Marlon Botha

'Fatherhood is a life or death issue'

Being a father , Working with fathers , Social fathers , Community

“Fatherhood is a life or death issue!” – This was the statement that kicked off the Father’s Matter Ambassador’s conference in Cape Town (the third instalment in the country) in a keynote address from Heartlines board member Mbulelo Bikwani.

The first evening’s interactive engagement focused on a blend of sincere personal narratives, shared experiences, and setting the context of the state of fatherhood in our nation. The diverse community of delegates arrived with a healthy appetite to engage, connect and learn more about how we can respond to the fatherhood crisis in Mzansi.

Children are wounded because fathers are wounded

Heartlines rep Pastor Wesley Van Graan modelled courageous vulnerability by sharing about both his father wounds, and the healing journey that empowered him to father and grandfather from a practical state of restoration, compassion and insight.

“Our scars are also reminders of the wounds we need to avoid inflicting onto our children. Jesus wants to bring healing to our traumatic memories,” he shared.

Many delegates were confronted with some of the unresolved ‘father wounds’ in their lives. After the main session, the delegates took time to share their own fatherhood experiences in small groups.

Women’s stories are critical in our fatherhood conversations

Fathers Matter Project Manager Zamabonga Mojalefa anchored a women’s panel with tremendous grace, wisdom and fierceness. During the session, women shared deeply personal narratives, while challenging the toxic aspects of our society’s patriarchal status quo. “As a daughter born out of wedlock, my father would not acknowledge me by calling me by his clan name,” shared one panellist.

Our scars are also reminders of the wounds we need to avoid inflicting onto our children.

Our mandate to respond

Heartlines senior facilitator Jeff Cele led the men’s panel in which the panellists also bravely shared stories from their childhoods, and how these shaped the fathers they are today. Many of these stories focused on the complex male role models in their upbringing, especially in the church. “The challenge in most churches is: where does culture stop and God begin? Often what is endorsed as God’s way is our toxic, patriarchal cultural interpretations which often lead to inflicting harm on our communities."

The value of social fathers

The delegates responded enthusiastically to their conference experiences and emphatically endorsed the critical role that social fathers continue to play in nurturing, guiding, protecting and contributing to the healing and resilience of children in our communities.

Within their respective regional hubs, the delegates also brainstormed practical approaches to realising and affirming existing social fathers, while formulating plans to carefully mobilise and ‘recruit’ more men to serve as positive, active participants in the developmental journeys of children in their respective communities.

Characterised by camaraderie, robust dialogue, deep personal sharing, humour, experienced facilitation and a beautiful natural landscape in Franschhoek, the conference successfully engaged, inspired and empowered passionate ambassadors to continue championing the message that our fathers do matter, in spite of the large challenges we face in South Africa.

In the words of Heartlines Senior Programmes Manager, Brian Helsby: ”While the many challenges and risk factors facing children in our country are very serious, these are by no means a ‘death sentence’. We are flooded with stories of children and young people who manage to cope, overcome, and thrive as they grow to become meaningful contributors in our society. Many reference the roles that social fathers have played, and continue to play in their ability to remain resilient in the face of adversity.”

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Marlon Botha

Marlon Botha is a coach and educator who holds a master's degree in counselling psychology.

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