(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.
2 thoughts on “After Women’s Day, men … wake up!”
Sorry to hear about Grace’s further loss, Thom. Unfortunately, men and women grieve differently, and too often that leads separation. I find men grieving the loss of a child are prone to adopt the fight or flight style of “manliness”. Which is why so many lead causes or fundraising campaigns to fight for a cure for whatever caused their loss, and so many others flee the family as they can’t cope living with the loss. I have a good friend in Canada that sadly matches Grace’s story, so I’m all for an International Men’s (Responsibility) Day!
Heavens, Mr. Froese, I have not caught all your Hamilton Spectator columns, but in the past couple of hours, have read quite a lot of your work. You have moved me to tears more than once. I read Letter to Mr. Millard 2 before Letter 1, and did not realize your letters were directed to that Mr. Millard. I’ve no doubt evil exists, right here, right next door or down the street, perhaps, but your references to it are different enough to characterize it anew, which is a good thing. Mr. Smith, Mr. Millard’s sidekick is allegedly guilty of two of the three murders Mr. Millard is accused of, so he must be evil as well, mustn’t he?
I’d almost despaired of finding a way to contact you about helping locate a dear friend of ours living in Kampala, Uganda. Swizen Kyomuhendo was a Lecturer at the University in Kampala who came to Dundas, Ontario in fall of 1993 to take his Masters in Social Work at McMaster University. Mark Hadysh, my husband, was Swizen’s seatmate in many of their classes, and the third week of September, Mark spied a bit of Swizen’s unmistakeable long underwear cuff beneath his jeans. He teased him about the rigours of the Canadian winter to come.
Soon Mark was telling me daily stories of Swizen and his adventures as he found his way around and met more people. I had to meet this young charming boy who was so far from home and family and was so courageous, so asked Mark to bring Swizen home to dinner. Swizen went home to change to his suit, shirt and tie for this event which touched my heart. He was about 5’9″ medium build, very straight, beautiful dark brown skin, black eyes and the densest mat of tightly curled black hair. His English was Oxford in accuracy and accent.
We had not been able to have children so for us, knowing Swizen was a magical experience. We all became close and as time went on, Mark began to do some probing about Swizen’s circumstances. Swizen explained that he was here on a CIDA scholarship, which was to pay for all his expenses and personal needs. He swelled with pride, explaining about the trust his village and so many of the villagers and his family had placed in him, helping and supporting him through his university years.
One snowy, early December evening, Mark drove to Swizen’s house and went up to his room to help him with a computer glitch. He found Switzen wearing his coat, hat, scarf, boots and gloves in a freezing unheated room. There was no one home, so Mark investigated the heating arrangements and found that the heating duct to Swizen’s room had been completely blocked. Mark had Swizen pack up his belongings, took him to a warm nearby restaurant for tea and a meal. Swizen explained about his land “lady”. She was being paid good money to provide him with a warm “family” Canadian experience. The first night, she had explained the rules: Swizen was to purchase dishes, utensils, pots and pans, to keep his food in his room, or in a small area of a refrigerator shelf. The first night Swizen had eaten there, he had washed his plate and mug and left them on the drainboard to dry, as he had seen other family members do, and had gone out. Swizen’s dishes were on his bed when he got home with a note that he was to keep his things separate from the family’s, and in his room when not in use.
Mark brought Swizen home to live with us for the remainder of his time in Canada. We had only a partly finished, partly insulated attic for him, but Mark built him a rough bedroom. we bought a new bed, pillows, brightly coloured new bedding and a cozy new duvet. We added a new telephone with unlimited calling privileges, (which were not abused!). There was a beautiful new bathroom, new windows looking down into our back garden and Mark set up a really warm safe electric heater. And we had an older TV for Swizen “for soccer!”. All these years later, my anger, disgust and shame are not much lessened for that woman’s cruelty.
But the year of 1993-94, we all did have such a good time! I typed Swizen’s papers right along with Mark’s, they read each other’s, talked school and everything else.
Early on we kept in touch with Swizen, but arrangements befan to fall through when people at the University seemed not to pass on messages so that we could phone at appointed hours and get Swizen. He told us that sending letters meant they would be torn open, looking for money, and he would never receive them.
I had worked for the Chair of Surgery, McMaster Health Sciences, for many years, and when he was Dean, I knew Dr. Stuart MacLeod’s secretary well. I knew Dr. MacLeod had travelled to Uganda several times and asked if he would be interested to meet Swizen. Dr. MacLeod being the kind and compassionate man he was, invited Swizen to his home for dinner and gave him his bicycle — he had two, he told Swizen. Swizen loved that bike!
Now, in the interests of honouring the far greater numbers of truly good men in this world, would you be able to make time, out of all that you do, to find out the whereabouts of Swizen Kyomuhendo? He flew home June 11, 1994, to marry his sweetheart, Rose, and they had two children, a boy they named for Mark and a girl named for me. As I said, he was employed again at the University, but that is all we know.
We would be so grateful for anything you can tell us. Swizen referred to his village, but just that it was 200 miles from Kampala. He had a mother and several brothers and sisters, neices and nephews.
Thank you so much.
Shirley Edwards Hadysh
18 Poplar Avenue