The role of a father in an African home is typically one that is synonymous with firm leadership, absolute authority and the source of all truth. In the experience of many, there is a stark dichotomy between the aforementioned strong patriarchal qualities and the equally important provision of tender care, spiritual guidance and emotional support.

Some people have been fortunate to see their fathers display a healthy balance between strength and nurturing in their home and it has had a significant impact on their holistic wellbeing. It may even be something they seek to emulate when raising their own children. However, the norm is that we have been accustomed to the stoic dictator who makes neither mistake, apology nor concession. It is often said that humans are creatures of habit. When we are exposed to certain bahaviour patterns or ideas over an extended period of time, we will more than likely perpetuate what we have experienced. The practical implication is that men become resigned to the reality that who their father was is who they will become and for women, that the kind of man their father was is who they will marry. Overall as a people, the expectation of a leader is largely drawn from this experience.

The term “father of the nation” is a title of honour given to an individual who was considered to be a driving force behind the establishment of a country. Unfortunately the majority of these fathers were dictators. They had to be forced out of power. This was the picture for most African nations, including our own. We, as a people, learned to be wholly dependent on our leaders and government to provide all our resources. To date, you will still hear people call on the government to come to the rescue and solve the myriad of socioeconomic problems. Which is a foregone conclusion if we too see our President as our father.

We have not restricted this to just our governments. One will hear the words “Papa” or “spiritual father” spoken of in so many church settings. With the earlier understanding of the position of father so heavily entrenched in our thoughts and beliefs. We all but deify these “Papas”, we treat them as infallible and place them on a pedestal of our own making.

Our leaders, whether at church or in government, should not be expected to play the role of a parent. They are there to serve. That changes the power dynamics. If your pastor takes on the biblical role of shepherding servant to the congregation but decides to steal from the church or is involved in sexual immorality, you can remove him. But you cannot remove your “Papa”. So they are given free reign and left to do as they feel. Thankfully, in a functioning democracy like ours, leaders in government can, every five years, be removed.

Some may assume they can force their way to stay in power and succeed. Time does inevitably catch up and a new “father” comes in. If they, however, come in, viewing their position as one of servanthood, it is unlikely that they will end up treating the government coffers as part of their personal household budget, to use as they will, but for the people they serve. So let us relegate the use of the respected title of “Father/Papa” to its rightful place – in our homes and call everyone else by their servant title. Perhaps this will balance the scales in our favour.