In 2013, Belgian hip-hop artist Stromae released the single “Papaoutai.” In the song, he expresses frustration with his absent father, continually asking in the chorus: “Où t’es, papa, où t’es?” (“Daddy, where are you?”). In the accompanying music video, a young boy tries to reach his unresponsive father. The boy claims that though everyone knows how to make babies, nobody appears to know how to “make fathers.” Tragically, the boy is unable to connect with his father, and in the end we see him becoming like his father: absent, uninvolved, and unresponsive. The video not only alludes to the long-lasting effects of absent fathers worldwide, but also gives insight into the perspective of a child.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of father absence in the world. Results from a 2016 National Household Survey indicate that about 64 percent of children in South Africa do not have fathers regularly present in their lives. Positive involved fatherhood remains a huge challenge in South Africa as it does in many parts of the world. Men often struggle with cultural norms, balancing work and family, and often not knowing how to be a good father since they had no example in their own lives.

Initiatives such as the MenCare campaign (, however, are making a difference in South Africa and around the world not only by educating men on how they can be better fathers but also by changing community norms. A number of studies have confirmed the efficacy of these programs, and many participants have said the training they have received helped them become better fathers.

What do children think? Do they see changes in their fathers’ attitudes and behaviors after their fathers participate in MenCare? In her research on the effectiveness of the MenCare program in and around Cape Town, Sjanna Westerhof focused on the children of fathers and caregivers who participated in MenCare positive parenting groups, run by Sonke Gender Justice in South Africa.

One daughter said: “I think MenCare convinces our fathers to do good things.”

In many cases these “good things” include spending more time with their children, helping with caregiving tasks, using nonviolent discipline, and providing their children with a sense of safety and security. Another daughter commented that her father “used to come home too late, but since he participated in MenCare, he has changed. He realized that he has to be home more often.” Another of the girls interviewed also indicated that her father stopped using corporal punishment as a means to discipline her. She said: “He used to hit me; since he went to the fatherhood program it changed.”

Results from the study reflected general improvement in father-child relationships, demonstrating that the intervention contributed to fathers becoming more positive role models for their children. Most of the children, for example, described an “ideal father” using the same attributes they used to describe their own fathers. One of the boys said,

“My daddy is the best daddy in the world, because I go places with him.”

Further analyses revealed such changes in fathers’ behavior also improved the way children thought of their family in general. Healthy relationships between the father, the partner, and the children made the home a safe and pleasant place for the children. This was confirmed by drawings the children made; many said they drew them because they loved their families. Results from this research illustrate the important contributions that fathers can make in the lives of their children, and highlight how fatherhood can be understood as much more then being a breadwinner.

To address absent fatherhood and promote positive relationships between fathers and children, Sonke Gender Justice launched the global fatherhood MenCare campaign in South Africa with Promundo in 2012. MenCare promotes “men’s involvement as equitable, nonviolent fathers and caregivers in order to achieve family wellbeing, gender equality, and better health for mothers, fathers, and children.” Learn more about the campaign here.

National MenCare coordinator Andre Lewaks manages Sonke’s MenCare program out of the Cape Town office. A social worker and activist, he helped found the South African Social Services Union where he currently serves as spokesperson.
A native of Holland, David Snetselaar is an intern at Sonke, and enrolled at Utrecht University where his research focuses on how indigenous groups experience their citizenship and work for their rights.