I come from a place where women were seen and treated as second-class citizens. Men believed they had the right to do whatever they wanted with those they believed were of the lower sex. At my childhood home, this was evident in the way my father treated my mother. He considered it useless, and so he behaved. As a child, it hurt me to see my mother, the person I loved most, disrespectful and hurt in this way.
Every day, children from my village in Uganda walked miles from home to fetch water. One morning, when my sister was a teenager, she went to fetch water and never came back. It was taken by a man who believed it was his right to own it. There was nothing we could do to help her. My sister had a man-made baby and then went home. After seeing my mother abused every day and learning that my sister had been raped, I felt angry and helpless. This affected the way I looked at myself when I was young. I swore I would never treat any nasty woman.
Decades later, as an adoptive father living in North Carolina, I remember the pain and vulnerability I saw in my mother and sister. For the past few months I have been raising a 6 year old girl. When I think about the life experiences she has had so far and see the pain she is going through, it makes me feel helpless to desperately want to help the women in my family.
I want to protect my daughter so much. I’m angry that the people who were supposed to protect and feed this vulnerable girl didn’t. I try to understand his pain, knowing that as a man I will never be able to fully grasp him. I try to get rid of her pain and embarrassment in a way I couldn’t for my mom and sister. It hurts me to think about how their lives have been damaged by men’s actions, and that motivates me to fight for my daughter’s well-being.
I will often take my adopted children to visit their biological families; but increasingly the reality is that no one shows up. I can see the sadness in my children’s eyes as they wonder why mom, dad, or grandparents weren’t there to see them. The children have expressed their disappointment and sadness to me, wanting to know why there is no member of their family after waiting days or weeks for this appointment.
The first time it happened, I was angry, but then I started thinking about my mother. If the family of my adopted children could not be there for their little ones, there must be a reason. I began to wonder how some mothers might have been treated. What happened during your childhood? How had their children’s parents treated them? What might they be dealing with now?
People rush to judge a mother who cannot support her children, but what is often lacking in her judgment is the awareness of how a man can increase the difficulties of that mother. As men, we are disappointing our girls and women. I believe that we are called to be protectors and providers, to protect our loved ones from evil, to support them, to love them.
Why is it socially acceptable for a man to raise a child with a woman and let the mother take care of everything for this little human being? Why don’t we get angry when a man creates a child with a woman and then hurts the mother or child? Instead of judging the woman who is left with the weight of a man’s abuse and often abandoned responsibilities, why are we no longer anxious to hold the man accountable?
The pain of my daughter, the pain of her mother, none of this is unknown to me because I have seen the same pain in my family. Fortunately, I am no longer powerless to stand up for the people I love. As a foster parent, I have the ability to protect my little one. However, I am concerned about what his future might be like after he leaves the security and love of our family. I’ve lost many nights of sleep knowing that people who are supposed to protect my girlfriend may not as she gets older. How can I create a basis for it so that history does not repeat itself? I wonder how many girls like her have been left behind.
I spend a lot of time struggling with my role in all of this. For now, I know in part that my role is to nurture and care for the foster daughters who come in through my front door as if they were mine, to make sure they have, even for a short time, an example of a man. who respects and protects those he loves.
My other job is to tell all the men that there is this: we have a responsibility to guide the boys and girls around us to be better human beings. Females are not objects; they are human beings who want to be loved, supported and respected.
As we all do our daily activities, it is sometimes easy to forget that not all girls and women have been cared for in the way they wanted or needed. Instead of judging a mother who may not have it all together, think about how she might have gotten into her struggle. Encourage her. Support it. He asks the men in his life to be by his side.
Challenge yourself today to elevate a woman into your own life, regardless of the circumstances. We may not be able to change the past, but each of us can do whatever it takes to make things better here and now.
Peter Mutabazi is an advocate for children and the founder of Now I Am Known. Amidst the welcome of many different children, she has come to believe that every child and every young person, especially the forgotten, neglected or abused, deserves to be celebrated, seen, heard and known. His debut book, I am now known is available for pre-order here. You can follow Peter on Instagram @fosterdadflipper.
All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.