The father factor in health
Published On June 22, 2015 » 1718 Views» By Administrator Times » Features
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Secrets to HealthLAST Sunday was father’s day. When I was growing up in the 1970s, we never had such a day.
Perhaps, I did not grow up in the right social class to be aware of its existence. During those days the word father evoked fear. It was the word that mothers used to keep their children in check. They just needed to say “I’ll tell your father”. Then there would be conformity, humility and lots of pleading.
It was the word that would stop us in our tracks, when we were about to climb a neighbours fence and steal mangoes. Someone just needed to shout father is home, and children would scamper in all directions.
If I said, I got on well, with my dad, I would be lying. Our conversations consisted of lectures from him and grunts of agreement from me. Those were days when you never looked elders in the eye. So the lectures were pontificated from behind the newspaper, while I looked down to my shoes in incessant nods of agreement.
I am also sure I am not alone in making this confession. When my dad came into the sitting room, he sat in his favourite chair, facing the TV set and asked for the paper. Whe he said ‘the paper’ he meant The Times of Zambia.
If he sent you to buy the paper, you would put your life at risk if you bought a different newspaper. I did not realise that I actually liked my father until I was much older and he had long died.
I discovered it quite by accident, when I was asked to say something at a wedding. I got up, and having nothing really to say, I repeated verbatim, what my father used to say on such occasions.
When heads in the room began to nod easily and one hand found the other in clapping, I realised I was becoming just like my dad.
Then I read the book “Dreams of my Father” by Barack Obama, and the matter was sealed beyond any doubt. He puts it very plainly, we are always growing out of the shadow of our fathers influence. I was trying to market my autobiographical book at one of the secondary schools, in my area a few years ago. The head master leafed through the book pensively. When he had finished he turned to me and said, “Your Dad did very well by you”. It was a striking statement. I realised then that one of the greatest influences on our life, wealth and health is our father. So father days matters to our health.
1.How do fathers influence the health of their children?
When I was in my twenties I began to shave. It  was an adventure to start with, and I tried many types of methods. There was the barber shop shave, the hair remover, the electric shave and so on. Before too long I released I had a problem. I could never really get a clean shave, there was always some irritating stubble in the background.
At first it looks rugged and a bit cool. Eventually it just looks untidy and gives the impression of a young man, who does not shave properly. To make matters worse I developed a shaver’s itch. The medical term is pseudo folliculitis barbae. Which sounds  like a serious mental illness, but in fact it is a skin condition. This is a crop of untidy irritatingly itchy pimples along the beard area.
This is caused by irritation from cut hair that is forced back into the skin during a badly done shave.This causes irritation and infection of the beard area, making it rather unsightly. It made me look both untidy, unwell and dropped my self-confidence a notch. After a couple of years, many expensive and ineffective creams, which made my collars always greasy.
I remembered that my father always used to send us out to buy a blade “umwembe”. These came in a pack of about ten and was bought from the local supermarket. It  was used in  a simple hand held shaver , where he would mount and lock. So I tried to get this kind of hand held shaver. They were no longer being produced, but they were some quiet similar, disposable hand held ones.
The result was amazing. I began to get a clean shave, meanwhile the itch and facial staining disappeared like magic. The habits and practices of our parents remain in the mind long after they have gone. Inadvertently they will affect the way we think live and behave.
Ultimately, they will influence our health. Studies have shown that the behaviour of fathers affect the mental, emotional and physical well-being of their children. Men who smoke have an increased risk of having underweight children.
This is explained by the dangers of passive smoking, where the exhaled smoke, is more deadly than the inhaled smoke. Men who have mental illness are more likely to have children with educational, learning and developmental problems.
Men who drink excessively are more likely to have children who abuse drugs, are school dropouts, unemployed and are involved in crime. Studies show that the more time fathers spend time with their children the better children will perform in school.
Children of single mothers will often take longer to learn to read, to count and to write. Children of absent fathers have an increased risk of being abused.
2. What kind of father am I?
I grew up with the mistaken impression that I would make a great father. I chalked done all my Dads mistakes and always felt he never quiet measured up. He was too old fashioned, too strict, too rigid, too indifferent, too emotionally obtunded and on and on.
When I became a father, my first problem was how to hold the baby. Then it became how to get some sleep at night with all the crying. I fed my children with all the medical syrups to coax them to sleep, unbeknown to my wife.
I then kept a respectful distance from her as I watched her raise the children. Always like a spectator in a football match, pointing out the faults, but never having the courage to jump into the pitch and score. I run around trying to make sure she had all that she needed.
I began to ask myself how my father coped with all that was required of fatherhood. With each phase of the growth of the children, I began to ask myself, what my Dad would have done in this situation. I buried myself in my work, with the belief that if I was successful there, then I would be providing for all my children’s needs and be a better father.
The first president of Zambia Dr Kenneth Kaunda, has written, the very interesting book, which unfortunately appears to have gone out of print called “Letter to my Children”. Therein consists, in my mind, at least the pearls of wisdom around fatherhood and its requirements. From it I learnt the most basic test for Fatherhood, which is vulnerability. The first test to being a good father is to simply admit that you are not really a good father, but you will give it your best shot. Vulnerability does not come easy to most men, because it is, well, just too feminine.
3.How can I become a better father?
Since it is clear that the Father Factor plays an important role in the health of our families. The question we must ask, is this important enough, for me to give it a try. I am sure many of us will say, yes it is. Then here are some simple steps we can take towards being better fathers. So you must care enough, to;
1.Be there.
2. Be square.
3. Be good.
Be there, simply means accept that you are a father. Just as you accept that you have a job. That job has hours, to keep the job you have to do the hours. So spend some time with the children. Allocate sometime to the activity of being a father. This may be a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday afternoon or a Friday afternoon. Whatever your schedule allows, diarise some Dad time.
Be square, it is not enough to be there. Your physical presence is not all that is required. Be square, simply means be true to the situation. Fit in, be yourself, have fun with the kids, be a Dad. Kids ask plain questions, be plain with them, let down your hair, let go the barriers, this is not the office.
Be good, help out be generous to the family. Sort out the mess when things go wrong. Don’t be a spoil sport. Don’t explode when your son spills water on your lap top. Show that you accept that kids do make mistakes, it’s not the end of the world.
Accept that you are big enough to live with the mistake of your children, just like your Dad, lived with your mistakes.  Show that what matters are not things, but people and relationships. Be like your Dad.

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