Sunday April 3 marked a pivotal day when we collectively commemorate the female figures, role models and counterparts who altruistically take on the roles of carers, nurturers and disciplinarians on a daily basis. Flavour acknowledges the fact that often, parenthood can take two parties to successfully bring up a child, so we want to flip the script to recognise the unique contribution fathers make and the impact a father’s involvement can have on a child’s aspirations and achievements.
‘It wasn’t me!’
Most of us are aware of the Jamaican phrase that has been widely and negatively adopted to describe the man who will demand a paternity test, demean his female counterpart and shun his responsibilities when faced with impending fatherhood. Sadly, the term ‘babyfather’ is used extensively in the media to depict the absent father who fails to provide paternal assistance and spits his dummy out if he feels his manhood is being challenged.
However, while the government continues to study contingency plans to make fathers financially accountable, and the media selectively concentrates on the absence of men within the family unit, Flavour would like to salute those many men who do actively take part in the child-rearing process. Just like the fictional characters Dr Cliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show and Michael Kyle from My Wife and Kids, there are fathers who proudly carry baby pictures in their wallets, work 12-hour shifts and still stay up to do the bedtime feeds. There are men who take the time to kiss their daughter’s knee when she falls, are willing to adopt the role of disciplinarian, and do the school run all suited and booted!
Flavour meets up with four fathers to illustrate, contrary to popular belief, that can multi-task and be both successful businessmen and devoted fathers too. These ‘superdads’ have taken up the challenge with enthusiasm, understanding the mammoth responsibility of the role of a father and accepting the inevitable change required of them, while maintaining their first-class position in their chosen career paths. These positive father figures strive to emotionally and financially further their children’s intellectual and emotional achievements – and shatter the image of the babyfather.
New addition to the family
Every man reacts differently to the ‘plus’ sign of a pregnancy test, and every reaction is unique to their situation. Whether it is astonishment, disbelief or absolute joy, most fathers have a story to tell.
Lekan Popoola is the owner and director of Hoop Dreams London, a basketball company that develops and coaches primary, secondary and college players. He is also father to 14-month-old Isaiah, who he describes as an independent mummy’s boy with a vivid and dynamic personality.
Lekan’s recollection of being told he was going to be a father is truly incomparable. While playing, he suffered from a serious basketball injury to his Achilles’ heel. An adverse reaction to the general anaesthetic used in the following operation left him fighting for his life on a life support machine. He remembers waking up to the gloomy stares of his friends and family, but says, ‘When the mist cleared, my fiancée sat by my bedside and revealed that she was pregnant. I remember feeling a sense of understanding, as I believed that this might have been the reason I survived the operation.’
Balancing hoop dreams with baby demands
As a new father, Lekan attributes his success of coping with the change of dynamics to his fiancée, who he ‘depends on just like a right-handed person depends on their right arm’. He openly admits that he still struggles to switch out of workaholic mode, but looking into Isaiah’s eyes to see the combination of himself and his fiancée is a feeling that is unmatched. ‘Watching the change from complete dependence and fragility to his lack of fear when he leaps off a sofa is amazing, and I know that in the future he’s going to give me more scares, smiles and enjoyment.’ His motto: Don’t live for today, plan for tomorrow.
Me Tarzan, you Jane
Conventional roles dictate that as a father you are automatically expected to juggle play groups, GP visits and bedtime stories with your main role as provider. Too often we assume this old-school mentality, surreptitiously adding an extra burden on the father who is trying to provide the best for his child.
Juggling designer clothes with the buggy
Shai Spooner, 24, has fast-tracked his way to acquire the title of renowned fashion stylist. Mentored by the most respected designers, he has worked on The X Factor, provided inspiration for clothing lines and is now head stylist for N-Dubz. Alongside rubbing shoulders with the social elite, Shai is proud father to 10-month-old Morgan Payne, who he confidently asserts is ‘already a handful, just like his father’. He admits that while he adopts a hands-on approach to fathering, he is the typical cool parent, who favours playtime over bedtime.
Sometimes working 10-hour days, seven days a week, he acknowledges the importance of being able to provide financial support, emphasising that while money might not make you happy, it makes life a lot easier. He confesses that though his days may be filled with working with and styling celebrities, such as Alesha Dixon and Pixie Lott, he spends a considerable amount of time yearning to spend more time with his son.
Financial responsibility can be a burden, but the rewards are far greater
Peter White, 34, is a customer strategy manager for a company that provides and develops customer-focused strategies for an extensive range of clients. Married with three young girls, Kayleigh (three), Bethany (two) and Annabelle (one), he boasts that one of the greatest rewards is to witness the emergence of each of their unique personalities, knowing that he has helped shape them.
He is unable to unequivocally pinpoint the best part of being a father, simply because while the first utterance of the word ‘daddy’ left him speechless and the first steps amazed, every day they do something to surprise him. ‘Being a father is hard work, yet very rewarding. One should never underestimate the hard work and commitment required.’
Overwhelmed with the thought of being left holding the dummy
These moving accounts may leave some of you confused. Why would a father snub such a pivotal role that promises future recompense? The reality of it is that where there are certain men who may have missed the lessons on principles and ethics, there is also a group of beleaguered and troubled individuals who are unable to step up to the plate because of past history, lack of support or fear of the unknown.
Viv Oyolu is the founder of pioneering mentor scheme Divine Communications Trust, which couples London-based fathers between the ages of 17-25 with successful businessmen, who act as mentors and positive role models. She realised there were very few services specifically targeted to young fathers, and set to redress the imbalance by identifying universal risk factors and grouping the common challenges a young father faces into three categories: financial, emotional conflict and lack of support. The programme assists with educational and job opportunities, work on emotional maturity, and gives support to those alienated by loved ones.
Society still underestimates the father figure
Viv acknowledges the fact that research results indisputably confirm that an absent father can impact on the child’s school performance, career progression, involvement with the law and relationships with others. Reasserting the impact a father’s presence can have on a child’s self-esteem, she says, ‘A young girl should experience her first form of validation from her father, learning firsthand how she should be treated by her male counterparts. Conversely, a boy learns how to treat a female from observing his father figure. Most of our behaviour is learnt from our immediate environment.’
A real dad can make all the difference
Chad Bowes, 30, is a store manager in South West London and father to seven-year-old Kristian-Jamal, ‘a charming and energetic young man, with a touch of cheekiness about him’. Understanding the challenges, he also contributes towards workshops that assist lost or misguided young fathers. Without hesitation, he lists his father as his role model and emphasises the impact a father can make with guidance, love and encouragement. ‘Now I am a father,’ he says, ‘I am responsible for another human being. It constantly reminds me that someone else is now my primary focus and I have to be a shining example. I’ve been through difficult times in my life and if it wasn’t for the fact that I have a son, I don’t know where I would be today.’
Fathers such as these are not so rare rare, just simply not publicised due to their modest approach. They deserve to be acknowledged and their efforts commended, because, as Barack Obama said, a male role model can make a significant impact. Dads are teachers and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push towards it.
Words by Sarah James-Cyrus