This past weekend was made long by Friday being Youth Day, a public holiday that recognises the Soweto youth uprisings that took place on 16 June 1976. The theme decided by the government for Youth Day 2023 was: “Accelerating youth economic emancipation for a sustainable future”. This was wildly ironic given that this country has an unemployment rate of 32,9% and a youth unemployment rate of 46,5%.
Couched in the Sunday of the same weekend was Father’s Day. Although this day, like Mothers’ Day, and any other day when you are compelled to buy gifts and go out for meals, can be viewed as manipulative marketing ventures, they do offer a moment to pause and consider the significance of who is being celebrated.
Fathers were the focus of attention this time. The magnifying glass is usually on mothers. The importance of their nurturing and care, the juggling they do to keep home, family and work happy, their worry that they do not do enough, and their guilt at feeling not good enough.
Fathers, however, tend to be taken for granted and are somewhat overlooked. Kept on the sidelines to cheer at sports events, possibly roped in to help with pythagoras and the periodic table, fathers somehow are not seen to be as important as mothers, maybe not quite as necessary. But dads matter. A lot.
Dads matter a lot
A father’s relationship with his children has a deep impact on their long term healthy development. Children with dads who were involved in their upbringing tend to perform better socially, academically and emotionally.
The rough and tumble play that dads get involved in helps their children with emotion regulation and balanced behaviour. This rough-housing teaches children how to deal with aggression and physical contact in socially acceptable ways and gives them valuable skills regarding safety boundaries and risk-taking.
Chantal, the eldest and only daughter of four, has fond memories of climbing all over her father, hanging from his arms and riding on his back like a horse. There are photos of him holding up all four of his children in a tipping, flaying pyramid of small bodies, faces lit up in glee and mouths wide open in belly rolling mirth.
“He would come home after a day at work and we would all jump on him as he came through the door," said Chantal, smiling as she reminisced, “In summer we would go outside before bathtime and run races up and down a strip in the garden. When the boys started playing rugby at primary school he would run down that same strip passing the ball between his young sons. He loved it and so did we.”
Little Chantal and her dad, Neville.
Being a father
Matthew’s father, David, was more restrained, not as physical, but he was very handy and taught Matthew valuable handyman skills. He is kind and gentle and Matthew was imbued with these characteristics as well.
David left the country when Matthew was 15. The hole that he left felt cavernous and deep. Matthew swam in this shadowy cave for many years, feeling anchorless and adrift. In later years, however, they reconnected and developed a strong relationship, which both have been grateful for.
As a young father, Matthew was very focused on keeping his fledgling business together. When the business collapsed in a devastating heap, he was left bruised and battered and driven to re-evaluate his priorities. He had a son, who at eight years old he barely knew. He made a conscious commitment to spend more time and energy on his son. Today, 19 years later, he has a strong bond that covers both business, keen interests and the opportunity to learn from each other.
Not so little Matthew, his father David and son, Tristan
Culture, custom and economics
In this country culture, custom and economics make for shaky parental foundations. Historical absences and geographical separations are still mowed into the social landscape and too few fathers live with, and provide for, their children. Although having children is culturally viewed in a positive light, not enough pressure is placed on fathers to be present, involved and good role models for their offspring.
Fathers that don’t live with their children can still play a positive role and must. In our work with teens and young adults we see how the presence, or lack, of fathers plays a huge role in the emotional wellbeing of these young people. We wonder whether fathers truly appreciate how important they are. Not just as providers but as mentors and guides.
The value of this would be even more powerful in light of the obvious lack of formal employment opportunities available. Fathers could work with their children to define possibilities, provide guidance and enable both sons and daughters to make resourceful choices for their futures.
It’s amazing what you can observe, when you stop and take the time…
Having an involved father and being an involved father framed the activities of the day on Sunday. Matthew spent the afternoon with Tristan, and Chantal spent the afternoon with her father. The conversations and togetherness on both sides was time spent in a precious and building way.
Despite some criticism for the commercialisation of the day, it did make us reflect on our fathers and, in Matthew’s case, being a father. It reignited a sense of gratitude for the part our fathers have played in our lives.
To all the fathers out there, we salute you and acknowledge the important role you play in our lives and in society as a whole.
Until next time.
Yours in feeling,
Chantal & Matthew
About the author
5th Place is a dynamic organization that's passionate about emotional fitness. We're the creators of Shape of Emotion, a revolutionary tool that's changing the way we understand and manage our emotions. But we're not just about theory - we're about practical, tangible change.
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