I am one of a handful of men who read and participated in The Girl Child and Her Long Walk to Freedom readings and discussions. We discussed the role patriarchy has played in societies around the world, and how religion has been used to keep girls and women as second-class citizens. As a father of two girls and two boys, and having lived half of my life in Uganda and the other half in the USA, I have had the opportunity to observe patriarchy and gender norms in a variety of contexts.
I was born and raised in a tiny village called Nyakagyezi, in rural southwest Uganda. I am the last born of five–the oldest was a boy, then three girls, and finally me. Our father and mother never went to school and therefore cannot read or write in English. My father ruled the house with an iron hand, dictating what chores I, as a boy, must do and not do. My chores were to milk cows, take care of goats, and occasionally fetch water. On the other hand, my sisters worked from when their eyes opened in the morning until they fell asleep at night—sweeping the house, fetching water, cooking meals, washing the dishes before and after eating, washing clothes by hand, and on and on and on. As a child, this double standard bothered me. I tried to help, but each time my father caught me helping my sisters I got a spanking: “Stop behaving like a girl, you are a man.”
My father fits the description of a patriarch and practices it shamelessly to this day. In his mind raising children is a woman’s job. This must stop. I once read a quote, “All men can father a child, but not all men are fathers.” As children, when my sisters and I heard my father coming home, we would hide. We were scared of him and he liked it that way. So, I once asked my mother about the day I was born and how my father reacted. I asked this question after my oldest son Nicolas was born in June 2002. Nicolas, Nolan, Talia, and Tessa were all born in the United States, and I attended all of their births. I couldn’t miss watching a miracle happen and it happened four times. My mother told me that every time she was close to delivering, my father would leave home and come back a few months later. He never wanted to be around children or be bothered by a crying baby. Indeed, he was not involved in the care or upbringing of any of us.
Since my father did not play any role in raising me, all my love and parental care came from my mother. I realized at an early age that there was injustice against girls and women in my village. I also started thinking about how I wanted to be different from my father. Having grown up with violence, I decided I would never put my hands on a girlfriend or wife. I also decided that if I ever had children, I would be fully involved in their lives. I don’t shy away from hugging and assuring my children how much I love them, how special they are. We play, pray, travel, and do so many things together. I never had a role model about how to be a good father, but I have read books and learned to be available for my children regardless of circumstances.
The role of a father starts as soon as a child is conceived. I read books to my wife’s tummy, so when each child was born, she or he already knew my voice. I went on to stay home with my first son as his mom was working as a postdoctoral researcher at Indiana University. I took turns bathing, feeding, and changing diapers with all my children. I even kept my beard because Talia and Tessa loved to play with it.
Back in my village in Uganda, where I started Nyaka 20 years ago, we continue to focus on orphaned children and the grandmothers who are raising them. Today, Nyaka works with 15,000 grandmothers raising 85,000 orphaned or vulnerable children. In many ways, this is an extension of my role as a father to my biological children. I work to provide access to education, healthcare, and a caring family environment for all Nyaka children; in turn these children call me “Dad”. The needs of girls are prioritized because I know how my sisters suffered. Nyaka schools are 55% girls. Nyaka provides sanitary towels and challenges early marriage and other barriers to girls’ education. Nyaka fights sexual and gender-based violence through our healing centers, outreach work, and community engagement. Nyaka supports grandmothers to start their own businesses to support themselves and their grandchildren.
While fathers are busy playing patriarchal roles, mothers fill the gap and stand strong. This is one reason why I started Nyaka and invested heavily in grandmothers. It was the inspiration from my own grandmothers and my mother Janet Kaguri born Dec 27th, 1926 – died Dec. 21, 2020. My mother was so special in so many ways. She defied norms by marrying my father who was younger than her, but he ended up abusing her in ways that could fill an entire book. Maama insisted that all five of us go to school since she never went to school. She gave us all the care we needed, guided us in all ways, and always told us to love our father and forgive him for all his shortcomings. We made it because we had a strong mother. Maama died a happy woman because my sisters and I took good care of her to the day she took her last breath. I had built her and my father an amazing home, our home which all our children will always call home. Our children will not be traumatized or beaten like my father did to me.
Fathers, we have a huge role to play in our children’s lives. Take your children on father-son or father-daughter dates; put the phone down and speak to your children; plan a trip with your children without their mother. Your children will thank you and so will their mother. Read together, play together, pray together, and spend quality time together.
As we celebrate Father’s Day, let’s make every day a fathering day where we roll up our sleeves and do the real work of what it means to be a father.
Twesigye Jackson Kaguri is a father of four, founder and CEO of www.nyakaglobal.org, and published author of A School for my Village, Victory for my Village and four children’s books. He studied Human Rights at Columbia University after graduating from Makerere University in Uganda. He has won many awards as a result of his work with Nyaka including CNN Hero, Time Magazine Power of One, Global Citizen, and has been conferred three honorary degrees. He has spoken all over the world and addressed the UN twice. Follow him on twitter @twejaka, FB or Linkedin as Twesigye Jackson Kaguri.