Why is it that in the Barbadian family court system, when a couple is separated, the mother is usually granted full custody of the child with weekend visitation apportioned to the father? With the many variations of answers provided to me by more than one legal luminary, I was forced to wonder where it is written and etched in stone that a father’s home is unsuitable for the positive development of the child during the week.
Are all the occupants of the father’s house unfit guardians? Have we as a society concluded that the paternal uncles, aunts and grandparents have no positive contribution to make in the life of the child?
The more I questioned this anomaly the more I was reminded by the system that this is the status quo; it is our accepted societal norm for the children to stay with their mothers. Yet we sit in councils, we sit in discussions, we debate in our varying forums arguing that fathers need to step up and take responsibility for their kin.
Is the role of the Caribbean father now confined to provider, and, within the substructure of our new philosophies, have we now accepted that he has no other roles to play?
I should like to hope this is not our new philosophy; I should like to believe there is a fervent desire by all Barbadians to see our
men take responsibility for their children and fulfil their roles as fathers to the fullest extent.
But how are men to earn their noble right as fathers, if the courts across the Caribbean continue to marginalize their worth?
I should like to propose a possible solution. Instead of sentencing a man to time in prison for non-payment of child support, perhaps it is better to provide him with the opportunity to become a better father. With the help of the social agencies like PAREDOS, the Barbados Family Planning Association and other welfare agencies, we can expose our men to some of the best practices of parenting; and, under Child Care Board supervision if necessary, the court may gran joint custody to the father, allowing the child to live with him for one or two weeks in every month.
This I contend will provide an opportunity for the father to take responsibility for his child; to ensure that the child gets to and from school safely;
to ensure that the child is fed; to assist the child with homework; to comfort the child when it is sick. He is now strategically positioned to mentor and guide his child while interacting in a wholesome way, ably assisted by the other guardians within his household.
If under the proposed provision, the supervising agency determines that the child is being neglected then by all means the matter should return to the court and another solution sought.
With that said, let us be reminded that they are still far too many reports of instances where the words “unfit” and “irresponsible” are levelled against fathers with little corroborating evidence to back up such claims. I believe that the time has come for us to start viewing the issue of parenting with more balance and objectivity, given the reality of our circumstances.
A home with both parents will always be considered as ideal; but we must face the facts and accept that this is not the norm today. So those among us who believe we are acting in the child’s best interest by keeping them from their fathers and his relatives, we do so with grave consequences, because the hard truth of the matter is that we are actually perpetuating our slaved indoctrinations by dismantling the African ideology of how a child should be raised.
Should we continue to do such things, we will permanently destroy the essence of our black family units; and the image of the black man as a father, provider, protector and mentor will be lost forever as the former West Indian plantation owner Willie Lynch intended.
So as we celebrate the fellowship of the Yuletide season, let’s us take a few moments and reflect on the fathers, the male role models, the male mentors whose guidance and support have enriched our lives, as we work harder to assist, promote and encourage all Caribbean men to take their place of honour as fathers of their children and of our nations.
Says former American farmer and religious leader Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994): “Mothers play an important role as the heart of the home, but this
in no way lessens the equally important role fathers should play, as head of the home, in nurturing, training, and loving their children.”
(Sean St Clair Fields is a regular commentator on social issues.)