I want to begin this week by offering my condolences to the family and friends of the late veteran journalist and editor, Robert Best. Mr. Best taught me and I remember three things specifically about his classes. Firstly, Mr. Best was always well prepared and enthusiastic about his class. He always was able to teach us something new and useful. Secondly, I remember how ‘Bessie’ taught. He always had a story to regale us with which brought his theory into practice.
I still have one of what I believe is the last type set rulers sold in Barbados in my possession. At the time we were at the Barbados Community College, radio and newspapers were just moving from analog into digital format. “Bessie” always used to persuade us to learn both methods for good measure so that the day the ‘computer broke down’, we could still be of use to ourselves and our employers.
The third thing I remember about Mr. Best was his everlasting cheerfulness. “Bessie”, who was a fierce marker, would give a cool 50 on an examination you were sure you got nothing less than 80 on and then find a story with some life lesson and explanation as to why you were dead wrong and should be glad you managed a pass. The story would be accompanied by a laugh which made his whole body giggle. He was a giant at what he did.
To the substantive business! The fathers of Barbados are demanding more of the judicial system with respect to access to their children. I am needless to say elated that this day has come. Research shows that children who have the explicit love and support of two parents, thrive best in school and go on to become more well-adjusted adults. Experience seems to corroborate research. We know that the people we meet and who seem the most complicated, are usually also the ones who have the most harrowing stories to tell about their childhoods.
While I am generally happy about the interest fathers are showing in their children, there is also another emotion going along with the glee, which is harder to express. I suspect that whether I try to blanket the emotion into a simple one word, or if I expand on the thought, I run the risk of running afoul of my male counterparts. Thankfully, I am not known for faint-heartedness and I shall venture in spite.
I was engaging a father who has had significant trouble getting access to his daughter in a public forum recently. He explained that by the time he’d seen what he termed ‘the true colours’ of his then girlfriend, the seed that brought forward his daughter had already been unfortunately planted. I was struck that someone would describe his part in creating a pregnancy as an unfortunate event in the same breath that he was fighting to spend time with the tangible result of his ‘misfortune’.
I immediately wondered about what he would say in the presence of that ‘misfortune’. Also, what types of activities he would engage in with the ‘misfortune’. Words are powerful things and I draw attention to this case not because I wish to ridicule the man, but because I hope to draw him to reflection about the deeper issues in this case.
I have said before in this space and I will say again that Barbadians are still approaching motherhood and fatherhood as a result of ‘oops’ moments. Women and men who barely know each other are ending up with a lifelong commitment to moulding the life of a child based on some fragile and superficial mating patterns that include, ‘friends with benefits’, ‘side pieces’ and ‘unlabeled situationships’.
The reality is that as much as our views about sex and engaging in sexual activity have evolved, the undergirding emotions and connections – what we call ‘love’ – have not changed in their characteristics. Love is still as jealous as it ever was. It is still as egotistical. In many cases, what begins as a situation of convenience for two people often turns into a mess with one person carrying feelings which are often not reciprocated by the other party. The result is bitterness and confusion as unaddressed emotions go unresolved. Where people are able to navigate their casual relationships, they are usually fleeting and do not allow for the type of foundation child rearing necessitates.
Many people who are comfortable in these types of non-committal relationships are in some way emotionally unavailable or facing emotional issues which they need to manage individually before they can have a deeper relationship. They come to relationships with significant baggage. So while Barbadians continue to create casual unions for their sexual gratification (I am passing no judgment on the negotiation of sex itself), we are witnessing a significant social fallout when children are created in such situations.
When these unions of convenience break down, both men and women can become vengeful. They seek ways to regain perceived lost control. Many men go into these relationships of convenience still expecting more from the woman because of established perceptions of what a woman should be.
I can only hope that the men involved in the creation of Access for Fathers (AFF) are not driven to their motive by control or bitterness. I hope that this is a genuine attempt to recognize the importance of fatherhood. What they are fighting is an ineffective system, not the mothers of their children. I am not advocating for the state to find itself regulating people’s bedroom proclivities, but there is a point at which the state has to decide whether it is easier to deal with dysfunctional parenting or the repair of many broken teenagers and young adults resulting from adverse childhood conditions.
I hope too that I see more fathers willing to take on the role of primary parents after a breakup and more mothers with the freedom which men enjoy and only the obligation for weekend child care and the provision of a maintenance sum. I hope no mother choosing that option is frowned upon. We hope that evolutions, when they occur, bring us closer to the correct and balanced situation (whatever the correct and balanced situation is).
We can only hope, even as we are glad, that evolution in and of itself has begun.