… put a smile on my face everyday
… cook nice food for me and play with me
… play ball with me
… make me laugh, hug me and hold me
… take care of me
… help me with homework and assignments
… turn a bad day into a good day
… give money to the poor and protect the unprotected
In October 2012, Sonke launched the My Dad Can campaign, an initiative to highlight fathers across the country who are supporting, loving, guiding and caring for their children (whether they are biological or not).
Partnering with community radio stations in eight provinces, and with partner organisations within these same communities, Sonke called on youngsters to nominate their fathers. “What can your dad do?” we asked them, and, “Tell us what makes your dad special.”
Although it took some time to get all the entries in, we ultimately received several hundred from mostly rural areas across the country. Poring over the numerous entries was one of the most heart-warming experiences of my career. There were so many beautiful stories; it was incredibly difficult to choose between them.
Although many children spoke of how their fathers pay for their school fees and for household necessities and how they play games with them, teaching them to play soccer or making them laugh, a large number of kids also spoke about how their fathers cook for them, clean the house, help them with homework, and provide moral guidance and inspiration.
“It’s not every dad who can wash nappies and cook for the family,” wrote seven-year old Tsietsi Foss (with some help). Her father, Boitumelo has played a significant caring role in their family, starting when Tsiesti was born and her mother had to undergo surgery leaving her dad to care for the newborn. And he has continued to play this role in their family. “He was the first person to hold my sister at hospital and give medication when I am sick,” said Tsietsi.
It was notable how many of the stories were not about biological fathers but about brothers, uncles, or step dads.
Emilhle Prince from Bloemendal wrote to us about her uncle:
“He protects, loves and cares for us. He plays a lot with me and teaches me to take right decisions, know when to say no and know the difference between right and wrong. This is extra special to me because he is playing a huge role of a father figure to me, as my biological father passed away when I was three years old. He is my aunt’s husband but I call him Daddy. I love him very much.”
While 13 year-old Ayanda Jali from Butterworth nominated her brother:
“My brother would protect, love, care, help, save, feed, feed us no matter the CONSEQUENCES… He is a star in our eyes. I’d love to walk in his shoes. I can’t even begin to explain other things. He’s worked hard for us.”
Most of the kids submitted their entries in English, though this was not a requirement. Despite some obvious language difficulties, they nevertheless managed to articulate the special role that their fathers play. Here’s what 13-year old Nombulelo Shongwe from Shongwe Mission had to say about her dad:
“My dad help my family and I. He is responsible to my school fees. Many homework help me. He buy me some clothes or uniform. He make sure that am healthy and strong. He makes sure that I got to school early. He is special because raise me up without my mom. He is a single parent, a single father without money or job, but he try with all means to get money to support me.
Being nominated by their kids has been eye opening for some of the fathers. “I never knew that my child saw me this way,” said Francisco Theunissen when we went to Bush Radio to be interviewed. He went on to say that he had not realised what an influence he had on his child’s life and how committed he now is to being a positive force in his family.
Hopefully others who hear his family’s story will also be inspired.
On a sadder note, it was notable how many children praised their fathers in relation to what they don’t do: hitting, beating, shouting. These kids seem to perceive abuse to be the norm. It’s a sad state of affairs where children define their fathers as being special because they don’t hurt them!
Ultimately we selected 11 families to profile on radio and in local print media. The kids have received hampers of stationery and school gear, as well as a cash prize. Families will all attend a gala celebration in Johannesburg on Father’s Day to further celebrate and profile them.
Meanwhile, the families are being interviewed on radio and their stories form the basis of a series of six new radio episodes on fatherhood, exploring different roles that fathers can play. These exciting new conversations will be rolled out to a number of radio stations as Sonke enters into a new phase in its community radio work, including stations in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and DRC!
While we are still trying to secure funding for another round of My Dad Can our hopes for this next iteration are ambitious. With a much broader national reach and involvement of national as well as community radio, we hope that this second round will draw more extensively on relationships with corporate partners and schools to ensure that more children are able to participate. Ultimately, we would like My Dad Can to become an annual event promoting a different kind of fatherhood, changing perceptions of fatherhood in the media and inspiring dads around the country to become more involved in their children’s lives – to everyone’s benefit.