Fatherhood and Alcoholism among Indo-Caribbeans

Fatherhood and Alcoholism among Indo-Caribbeans

On June 18, the annual Father’s Day (third Sunday) was observed globally including among Indo-Caribbeans and the diaspora (largely situated in North America and UK). Undivided attention of feting dad was focused on this one day. The problems of fatherhood were ignored. One issue that affects fatherhood (domestic abuse) is alcoholism which is destroying so many families. Alcoholism is not only a major issue in the Caribbean. It is also a major problem among the diaspora as I have found in my ethnographic studies of the Indo-Caribbean community in the US, Canada, UK. There have been so many social problems (domestic abuse attributed to alcohol and womanizing) among adult males in the diaspora (New York and throughout the USA) and in Canada. This issue of alcoholism and other evils impact on family life and hurt children. These social problems need to be addressed by social workers, community leaders and religious figures in the Caribbean as well as in the diaspora.

The annual observance of Father's Day (FD) is a perfect time to reflect on alcoholism and to suggest solutions to alcohol abuse. But we should not limit our discussion on fatherhood and alcohol abuse only around Father’s Day (FD) or Mother’s Day (MD). There should be a perennial discussion on and attempts to find solutions to alcoholism and its attendant problems.

On FD and on MD, abusive fathers and mothers tend to limit their imbibing and behave relatively good on those days. But good adult behaviour on a few days is not enough to raise a decent family or to address alcoholism. But adults must limit drinking and put forth the best behaviour daily so that they can be role models and children can be proud of them.

Remembering or focusing on alcoholism only on FD or MD when fathers behave well will not lead to permanent solutions to these evils. These social problems need to be urgently addressed by social workers, community leaders and religious figures in the diaspora as well as in Guyana.

Last Sunday, Father's Day, children focused on honoring fathers with gifts and a meal (breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner). In NYC, there was responsible drinking and a lot of fun filled activities as well as worshipping. There was family fun day in the parks with many playing soft ball with youths. Liberty Ave, the heart of Indo-Caribbean shopping, and other shopping districts in Jamaica, Brooklyn, etc. were virtually abandoned – like a ghost town. Shops had virtually no business except for bakeries and restaurants. Even the rum shops had limited customers. A few roti shops had long lines for takeout orders. In fact, waits for roti and other eating delights ran into hours as restaurants filled orders for family get together at home and in the parks. Adults behaved responsibly staying with the family. It should be like this daily.

As I observed in moving around on FD, there was much emotional connection between children and adults on this day. At mandirs, children read poems, paid rich tributes in lofty speeches, and served meals to males. There was also family worship at mandirs and churches in the morning; most of these were packed to capacity. Spiritual leaders lecture to dads on being good fathers. Also, several mandirs gave out gifts to adult males and the children entertained the congregation. At some mandirs, the children prepared meals and served the adults. It was an overall joyful day for fathers at religious institutions and at virtually every home. But after the annual religious service, and discourses on fatherhood, there have been no followed up action.

There was much togetherness between parents and children on FD and MD. Hardly a child ill-treated parents on Mother's or Father's Day. In fact, kids went out of their way to accommodate and do things for their parents. In several neighbourhoods, I witnessed household get together, barbecues, men drinking and playing dominoes or cards and the like providing opportunities for children to socialize with dad. There were also family get together or picnics and soft ball games in the parks. But these fun filled activities between males and children should not be limited to an annual event. They should be on-going to build strong family bonding.

Is this one day of get together and of mutual respect between adults and children enough for a good life? How about the other days? And how about for the many kids for whom fatherhood was missing? Is treating father or mother great for one day of the year enough (make up for ill-treating them on other days) given how much they have done for children? Is one day all that they deserved? And while children should respect and treat parents well, shouldn’t fathers also treat their children with dignity to earn their respect?

I salute “good” fathers for finding time to spend with their families on a daily basis, providing for their children, and living a respectable life. Fathers are their kid's role model as stressed by religious figures. Fathers are their children’s hero. And as such they must act accordingly so that kids can be proud of them. Fathers must also be terrific husbands and responsible male heads of households. But that has not been universally observed in America, Trinidad, and Guyana.

In the Caribbean and in the diaspora, the failure to be a good or responsible father has destroyed many families or households; children are severely affected by family squabbles and divorces. Some fathers take to alcohol and or to womanize instead of maximizing time with children. In NYC, I observe the same men at the bar or clubs drinking and being entertained by women. Alcohol abuse and womanizing often is the bane of a strong family. They are often accompanied by violence or domestic abuse within the household (spousal and children abuse) and often lead to suicide.

A “good” (providing for the family) and responsible father makes all the difference in a child's life. He's a pillar of strength, support and discipline for raising the child. Parents must give children the love, compassion, and support they need. A good father loves his children, and takes measures for the child to grow up properly with the best education possible. He does not insults, shout harsh words, and employ physical abuse to discipline children, but he utilizes the right coaxing and rewards and punishments. A father must also be a mother – assist females with child upbringing. Spend a lot of time with your child outside of work; recreation time should be with the children and the community, not with rum friends. Spend time playing with them and doing homework. Sharing a glass at a bar or encouraging rum drinking is not the way to raise a son. Help with changing diapers (shimmie) and bathing and dressing the child. Read to them as they are growing up and when necessary after school so they become better readers.

It is not difficult to make an excellent dad. A good dad must possess certain basic characteristics such as being a good husband and a family man, and earn an honest salary to provide for a family. He must meet the needs of family through best practices and be a role model for children. A good dad will spend time with his spouse during pregnancy and throughout the entire process of birth as well as in raising the child. A great dad must also be a great husband. Studies have shown that great husbands make great fathers. A child needs stability; a father is needed at home to provide that stability. Perennial husband-wife squabbles are not the way to raise a good family or give children the support and stability they need for success at schools or in life. So adults need to have a strong marriage life.

Patronizing the rum shop while your wife is at home attending to family is not the definition of an ideal father or husband. Dads must give up the carefree fun-filled life of drinking and womanizing. They must seek to raise a good family. They must end the abuse of spouses and their children. They must put the family interests first before the rum shop. And the community elders and spiritual leaders must provide the needed encouragement and support to tackle alcoholism and other social problems.