Bonolo Mokua

It takes a village

You don't need a Google search on the state of fatherhood in South Africa to know that we as a country are facing an absent father crisis. An equally worrying and disheartening trend has gone viral on social media where young people are posting a picture of themselves and their absent father under the caption “happy child vs absent father”.

It's not all doom and gloom, however, because many of us, whether we are conscious of it or not, have been raised by a social father. As humans, we have been wired to live in community with others; to protect each other and to exchange ideas.

The concept of community, whether you live in a rural area, a suburban neighborhood, or a secure complex with high-rise walls, means that every parent has a village that looks out for their child when they aren’t around. From the security guard in your complex, to a trustworthy pastor, your child’s uncle, grandfather or your male bestie, Your world is and can be filled with positive role models, especially if the child’s biological father isn’t present.

How much or how little do you commit as a social father?

For over 30 years, Heartlines’ Craig Bouchier has been a fully committed social father, mobilising community fathers to co-create safe spaces and, even in the midst of his son's chronic illness, Craig says that he carries the essence of fatherhood with him each day: “It’s evident in everyday heartfelt interactions I share with others, despite the challenges; I derive fulfillment from conversations with people like my local barista, who seeks not only life advice but also guidance on raising his own son.”

"The enduring power of parental guidance... evolving through life's stages, speaks volumes about the timeless impact of a social father”.

Craig adds that “mentoring young adults brings me immense pride as I tailor support to their individual needs, whether it's through sharing relevant resources or simply offering a listening ear.”

Here are some points to consider about a social father’s commitment:

  1. Emotional encouragement: Social fathers typically provide emotional support to a child by offering love, encouragement and understanding.
  2. Financial assistance: Some social fathers may choose to contribute financially to the upbringing of a child, although the extent of financial support can vary. In some cases, social fathers may provide for the child's basic needs such as food, clothing, and education, while in other cases, financial support may be minimal or nonexistent.
  3. Parental responsibilities: Social fathers often take on parental responsibilities such as providing discipline, guidance and supervision. However, the level of involvement in day-to-day parenting tasks may vary depending on factors like the child's age, the dynamics within the family, and the social father's availability and willingness to take on such responsibilities.
  4. Cultural and social expectations: A social father’s commitment may also be influenced by cultural and social expectations regarding fatherhood and parental roles. Biological parents can also be involved in deciding how much time or the extent to which they would like a social dad to be involved.
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Craig reminds us that even though he is currently experiencing a tough season in his own life, his mentees “know they can lean on me when needed” and as he prepares to cheer on a man at the Comrades marathon who lost his dad before he started primary school and whom Craig has mentored for over four decades. Craig says that this opportunity reminds him of “the enduring power of parental guidance, our journey together, evolving through life's stages, [that] speaks volumes about the timeless impact of a social father”.

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Bonolo Mokua

Bonolo is a multimedia journalist and content creator at Heartlines. She has experience in online and radio media production and helps spread the Heartlines message on multiple platforms.