African viewpoint: Mamas and papas

Image caption, Should Michael Essien look after his father?

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Elizabeth Ohene reflects on motherhood, fatherhood and famous footballers in Ghana.

We in Ghana marked Mother's Day earlier this month mostly with text messages being sent around to all women in our contacts list.

Modern technology has a lot to answer for.

One click of the button and you have sent a long text to hundreds of people and you might never have written a word of that "message" yourself.

I was tempted to reply with the observation from Anna Jarvis, the American woman who campaigned to establish Mother's Day, that sending a printed card to your mother in fact meant you did not really care.

She believed you should compose the words yourself.

African fallacies

I wonder what she would have made of the modern version of the celebration.

All the same, I suspect that whatever reservations one might have about the mode of celebration, most people would agreed that it is a good thing to celebrate motherhood.

I have heard some say that we in Africa do not need to put any special day aside to celebrate our mothers because we celebrate them daily.

Needless to say my view is that this is one of those fallacies we insist on deceiving ourselves with on this continent.

We do not love our mothers any more than other people love theirs.

Once you do start celebrating motherhood however, you cannot avoid tackling fatherhood and that is where we run into serious problems in Ghana, in Africa and, so it would seem, with the entire black race.

'Sacred duty'

Take the current unfortunate difficulties that Ghana's biggest football star Michael Essien is having.

Image caption, Africa takes pride in their "strong" mothers

You would think he had enough trouble concentrating on getting fit for the World Cup.

Now his father has launched one of his regular attacks on the young man.

He claims his son does not look after him and is particularly peeved that the young man is especially generous to his mother.

This has so distressed the football star he has gone public with the expenditures he makes on his father.

There seems to be no dispute that Mr Essien senior, like many, many other fathers took no part in the upbringing of his son, and yet he feels entitled to a generous share of his son's earnings.

A national newspaper here in Ghana has even gone a step further by insisting that according to our traditions, Michael Essien has a sacred duty to look after his father even if the father has not looked after him.

Absent fathers

But I beg to differ. If newspaper editors are going to wade into this argument, they might do well to start from the beginning - the responsibility of parents to their children.

In particular, the responsibility of fathers to the children they bear.

Why are there so many children in our society whose fathers simply do not feature in their lives?

Our folklore and a lot of studies have drawn attention to the "strong" African mother, and we take pride in these legendary tough women who head households and look after a brood of children all by themselves.

I wonder what there is to celebrate in this.

The painful part for me in this scenario is why so many young men who so resent the fact that their fathers played no part in their upbringing, then proceed to ignore their own children.

I understand 20 June is celebrated as Father's Day in Ghana.

If I had the energy I would start a campaign to get Ghanaian mothers, the African mothers and, dare I say, the black mothers of the world to spend the day teaching their young sons, the future fathers, to acknowledge the role of fathers.

By the way, Mr Essien senior, your son does not owe you.

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