By Kwame Adjei
There is a truth about African fathers that goes unnoticed or unaddressed for years. An unspoken truth. You may be experiencing this unspoken truth—a tension between you and your father, but you are unsure about what you feel or why you feel that way.
It is weird because your father has always lived with you, provided for you, and may not have done anything to make you mad or sad. But you still feel, well, distant from him. As a son who grew up with African parents in a humble home in Canada, this has been my reality for many years (24 to be exact) and I am sure many people can relate.
After 24 years of living with my father, I still don’t know who he is. It is not that he wasn’t there for me. Far from that! I saw him every day, doing his duties of providing for my mother and my two sisters. Yet, there has always been a wall between us. For me, it’s almost a burden to go to him for help or get that fatherly moment I always yearned for.
African fathers, more than others, have been known for being emotionally distant from their children. If you too feel this way, here are probably the reasons why:
He Thinks Providing Food, Shelter and Clothing is Enough
These are the basic duties of any parent. My father always made sure food, shelter, and clothing were provided and I will always be thankful for that. However, the truth is that children need so much more from their fathers, including quality time, and emotional connection in order to be fully functional in society. If you did not have this with your dad, it is quite typical to disconnect from him as you grow older.
Your Father May Not Know How To Express His Emotions Properly
Have you ever said “I love you, Dad” to your father? Was his response something along the lines of “Okay” or “Yes”? A lot of children can relate to their father finding it incredibly hard to utter the words – I love you.
Humans love it when their emotions are reciprocated.If you expressed heartfelt emotions to your father and those emotions were left unanswered (it’s similar to your crush not liking you back), it is of no surprise that you would feel distant from him. It is the same if you have never heard your father say those words to you.
You are Scared of Telling Him About your Failures
Growing up as a kid, the two days I dreaded the most were the days I brought home my report card and parent-teacher nights. I knew there would be consequences in the form of yelling or lashes for my grades (no matter how hard I was trying in school) or for any bad remarks from my teacher.
Not only that. Anything considered bad, according to certain societal standards (even though it may not necessarily be bad), would have the same consequences. People with tattoos or male ear piercings will probably relate better with this. Children experiment with life all the time; it is how we live and learn. Stifling their creativity or punishing them for every little thing is one sure way to create that distance between you both.
Your Father Genuinely Has Little Time to Spend with You
First-generation immigrant parents may typically have this issue. In order to provide for themselves and the family, they have to get multiple jobs. This makes it hard for them to spend quality time with their children. This is the main reason I felt so distant from my father, and I am sure a lot of people can relate to this.
He Is Too Caught Up with Who you Should Be, Rather than Who You Are
The expectations our fathers put on us can sometimes be unbearable. Growing up, many children could relate to their parents bragging to others about what a fine doctor, engineer, or lawyer they would be in the future. For many who are not doctors or lawyers now, they can almost see the disappointment in their parent’s faces.
The truth is that life comes at us hard and things do not always go as planned. That feeling of disappointment parents express towards their children greatly affects their self-worth. The guilt of not living up to your father’s expectations could be the reason you feel distant from him, especially if all you wanted to do was make him proud.
He May Think It is Your Mother’s Duty to Nurse You Emotionally
Sometimes, outdated beliefs can be the cause of why you feel so distant from your father. In most African traditions, it is believed that the mother typically takes the role of nursing the child and as such, should be responsible for connecting with them emotionally. If your father still holds dear this age-old belief, chances are that he will be disconnected from you emotionally.
He still Treats You like a Child Even Though You Are An Adult
Being talked to like a child, when you are an adult, is not a pleasant experience for anyone. Unfortunately, this has been a common occurrence between many fathers and their children. The most common situation is when the child is of a certain age and is not yet married or does not have a professional career. This type of treatment may make you feel unheard and disrespected and may create a communication gap between yourself and your dad.
If you have experienced or are experiencing any of these, do not give up on your attempt to reconnect with your father. The first step to take is expressing your feelings to him, no matter how hard it is. It will take time to do away with old habits and develop the relationship you want with him but patience pays off. Sometimes, they are genuinely unaware of how they make you feel, and taking the initiative to tell them can resolve most issues.
I can happily say that communicating the reasons I felt distant from my father was the best thing I did to save my relationship with him. It lifted a huge burden and that awkward tension off my shoulders. We have since become closer than ever!
If you are a father, you should also make a conscious effort to build a better relationship with your children. Providing for their needs is important, but bonding with them on all levels is more important.
How is your current relationship with your father? As a father, do you have a solid relationship with your child?