Sociologists have long touted the view that to fix a nation you must fix the family.
Sadly, our society has ignored the importance of the family as the primary socializing influence on children and youth.
But now more than ever, Barbados will have to rethink its treatment of this institution in light of the troubling behaviour of some of our children.
Evidence of the collapse of our family structure and the resulting negative fallout have been apparent long before news headlines screamed that more than a dozen students suffered stab wounds this school term.
We only have to look at the number of youth, mostly males, confined at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds.
The current debate about the disturbing incidents involving our youth has been focused on the school system, and incorrectly so.
The fact is, the home is the first training ground and until we get the family right, our social ills will continue to multiply.
Over time, our family structure has changed—and not for the better.
The extended family that once dominated our society is practically non-existent and, in most cases, single-parent households led by mothers traumatized by absent fathers are prevalent and our children are paying the price.
On Tuesday, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur issued perhaps the strongest reminder in recent times that until we address this issue of absentee fathers, ugly problems will continue to emerge.
In his final speech in the House of Assembly, the long-serving parliamentarian delivered fatherly advice that we would do well to heed.
“Barbados has been built on values and I want to use the benefit of this speech to say that parenting has been one of those strong values, and that the fathers of Barbados are failing this country,” he said.
Arthur added that as the father of a daughter, he would never entertain the kind of deviant behaviour being exhibited by schoolchildren from his child.
This was not an attempt to bash fathers but a simple acknowledgement that while loving, supportive, wise mothers count, strong men do too.
More often than not, fathers, traditionally regarded as breadwinners, are also seen as the disciplinarians of the home.
Most adults can probably remember their mother warning: “Wait ‘til your father gets home.”
When fathers fail to parent the impact is far reaching.
According to sociologists, ample research shows that children with absent fathers have poor self-esteem, silently feel abandoned, show greater truancy at school and perform poorly.
Fatherlessness is also a driver for delinquency, drug and alcohol abuse, criminal activity, promiscuity and teen pregnancy.
This then is a call for men to man up to their duties. Fathers should not be mere sperm donors, and it is not enough to provide financial support. Every father should accept responsibility for raising his children. Fathers need to be hands on—play with their children, help them with homework, take them to the dentist and get involved in all the other activities usually left to mothers. That goes for men living in the same household as well as those outside the home.
Admittedly, some men are not at fault for not spending time with their children as mothers unfairly seek to block interaction.
In such cases, women would do well to set their personal issues aside and put their children first.
Mothers have to get past this bad practice and realize that a child hurts most when he or she does not have all the resources they need to have a happy life—and that includes both parents whenever possible.
Of course, there is also need for the wider society to treat fathers as more than afterthoughts.
In Barbados, we have failed to adequately recognize and praise fathers. And this is where the state can act to reverse this trend.
Isn’t it time that fathers are granted paid paternity leave? Men have also been persistently calling for a “better” deal from the law courts on issues related to paternity and child support.
The time has come for a change in our attitude towards fathers, and men must change their approach to parenting, with the support of women and the state, for the sake of our children.