Of all the negative things I’ve come to associate with my father never having been a good parent, my HIV-positive status undeniably takes the lead.
This is not surprising; especially with research reminding me of the power that fathers could have in educating their children about issues on violence, drugs, sex and HIV/AIDS.
A national survey in the late 1990s by the US-based Kaiser Family Foundation among children aged 10 to 15 found that fathers had a stronger influence than mothers on how their kids -especially boys – perceived such issues.
Yet, around the globe most men are still unwilling to come out of their sanctuary of non-involvement and share with women the tasks of preventing new HIV infections and caring for those already sick.
So, difficult as I find it to voice my hate for my parent, it must be acknowledged that some sins of the father could well be unforgivable.
Once, when I was still too young to grasp the concept of divorce, I asked my mother why my father no longer lived with us, and she said because while anyone could father a child, it took an especially strong man to be a good dad and role model.
I never really understood what this meant, but after being diagnosed with HIV some years ago, her words made me realise that few issues of international concern relate more directly to gender inequality than the AIDS pandemic.
“…despite popular belief… old dogs are able to learn new tricks…”
In her book, AIDS Africa: Continent in Crisis, author Helen Jackson blamed gender inequality and male inaction against AIDS on the ideals of manhood that include strength, courage and dominance, still prevalent in many cultures.
And with this knowledge having been brought to light, shouldn’t we now be seeking answers to questions like: How can the father figure actually play a role in the battle against this pandemic? Can men change? And how can we measure that change?
Although taking place at a snail’s pace, some AIDS lobby groups have already started advocating that men be taught, during their formative years, to take equal responsibility for safe and healthy sex when the time comes.
Campaigns such as Engender Health’s ‘Men as Partners’ initiative in South Africa, and Mongol Vision’s HIV/AIDS Project with the military in Mongolia, have shown that men can be receptive to changing their attitudes on gender, and that their behaviour need not be fixed or resistant to change.
The World Food Programme (WFP) also recently indicated that in Ethiopia and northwest Tanzania an increasing number of men were taking the lead in WFP-supported training initiatives as anti-AIDS educators.
However, this is just a drop in the ocean, and it goes without saying that many more projects like these still need to be funded and implemented before we are actually able to measure any positive changes in the course of AIDS, and possibly even in relationships between men and women.
The American poet, Anne Sexton, once said: “It doesn’t matter who my father was, what matters is who I remember he was.”
Forgiving my father for his absence during my formative years, or even myself for contracting the virus, has been an arduous journey, but I’m getting there because despite popular belief… old dogs are able to learn new tricks.
(Hayden’s Diary is originally published on PlusNews.)
ABOUT HAYDEN HORNER
I am Hayden Horner, a journalist with the United Nations news agency (IRIN) Integrated Regional Information Network. I write primarily for their HIV/AIDS news service, PlusNews, and cover issues on AIDS from around the continent. I am HIV-positive, though I’ve been told that I don’t look like someone who may eventually die of an AIDS-related illness. I’m still trying to figure out the meaning of that. Unlike many of the “accidental victims” of this disease, I can’t blame anyone for my infection because, while I did not know it at the time, I chose the path that I am currently on. The diagnosis only helped to encourage me to go on searching for what I was needing to heal. While my search was still for love and happiness, the source would be somewhere else. From within. It took a lot of searching, but I think I am finally at peace with my situation. I am now 30 years old and single, but I have a fulfilling career, a roof over my head, good friends and a sober mother who has become a pillar of strength for me. So everything turned out okay in the end. I’ve heard that life is a journey, and I plan on enjoying what’s left of the ride.