Okay, Craig, I am diving right into the deep end here. Who are you?
A dad of two ―a twenty-one-year-old boy, Luke and a daughter Blythe who is eighteen. A committed South African. A man, I am just looking to make a difference.
What were you doing before Father A Nation?
I ran an NGO called ‘Outward Bound’ for four years, they do outdoor education based down in Sedgefield. Prior to that, I lived down in Johannesburg where I ran a company called ‘Empowered’ it involved corporate training, team building, that kind of stuff. We had quite a bad shooting incident in Johannesburg, instead of leaving the country we went down to Knysna. We lived there for ten years. We started another NGO called ‘African Dream Trust’ we worked in townships and communities doing mainly economic development. We realized we were just scratching the surface and soon out of that emerged ‘Father A Nation’. There are so many issues in townships, economics is a big issue but families are a bigger issue, as in the dysfunctional family unit. We realized that if we could fix men we could fix societies. Most of the household we came across was made up of women, many didn’t have men. The ones that did, were worlds apart from the ones that didn’t. We came across many households with either weak, absent or abusive men. Men that are passive, who are just not involved.
You speak a lot about the identity crisis facing males of today?
That is a big question. If you ask a thousand people what the definition of a man is, you are going to get a thousand different answers. On the one extreme, you have men that are quite emasculated. There are more women graduating from university in the states that there are men. Most jobs are now knowledge-based jobs, so there is no need for masculine physical strength, so to speak. The media portrays men in a very negative light. Look at Homer Simpson, Al Bundy. There are so many examples of men that are portrayed as this kind of idiot, a philanderer who is emotionally clueless. The lies we hear as men growing up about sex, power, money and how boys don’t cry. So men grow up thinking that in order to be a real man they must have lots of women, lots of money, power and by the way you can’t talk to anybody about this kind of stuff because real men don’t talk about it. They just suck it up and deal with it. So you have this combination of sort of male strength and chauvinism went wrong and then you also have the rise of feminism. Which is the backlash against chauvinism and then you have this media image portraying men badly. Men are confused. What they then tend to do is grow up with a sense of inadequacy thinking they don’t have what it takes to be a man. Most fathers are guilty of not having answered that question for their sons. Fathers need to tell their sons they do have what it takes and that they are strong enough, good enough etc.
Men who grow up with this sense of inadequacy, respond in one of two ways they either become passive or aggressive. The passive man might withdrawal into all kinds of addictions like pornography or video games. So these are the guys that don’t step up to the plate. Women are wondering where are the real men. Men are wondering where are the mentors. There is a lack of men that have grown up with a real sense of masculine strength, wholeness and togetherness. That’s the passive side, on the aggressive side you get the other extreme where guys become macho to try to prove themselves. They have to dominate, they have something to prove. There is a lovely book written by John Eldredge called Wild at heart. He talks about how all men have at their core, three passionate desires – A battle to fight, an adventure to live and a beauty to rescue. A real man is someone who stands for something, who has a cause, who steps up to the plate. He uses his strength to serve, love and protect and not to dominate. A man who knows he doesn’t have to play the man to be the man. The more secure we are in our masculinity the more we don’t have to play the man.
How does one live authentically in today’s world?
It starts with a healthy self-esteem. The only reason we don’t live authentically is that we want to impress people, beloved, liked or accepted. We need someone to affirm us. If you come from a place of self-acceptance and are happy with yourself. That is the starting point. Most people don’t have that. I didn’t arrive at adulthood feeling good about myself, most people don’t. Most of us are dealing with a real sense of inadequacy. Women are not feeling beautiful enough, they are trying to live up to this ridiculous standard of what beauty is meant to be. Men are feeling inadequate because they are not strong enough, fast enough, man enough. All of us are playing a game to try to be more than we are. If we can get to the point that we are happy with who we are which isn’t arrogant. That is the starting point of being authentic.
Being a true father starts with being a true man…
Absolutely. As a man, you are the primary role model for your son. As a woman, for your daughter. A man places a huge role in validating the femininity of his daughter and model and impart masculinity to his son. Unless you are whole and true in your masculinity you cannot do that.
You were saying earlier that men are not very fast to speak, how do you encourage men to speak up?
It is a healing process. Men are not raised to be in touch with their feelings. The societies perception has to change. A man who is comfortable in himself is not worried about crying. Woman will also play their role. When we are not confident of who we are, we compensate in our partner. A guy who is insecure wants a beautiful woman on his arm to make him feel better. A woman is the same if she feels insecure about her beauty she wants a guy who will make her feel right about herself. We need to deal with our issues and heal.
The balance of mom and dad’s role in a child’s life…
It is a beautiful, beautiful balance. Mom cant be a dad, but many have to be because of absent fathers, I encourage these woman to get male figures in the family or the community to be positive role models for the boys. The same would apply the other way around. A woman’s instinct is to nurture and protect, it is beautiful and needed. There comes a time for a boy when he is looking to understand the world and begins to adventure, if a mother continues to nurture when he is needing to go out and explore the world, she can damage him. She is giving him the message that he is not good enough or strong enough.
The struggles of single parents..
Over fifty percent of kids are now being raised in single parent homes. It is a problem. One of the hardest jobs in the world is to be a working single mom, I encourage them to get men from the family involved in the child’s life and a woman for the opposite situation.
