Although no official figures exist in Trinidad and Tobago, single father households are largely increasing and their challenges are no different from those faced by single mothers.
The Single Fathers Association of Trinidad and Tobago (SFATT) was established as an advocacy group in order to raise national awareness about children estranged from their fathers. The group has a registered membership of 1,300 while its social media page hosts some 2,500 and growing. SFATT founder, Rhondall Feeles says that society is still not supportive of fathers who are going through the parenting process alone.
Feeles is well aware of the devastating effects fatherlessness has had on society. However, to place all single fathers in the same category he said, would be equivalent to stereotyping any racial or social class in a likewise manner.
This, he says, doesn’t work. “We put great emphasis on the struggles of single mothers in this country and I am not disregarding that at all but we immediately assume there is no responsible father in place. Although the number of single fathers continues to increase questions and doubts remain. Society still views single fatherhood as a negative stigma. We are trying to change the social perception of fatherhood in T&T. I think that people appreciate that there are good fathers out there but there is still a lot of misconceptions about single fatherhood but the fact is many men, far more than ever are single fathers,” Feeles said.
“I think many times the ‘single mother’ is in the spotlight, and society seems to focus on that role more often than the single father role. I feel that society believes that the role of the single father is to pay child support,” Felees said. Feeles wants a level playing field when it comes to child custody. “A lot of fathers are not given equal opportunities with their children.
The bias towards fathers must stop. When a father is given four days a month to be with his child what kind of relationship can we develop with our sons? There are a number of fathers who want to be involved and even the court is keeping fathers away from the child. Lots of fathers are viewed as pay cheques rather than loving, supportive, caring parents. We have 30 days in a month; what the court is saying is that the child is deemed to be safe with the father for only four days; it means that a father is not really seen as a parent. The court continues to turn a deaf ear to our plight. We have written to them we have spoken to them but there is no change.
“We face many challenges but the challenge is to get society to change. Single fathers are seen as deadbeat, lazy and laid-back. Society does not respond to the social needs of men. The SFATT is a support system. There are single fathers who have to face the court system with no legal advice and counsel. We are able to give sound legal advice to fathers in distress.
There are single fathers who are not benefitting from social welfare for their children while single mothers are having no problems with social welfare so there is a lot of work to do; we have accomplished a lot but there is still more to do,” Feeles said. “Anyone can register with the SFATT; our group is not just for single fathers, we have aunts, grandmothers and uncles; anybody could register because when the father doesn’t get to see the child the extended family also don’t get to see the child, so it takes an emotional toll on everyone involved,” Feeles said.
The SFATT has planned a series of events in commemoration of Father’s Day. Feeles and the rest of the SFATT will celebrate and awareness through a Week of Fatherhood events that runs began June 8 and runs through June 15. SFATT’s second annual National Father’s Day Parade which took place on Sunday will be followed by a series of free consultations to be held at Mt Hope Medical Complex Ampitheatre C.
“Last year one of our main events during our Week of Fatherhood Celebration was our consultation “ Fathers in Society: Issues and Solutions”. We at SFATT believed and continue to believe that these discussions and debates are critical for us to seal the gap between the advisers of policy and legislation drafters and the people on the ground, so we developed a forum where we set up a panel of professionals who are well known throughout the country and bring them to the people to hear the views of our people and share their view as professionals in society
This year the SFATT will host three consultations which began on Monday with discussions on “Children in Society: Issues and Solutions”. The guest panel comprise of members of the Prime Minister’s Child Protection Task Force including Gregory Sloane-Seale, Zena Ramatali, Dr Kathy Bharatsingh, Pastor Clive Dottin, Rhondall Feeles and a selected child psychologist. St George’s College and Diego Martin North pupils have also been invited to this event to share their childhood experiences both in and out of their classrooms.
A discussion on “Couples in Society: Issues and Solutions” will take place tomorrow. This guest panel will comprise of the president of the interim Mediation Board, Carol Singh, a specially selected couples counsellor, a trained psychiatrist and a married couple of over 20 years who will all be sharing their expertise on making relationships work. Feeles said this discussion is vital to encourage couples, married and unmarried.
Fatherhood in Society: Issues and Solution Part Two will take place on Friday June 13. This guest panel will comprise of president SFATT Rhondall Feeles, Minister of Legal Affairs, Prakash Ramadhar, Errol Fabien (single father), child psychologist, president mediation board, Carol Singh, Pastor Clive Dottin and a specially selected male and female activist. All sessions takes place at 3.30 p.m. at Mt Hope Medical Complex Ampitheatre C. There is no charge for attendance to any of these consultations. For further information contact 684-1704.