Parenting workshop
Making of a new Guyana father urged
Too many 'invisible' or simply village rams -Scott
Stabroek News
May 31, 2002

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Fathers and prospective fathers across the country were yesterday challenged to play a more participatory role in the welfare of their children.

The charge was given at a parenting workshop for men, hosted by the National Commission on the Rights of the Child (NCRC) in collaboration with the United Nations Children's Fund at the Hotel Tower.

It brought together participants from all of the ten regions along with social workers, representatives from the United Nations and other attendees. The aim of the programme, according to the Chairman of the NCRC, First Lady Varshnie Jagdeo, was to enhance the skills of fathers and would-be fathers and to enlighten them on their roles and responsibilities within the family unit.

Delivering the keynote address at the opening ceremony, University of Guyana Lecturer and Community Consultant, Neberne Scott, spoke of the "new Guyana father."

Addressing the gathering on the topic 'fathers in perspective, the Guyana reality' Scott queried: "What is the Guyanese father like? What is the perception of the Guyanese girl-child about her father? What is the perception of the Guyanese boy-child about his father? What is the perception of the Guyanese woman about the man who fathered her child? Is there a cadre of 'new' Guyanese fathers arising?" He said that these questions proved difficult to answer and caused stuttering, evasiveness, anger and discomfort.

Scott said that too many fathers made themselves invisible, ineffective and apologetic when the child and mother needed them most. "They are somewhat visible when their power, influence and dominance are exercised and felt to their satisfaction to a silent cowering child and mother."

He said that among the concerns in the public domain are the degrees of responsiveness of fathers to their conjoint responsibility. "The frame of reference is the definition of a father as a male parent, together with expected role performance within a relationship in the best interest of the child." He called on all fathers to provide fit and proper conditions and circumstances for the child to live and be lived with. He said that the father was also expected to provide proper supervision or control of and over the child, be fit, able and willing to exercise care of and over the child, protect the child from endangerment to his or her life, health or emotional welfare, provide education or access to formal education for the child, among other duties.

Scott said there was widespread belief that only a small minority of Guyanese fathers live up to their responsibilities and the overwhelming majority of fathers were not fathers in the true sense of the word but merely 'Daddies'.

"They do not fit smoothly into the status position of fathers, since they do not demonstrate role performance corresponding to the role expectations of the holders of the status position." Scott contended that being called "Daddy" seemed to be a glamorisation of many Guyanese males, especially those with many children by many women. "The Village Ram, or Town Stud status of an acknowledged 'Daddy' seems to be more sought after by more Guyanese men of all ages then being labelled as a good father." He argued that the line between father and daddy became blurred not only when the father traditionally referred to as daddy or dad, was shouldering his paternal responsibilities, but most often when he was identified as being the progenitor of many children by many women. "Let me rhetorically ask you, what manner of Guyanese male do you think will be voted as 'Guyanese father of the year'? Would quality of fatherhood be a factor or would it merely be stud prowess?"

In addition, Scott identified what he referred to as the positive and negative labels of fathers, which have surfaced in the Guyanese society. He spoke of the 'Home Oil father' one who he said is resident, visible and spends quality time with the family, and his opposite number the 'Hunt Oil father'. Then there is the 'escapee father,' one who did not even pack up his belongings but simply left the home peacefully, during or after an altercation and never returned.

Scott said such a father's whereabouts are usually unknown and he considered fatherhood a prison. He cited the 'deportee father,' who walked out on the family and took up residence within another household from which he was thrown out and has returned to the originating household to sleep and eat occasionally, while an estranged relationship persists.

According to Scott, the typical Guyanese father seems reluctant to be a primary participant in childcare. "Even in dual-career families some fathers tend to make virtually no contribution to childcare." He called for the re-socialisation in fatherhood of unwed teenage boys. Scott pointed out that boys were socialised into fatherhood by what they saw around them. "Being a father does not come naturally, it may be taught, but surely it is caught through modelling and imitation." He called on all the men present to break the cycle of the negative labels heaped on fathers. He said that in today's society the focus should be on causes, correlates and consequences of increased participation in home making by males in the family.

He added that the 'New Guyana father' must assume a major role in caring for his child, not only because he wanted to, but because it was imperative.

There were also short addresses by Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, Dale Bisnauth; and Assistant Representative of UNICEF, Dr Sreelakshmi Gururaja. During the afternoon session participants were given lectures on the rights of the child, the challenge of child rearing, responsibility and parenthood, roles of fathers in education and effective communication skills among other topics. The workshop was also aimed at reinforcing Article 18 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that, "State parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child." (Nigel Williams)