The silent side of parenthood: Lessons from single fathers

Michael Omwonyi and his son Junior share a sweet father-son moments. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Often, the conversation on single parenting tends to leave out the struggles single fathers go through. Michael and Ally talk about the lessons their journeys taught them

For generations, raising a child has always been labelled as a woman’s job. This means every task that comes with a child from birth to maturity and independence. While the spotlight and concern have always been on single mothers, single fathers are generally often left out of the picture and conversation.

These figures are not only less addressed, they are given even lesser accolades for their work and effort in raising their children, be it alone or with the help of other people.

An online article titled ‘The challenges of being a single father’ by Dave Taylor describes this role best. The author shares his own experience about what he felt when he became a single father.

Dave says that when he became divorced from his wife, he found himself a single father to three children of ages 10, 6 and 3. This sudden role did not leave him enough time to digest and feel his frustrations, fatigue and the heaviness of the new hat despite being an active and involved dad before single fatherhood became his reality. He describes the role as a feeling of going from tag-team wrestling to having to take on another opponent solo.

Michael Omwonyi

His hat resembles that of Michael Omwonyi, a single parent to Junior. While Michael had planned to raise the now 13-year-old alongside his mother, Michael’s wife passed away shortly after she gave birth. This made him Junior’s mother and father at the same time.

Not being able to comprehend this role at the time, Michael decided to have Junior live with his mother for about a year. He used to pay him a visit with the intent of securing the father-son bond that was growing between them. A short while before Junior’s first birthday, Michael took him back to live with him in Dar es Salaam

A While before he began to live with Junior, Michael got a lot of opinions and advice from different relatives and friends to let Junior stay with his grandmother until when he was at least five-years-old because of Michael’s lack of experience in raising children.

“Having lived with both of my parents as a child, I wanted the same for mine because I believed it is a beautiful experience for both parents to witness the growth of their child to becoming the best version of the young man he could be. However when I lost Junior’s mother, I was not prepared to do parenting alone. I felt like I was attacked for doing it on my own but I did not listen to any of the opinions because there was no way I was allowing my son to not know his father for five years,” he details.

When the two eventually started living together, Michael was not fully prepared for any of it. He began teaching Junior how to count, talk and write early because he wanted to have conversations with him.

“I was eager for him to start speaking to me. I knew that it could enhance our bond in addition to spending time with him. When he uttered the words ‘huh’ for the first time, I was shocked and I remember calling his name out loud just to hear him respond. It made me happy since I knew that it was the beginning of our conversations,” Michael recalls.

When he got back to work, there were relatives and friends who helped with babysitting Junior while Michael was at work.

As he grew, Michael’s plan to bond while doing different activities with him became a reality. He began to teach him how to cook, read and watch movies while evening walks became a daily routine for them.

“The most challenging time was when he was almost thirteen. I was working longer hours away from home and we would meet in the evenings after work. It was during that time when I was not around, he started hanging with the wrong crowd. When I found out after seeing a repetitive change pattern in his behaviour, I had to sit down with him to reflect and he has since then changed,” he says.

Lessons learnt

Michael describes parenthood as the state that is embraced by a lifetime of trials and errors.

“There are no rules to perfect parenthood. That is a myth because I have managed to be a single parent with great difficulty yet I love every second that I spend with him. Actually, of all the advice I would offer to single fathers is to not give up on the child because as much as it is a difficult role to be in, not being a responsible father makes it even harder on the child,” he says.

From the 13 years of nurturing and growing alongside Junior, Michael paints parenting as one of the most hands-on jobs there is.

“It’s honestly an incredible journey. It’s like a path where we nurture better versions of ourselves through our children and at times with great difficulty as well as an unending patience,” he says.

Ally Mbuna

Michael’s experience is the complete opposite to that of Ally Mbuna’s*, father to now 11-year-old Mendez. He became a single father when he divorced his ex-wife.

After the two of them parted ways, Mendez’s mother chose for their son to be raised by her mother who lives in Dodoma. After unsuccessful talks with her about returning Mendez to live with him, Ally travelled all the way to Dodoma and reclaimed his son.

When his life as a single father to a then year and seven month old son began, Ally did not overthink the new role because of the experience he had gained from raising two of his younger relatives.

“I was hoping that raising my son on my own would not be so different but I was also open minded about learning new things along the way. My main goal was to make my son’s life with me a great experience even in absence of his mother since she chose not to be in her son’s life. Shortly after I began staying with him, I employed a housekeeper to take care of him since I had to get back to work. She helped me with him while I was at work and I would take over when I got back home in the evenings,” he narrates.

Ally takes pride in the fact that raising his son was a smooth sail from an early age and Mendez has not faced growth complications most children experience.

“I was really thankful that he did not have any complications like many children do in their early stages of childhood. On the positive side, he was also not asking for his mother as this was the only worry I had. As much as I could not be her, I made sure that I did everything in my power to wear both hats by being the best mother and father to him. I began to take him to outings so that our bond could grow stronger. I also began to communicate with him, both verbally and non-verbally. Even though he was too young to grasp the things I was trying to tell him, I wanted him to know that his father understands him even when we both did not know what we were communicating,” he says.

There were times Ally would randomly call the housekeeper and ask to talk to him. Although his son was barely speaking at the time, Ally understood that the calls slowly became their ‘thing’.

“I used to call at least two times a day and the housekeeper would know that it was time. She would give him the phone and Mendez would start blabbering baby sounds and words as I tried to talk to him and such moments meant the world to me,” he details.

When he got back home from work, Ally would bathe him, eat with him as well as sleep with him. Such moments drew them even closer and inseparable.

After exactly two years of living with Mendez, Ally married. Shortly afterwards, the two welcomed a son into their lives and Mendez became a big brother.

Lessons learnt

“Of the many lessons I have gained from the time I was a single father one that stands out is that it is a very humbling position. Having a child that looks up to you in every way gives the parent a chance to mould the child with good manners. This all depends on the efforts the parents put in when communicating with their child. I advise single fathers to prioritize and utilize the time they spend with their children,” Ally says.