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(The New Vision – Saturday, March 8, 2014)

MUKONO, UGANDA ✦ It’s International Women’s Day and we’re all happy to celebrate women in Uganda and around the world, but the truth of the matter is that it’s the men who need to come to terms with who they are and why they’re around, or it’s all for nothing.

This is the strangeness of this big yearly celebration. Women’s Day largely revolves around the hard times women face because their men are so hopeless. Plenty of husbands and fathers don’t pull their weight and don’t understand or care how desperately their families need them.

Now I am not about to beat-up myself or my brothers everywhere because I have nothing better to do. The Daughters of Eve are just as fallen as the Sons of Adam. But have an honest look into the homes of Uganda. I’m imagining you see what I see. It’s a bloody mess.

Take the story of “Grace,” a Ugandan woman who fought back tears as she shared with me how her husband had just left her and their teenage daughter to fend for themselves.

There are school fees and food and rent and medical bills, and how in the world will Grace be able to handle it all? Her man has already said that she need not expect any money because he’s moving into a new place with his new woman and, after all, that’s expensive.

Making it all the more painful, this man and Grace recently buried their young son. He died after a long illness. I remember the day well because she screamed into my ear, “He’s dead! He’s dead! Oh, God, my son is dead!”  Now it’s her husband of 14 years who is dead in a different way.

In another kick to the stomach, Grace’s husband has six other children from other women, at least six that Grace knows about. And in a developing nation like Uganda, no court ensures that this man offers support to any of them.

So all these little boys and girls have nothing, no daddy and no role-model and no security. What they do have is a future with far greater chances of leaving school, or getting on drugs, or getting sexually involved too early, or landing in jail, or even committing suicide.

This is what study after study shows. Children need their fathers that much.

Of course, Grace’s story is just one. Multiply it by a hundred, or a thousand, or a hundred thousand. This is Uganda. This is Uganda’s crisis, the sort that can cause any nation to implode.

“What is it?” I asked Grace. “What exactly is the matter with Ugandan men?”

She laughed. “They’re helpless,” she said. “I may get more of this if I get another one.”

Social safety nets for single mothers, like in the west, might help. On the other hand, state support can’t fix broken homes. In the United States, about four in ten children are now from fatherless homes.

Also, in the west, men are often seen as dispensable. They’re good for a supply of sperm, but the women can raise children by themselves, thank you very much.  This is what the western feminists say. No wonder Hollywood’s entertainment industry often shows fathers as idiots.

Whatever the culture, the result is the same. Children grow up fatherless. Even when they don’t want to, children then often repeat the cycle with their own children.

Maybe what we need after Women’s Day is an International Men’s Day every March 9 to grapple with some of these issues. Celebrate a man saying to his wife and children, “I love you. I am committed to you. And I enjoy spending time with you because you help me become who I am meant to be.”

This goes beyond Father’s Day, that annual day in June that can be so sappy and commercial and questionable. How can you celebrate Father’s Day when your father isn’t around? It becomes a cultural joke, if not salt in your wounds.

Men need certain things to do well in life. They need a battle to fight. They need an adventure to pursue. And they need a beauty to rescue. This is what the stories of old, the ancient scriptures and parables, say.

This is not to dominate anyone, but to feel strong in spirit. This way, when life’s pressures hit, men won’t buckle. They won’t take off. They won’t be, as Grace so aptly put it, “helpless.”

How many men are encouraged in this? How many feel their deeper need for what is, really, a spiritual life, to be in a quest and a story that’s bigger than themselves?

I once heard such a story. It’s about another kind of father. It goes like this:

Once upon a time there was a little girl. The girl got lost and her father was very worried, as were the village people. Everyone looked all day, but the girl was nowhere to be found.

Eventually night came. The village people went home, but the father kept looking through the darkness. He loved the girl deeply and he looked everywhere he could imagine. Then, finally, deep in the night, he found her in some woods at the edge of the village, curled up, asleep.

Full of joy, he knelt to kiss her, and when he did this the little girl woke up and put her arms around him and said, “Daddy, I found you!”

The humorous irony is that the girl did no such thing. And the poignancy is that the lost girl is any one of us, while the father with that relentless commitment is our eternal Father.

Any man will far short of this sort of Dad. We’re mere mortals who are plodding along imperfectly, putting one foot unsurely in front of the other.

But the sad truth on this Women’s Day is that plenty of men aren’t even doing this. They’ve somehow given up. For everyone sake, including their own, it’s time they woke up.

About Thomas Froese