How does a man know he is ready to have children, what is going on in his life and his head?
That is a tough question. I always tell men that having a child is the most important thing that they can ever do in their entire lives and that they will be the most important man in their child’s life. Its a parallel journey, they have to make sure they are okay and whole as a man before you can have a child. That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect but that you can take responsibility. In the book I talk about the twelve dad verbs, these are things that every dad needs to know, practice and do. There are basically four areas- one is to call out the identity of a child, call them out and engage with them. If you are disengaged with yourself and you haven’t found your own identity then you are not really in a position to help another human being. The second one is to validate them, if you are not feeling adequate and validated yourself how are you going to validate and affirm another human being? Know your identity, know your validity. The third thing is to create a sanctuary which is all about protecting, providing and nurturing. If you are not in a position to take responsibility, to be able to provide a good home and education. If you are not able to protect your child and nurture them then you are not ready to have a child. Fourth, you have to equip them for life, that means modeling the way, teaching them life skills and also providing discipline for them. A man needs to ask himself if he can do those things. Having a child is something that should be discussed and agreed on by both parties , it is the biggest decision you will ever make.
Healing men, healing the world…
As a man goes so generally tends to go the family and so tends to go society. When a man goes wrong society goes wrong. A man goes wrong, his son goes wrong. Men are the ones who rape, abuse and abandon. We are going to heal men and then we can heal society.
You have opened this door and since it is a big problem in South Africa let us talk about the role Father A Nation is playing in violence against woman as well as building awareness about what is happening daily around us.
South Africa has a massive, massive, massive problem. Rape is at levels we cannot comprehend. We need to fix men. There are programs for woman that are for victim empowerment, but this is really closing the door after the horse has bolted. We mustn’t get to this point. Only a broken man can behave like that, they don’t have an understanding of what it means to be a real man. We need to restore mans sense of being okay and raising the banner of what it means to be a true man. We need to build it into men the behavior that is not acceptable, if a man hurts a women in any way they must feel absolute shame. We need men to know that a true man never raises his hand to a woman. Full stop end of story. Men need to know this behavior makes them less of a man and not more of a man.
We are going into communities and taking men through a healing and restoring process, we are then getting them to do a pledge to be a real man and a real dad. We want to go national with that. We want all men of all different backgrounds standing up and saying that they pledge to be a real man.
In your opinion, this is an issue that is always up for debate, is rape a sex act or an act of power?
It is about power, but I think what happens is that the sexuality gets completely sick and distorted and integrated into ones identity. So it is a sick distortion of sexuality mixed up with power. To talk very blatantly, the very fact that a man can get an erection by someone who is scared is an absolute sickness. It is about power but a sick power. Imagine this man to be deeply wounded and feeling incredibly inadequate, he is wounded in his masculinity – He needs to dominate and assert to show that he is a man, it is somehow caught up in his sexuality, so when you attack his masculinity, you attack his sexuality. The two somehow get married together. So the thinking is that if they can dominate sexually then they are asserting their power as a man. That is the kind of sick distortion that rape is all about.
Let us talk about your book ‘The Dad’ book?
There were two things that led to it, the first was the work we were doing with ‘Father A Nation’ in communities, realizing that if we can heal men and heal dads we can heal the world. The other one was when my son turned 18, he wrote me this letter just to say thank you. It is in the book, it is one of those tearjerkers. I had developed a lot of relationships with my sons friends who didn’t have good dad relationships, they all called me ‘pops’. There was just this realization of how absolutely important fathers are and the roles they play. The book is an easy read of about 168 pages – it is about how to be a great dad.
I know I am jumping around here but here we go- education in schools. We need to instill these ideas into the minds of the young. Children should be educated by their parents, yet education should also come from school. A program should be offered to both girls and boys to help them understand how to function in a productive and positive manner in order to contribute to society as well as their communities?
Parents should never abdicate teaching their children to schools. A child’s primary life skills teacher should be their parents.The school has a role to play, but it is more of an educational role as opposed to a life skills role.
Yes, but children spend a lot of time at school and a lot of their opinions and behaviour is picked up at school, so maybe programs to reinforce the parents teachings?
Schools have implemented life orientation curriculum. When I look at what they do and who does it, often it is a disaster. We need to teach the teachers so that they are properly equipped to help the kids and to pass along information that they properly understand and have themselves incorporated into their own lives. But yes I agree the school should also play its role. The life orientation curriculum could be improved to incorporate such skills as discipline, accountability and sexuality. I love working with schools, I speak with teachers, parents and students.
Other programs that you are currently running?
So I run a lot of programs with men around masculinity and fatherhood. We have started running programs exclusively for woman where we talk about being a mom and being a woman. From a male perspective- what is femininity, how is it wounded. I do a lot of work with NGO’s, Church’s, corporates in the area of masculinity, femininity and parenthood.
Future plans would be to create a national movement of what it means to be a real man and a real dad. We want to get thousands of men to pledge. So to grow the movement. I am writing another book which I am busy with, about men and woman, masculinity and femininity, this will be converted into an on-line course. I am also busy converting my first book book into a on-line course for men about being a dad. The book is also being translated into Afrikaans.