our societies and cultures. Just because women are born with the equipment, doesn’t mean they have to use it or lose it. And the same goes for men. Just because you have sperm doesn’t mean you have to be constantly finding an egg to fertilise.

Here’s to you, father!

My personal confusion around the term mother came as a child when I realised that my mother and father were not your run-of-the-mill African parents. There were no gender specific expectations growing up, and my older brother washed as many dishes as I raked leaves.

When I compared their different roles to the expected roles of the wider society I realised that my dad is the best mother ever. My dad read to me and played dolls with me. He checked my homework and packed my lunch; cooked my favourite meals and took me for walks.

By all measures and actions, my dad has been my mother. And this did not detract from my mom, because she has been a great father. She called the shots (she still does) and taught me that being a woman took nothing away from my ability to do or be anything I wanted to be. I watched her build houses, drive trucks and tell off anyone who tried to put her in “her place.” She presented me with an example like no other woman I had ever seen.

It does something to a child to learn gentleness from a man and strength from a woman. It does wonderful things. It makes you realise that the world does not exist in the black or white, male or female, pink or blue dichotomy that is often presented to us. Things can change, and things do change – as do people, and cultures and practices. Having a dad for a mother and a mom for a father is a unique experience, and a rich one at that.

So here’s to you mom – happy Father’s Day! I already wished my father a happy Mother’s Day, which he didn’t mind. If only Clicks would sell Father’s Day gifts for women and Mother’s Day gifts for men. Until then I will stick to the mug and card that’s been warmly appreciated all these years.

Happy Father’s Day!

Sheena Magenya is a freelance journalist based in Namibia. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, special series on Father’s Day, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.


Comment on Africa: Reward the deserving parent this Father’s Day!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *