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I question the definition of fatherhood
Merit Rumema
May 30, 2011

I had a wonderful father when growing up, in fact, he was the first man I fell in love with and I realize I have been looking for a part of him in every man who shows an interest in me, and sadly I cannot find another Onesimo Luckson Rumema. He was indeed one of a kind.

Over the years I have seen father who dot on their little girls and have appreciated the term, "Daddie's little girl" but the older I grow, the more I see and hear, the more I have questioned the meaning of the word father. As an Information Officer for Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, I have seen countless women walk through our doors, seeking help so that an errant father can pay maintenance for his children-s upkeep. I have heard of fathers denying paternity, and other pretending they earn very little so as to avoid the responsibility of taking care of their children.

What has driven me to write this article and question what it is really that makes one a father is the case that is now in the supreme Court, of a 22 year old female student at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), whose father is refusing to pay fees, arguing that she is no longer a minor and therefore not his responsibility. He further states that when he divorced the mother, he only agreed to maintain one child who is still a minor. What then really boggles my mind is the fact that he can afford to take the case back and forth in court and pay lawyers in private practice. I do not know this man-s income, but to me, if he can afford lawyers, he can afford to pay school fees.

Out of curiosity, I posed a question on the ZWLA website and of the organisation´s face book page, just to find out from people what they thought about this particular case and got really interesting responses. All of the participants in the poll agreed that a parent should pay school fees regardless of the child-s age as long as it is a first degree, as this has become a necessity and no longer a luxury. A young man shared how he went through a similar situation with his father who had sour grapes with his mother and to fix the mother, refused to pay fees.

Still, my question was not answered. Who or what really is a father. Is it someone who merely through an act of nature makes a woman pregnant and shares same DNA with the child, or is that man, who is there for the child, looks after them, teaches them to ride a bike, helps with the homework and plays peek-a-boo? I then thought of my own little girl, who has never seen her biological father but still loves him, who has never had the pleasure of pulling his beard. It got me thinking, when she get married in 20 years time, who will claim lobola and for what reasons? I know in my culture, when the groom pays lobola, there is something called matekenya ndebvu (beard tickling) and I have seen little girls do that in fascination to their father. But my angel never did that, well at least not to her "father". Will he have the right to claim the lobola, or should the stepfather claim it? After all, he was there more than her "father" was, and is helping shape and mould her into a woman of integrity.

Back to the case that prompted me to write this article, seeking learned opinions, does the problem lie within the legal framework or the cultural ideologies? Currently, the law defines a minor as anyone below the age of 18, and I remember at 18 I was in Lower Six and still in boarding school. Was my father supposed to stop paying school fees for me then because I was a major? I am not a lawyer but surely there is a serious error under the sun? So all those "fathers" who have been compelled by the law to be responsible towards their children will stop when the children turn 18, regardless of whether they are still in school or not, self sufficient or not? Is that when one stops being a father? I am almost 30 years now, but everyday, I miss my late father and am confident if he were alive today I would still be his little girl. He may not have been able to solve every problem but he would have stood by me.

So please tell me, what defines a father, is it a blood issue, a responsibility issue or a relationship issue?

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