A day of braai meat, chess and connecting over dad talk was the highlight of the week at Riverdale Primary School in Roodepoort on an unusually warm Saturday in winter.
The Heartlines Fathers Matter team was invited by the school’s principal, Christine van der Pijl, to run a workshop and chilled “hang-out” day with dads from the school to engage in a conversation about fatherhood and how men can play an active, positive and present role in their children’s lives.
The event was attended by around 40 dads of all ages, and a handful of young men who were curious to find out more as they envision themselves becoming dads in the future.
Heartlines presented its research findings from the Understanding Fatherhod in South Africa report, which unpacks the fatherhood crisis in South Africa. Heartlines facilitators Olefile Masangane and Brian Helsby also guided the men in a discussion about societal norms and beliefs about what a good father should be and encouraged them to open up about their daily experiences.
In heated break-away discussions, men spoke about the various challenges they face as fathers. One group said they believed that paying pap geld (money for child maintenance), being an ATM, and having material wealth is the only way men can be perceived as good fathers in South Africa. Being unable to provide financial support above all else is seen as a failure.
A second group said they found that even when money was not a problem, having a demanding job to provide financial support for their families often leads to sacrificing valuable time with their children. No matter which way men look at it, there is no perfect scenario.
A third group said they agree that the best way men can be supported in fulfilling their duties is to receive constant positive affirmation that encourages and strengthens them, no matter where they are on their fatherhood journey.
The dads at Riverbank Primary School enjoyed a relaxing environment and the camaraderie of other dads, which helped them engage in difficult conversations, speak the truth about their various challenges, and find support.
Thando Ncubwana said the experience of the day had a profound impact on him, which he did not expect.
“Today’s workshop turned out to be more than I expected, it really pulled at my heart-strings and made me re-evaluate how I father my children and my nieces and nephews who look up to me as a social father. It also opened up a lot of emotions when I started reflecting on how I was raise my children and taught me to not impose the negative things that I experienced growing up on them.”