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The Emptiness of Fatherhood by Osmund Agbo


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Roughly a fortnight ago, drums were rolled out in many parts of the world, in honor and celebration of our dear sweet mothers. Mother’s Day or Mothering Sunday is usually observed half-way through the Christian penitential season preceding Easter and offers a respite from fasting which is the hallmark of the Lenten period. Though tempered by the exigencies of the moment, our love for these special creatures was still amply demonstrated in many ways, including Covid-inspired Zoom call-ins, cherishing mum’s special place in the family unit. How can we not show appreciation for the one that gives her unconditional love and made limitless sacrifices!

Mother’s day has become such a very important yearly ritual dating back to the Middle Ages with a popularity that can only be rivalled by the unpopularity of Father’s day. In fact, Father’s day is a caricature that no one’s cares about. Maybe one could argue that men are not favorably disposed to the mundane or that such is in tandem with the society’s apparent lack of interest in the appreciation of fatherhood.

Over the years, I have kept a small circle of guy friends, all married and with kids of roughly same age as mine. Ours is close knit and needless to say we enjoy each other’s company tremendously. Every now and then we would find a reason to break away from our families and the daily hustle to congregate and fellowship in the comfort of a cold brew. Though it happens infrequently, we seize on every available opportunity and has come to christen such periods as “our protected men time”. There is hardly anything spectacular about an hour or so spent together relieving old times but it’s comforting enough to throw in some semblance of balance to a busy professional life. Occasionally we also discuss life, fatherhood and everything else in between as well as share frustrations in the challenges that come with our highly demanding careers.

My buddy Joe is highly vested in making sure these periodic meets happen. He not only takes it upon himself to calls up everyone but he is quick to research the best joints in town for our hangouts. Joe is gregarious, chatty and loquacious but not this last time. This time, he was visibly absent-minded and appeared sober and reflective. Everyone kept asking what the matter was. After much hesitation and with a little shaky voice, he read out of his phone:

”Let’s say you had the privilege to have attended this one party in company of a friend. You guys met up with a bunch of other friends and some new people. As time went on, it became clear that everyone is focused solely on your friend and totally failed to take notice of you.

In fact, no one even bothered to acknowledge your presence and you were invisible for the most part. You felt worthless, humiliated, hurt and began to despise those people for the way you got treated.”

Then he paused for a few second, looked up and then continued….

”This may sound overly dramatic guys but that describes in a nutshell how I feel being a dad right now. For these kids, it’s all about mum and I feel totally ignored and almost forgotten.”

There was an eerie silence in the room for a good one minute or thereabout. Joe did not elaborate on what transpired prior to coming but it was clear that whatever was the home situation left him feeling alone, dejected  and under-appreciated.

Every one of us was very quiet and seemed buried in some deep introspection. On a personal note, I reflected on the few moments spent breeding the uncomfortable (albeit childish) feeling that my own status as a dad will forever lurk in my wife’s shadows. It was like that epiphany moment when a certain universal truth suddenly came to light. I tried to break the silence attempting to explain why mothers are deserving of all the encomiums, attention and affection. In the end, we all agreed that though mum will always be special but that society tend to downplay the role of dads in the family and in many cases make them feel like the third wheel. It gets even worse in the twilight years when all the attention are focused on mothers with very little care of how dad is faring. A sizable number of men are hunted by the morbid fear of devoting their whole lives nuturing the family only to be left alone later in life and end up dying lonely.

There was an interesting study done many years ago on this subject matter. In a poll of 2,000 dads, about two thirds of fathers felt left out of family life. A whopping 58 per cent thought mums get the better deal as they have forged a stronger relationship and bond with the kids whilst dads work long hours to provide for the family. The consequence is that dads no longer feel they have an active and vital role in the upbringing of their own children.

In that same poll, 62 per cent of dads stated that their kids always run to their mother for advice for almost about everything. From school work to clothes to wear and food. When feeling unwell, about 74 per cent of children only want their mum for cuddles and reassurance. The result is half of dads felt unwanted and useless when spending time  with the children on their days off.

The conclusion was that the super mums of today may have take-up every parental responsibility leading to dads feeling left out and unsure of what role is theirs.

It’s no secret that mums are more biologically attuned to the kids. This affinity often triggers a cycle of attention and alone time( for mums and kids) that leaves dad feeling totally left out. Moreso when the daily hustle is such that forces dad to be away from home for too long. Though times have changed and we are noticing a steady decline in the number of stay-at-home mums, men predominantly are still the primary provider in most homes.

This translates to long hours of being away from home. Unfortunately when it comes to kids, time spent together is time to bond. There’s no other way to hack around it and it’s not mum’s fault.

Most successful co-parenting model is the type that allows for some kind of specialization whenever possible instead of one person offering all the experience. If one parent gets the kids ready for school, let the other parent handle the homework, for example. Sarah Shoppe-Sullivan, a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University is a chief proponent of this idea. Allowing dad or mum to be that other parent works wonders and keeps everyone happy, she said.

Being a dad is inarguably one of the most fullfilling gift a man can ever ask for, yet a good number of men grapple with confusion ,self doubt and even a feeling of emptiness. Part of the problem is the very nature of men that make us less expressive of our feelings. That said, our society has to start according more recognition to the pivotal role men play in the family unit and their yearning to be actively involved raising their children.

Dr. Agbo, a Public Affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: Eagleosmund@yahoo.com

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