Response to letter “Let’s study why fathers flee”
December 16, 2007
I read your letter that was recently published in the Gleaner, and several things came to mind that I thought I would share with you.
It is both sad and commendable that an ordinary reader and citizen like yourself has to call to the UWI faculty to do basic inquiry into an issue that has been a significant problem for Jamaican families and society since at least the 1950s. And yet, just yesterday in conversation with a young woman my age (mid-30’s) about a child she had inherited from an overburdened single mother and its deadbeat father, my friend commented in a deadpan way that
“Yuh nuh hear sey dem [meaning the Jac’n gov’t] just discova sey di man dem naah mine dem pickney”.
I looked at her with disbelief, and asked if she really believed that this was “new” news. She — who, as a child, regularly witnessed her father raise hell (and his fist) everytime her mother approached him for money for food, rent, school uniform, etc. and who had to bury her father earlier this year when he died — looked at me, kissed her teeth and responded:
“Well den nuh mus’ dat mek dem a gwa’an so. A dat mi affi sey. Wha else mi fi seh? If a’ now demma realize sey dem fi regista di pickney dem right inna di hospital wid di man dem right dey so. Nuh mussi di fus time dem a hear sey di man dem na’ah tek care ah dem pickney? Nuh true?”
In her way, she articulated the sense of bemusement and disbelief that I have felt over the past few weeks while the furor over “jackets” etc. was being raised by the newspaper.
And as you correctly note through your question, not one lick of evidence has been offered to help us (readers et al.) understand why the researchers, with a complicit mass media, treated this issue as if it was newly discovered, and simply a matter of opinion and law rather than based on knowledge about how men and women construct social relationships.
While I am quite knowledgeable about existing research on social issues regarding men, women and families in Jamaica, I can assure you that there are no ready answers about Jamaican men’s attitudes and experiences of paternity, because the research has simply not been done. The most recent information comes from Suzanne Lafont’s research on the family courts in Jamaica of the early 1990s, and Mindie Lazarus-Black’s work in Antigua.
As such, any answers that you will get from all those incensed that you would dare to ask the question will most likely:
1) be relatively dated information from the 1980s and before.
2) not be based on any recent theoretical analysis or systematic (or even accurate) empirical evidence but are purely guesswork driven by a potent combination of faulty, problematic theories and no shortage of racial, gender and class biases;
3) not be based on solid, well-thought out questions but on proving something they already believe they know the answer to;
4) be focused on defending the UWI faculty as scholars rather than examining the poor quality of ideas and scholarly engagement within this group;
5) not critically examine the mismatch between the public perceptions of what UWI faculty are supposed to be doing and what/how they actually engage with the rest of the society, especially in the area of knowledge creation and public policy, and
6) confuse the question of “why”/”how” with “who should be blamed”.
As you have probably figured out, research in Jamaica has a bad reputation, and some of it deserved. While there is general antipathy towards and ignorance about research-based knowledge (ie. hearsay, opinion, religious belief and pop psychology are often considered interchangeable and equally credible truths), it is also accurate to say that researchers in Jamaica themselves continue to undermine the enterprise by their own approaches. UWI Soc Sci faculty and postgraduate students are excellent examples here: they rely almost solely on “polls” and questionnaire-based “surveys” as THE approach to everything. In turn, most Jamaicans have come to expect –and are even taught — that the only or best answers are ones that are expressed in the forms of percentages.
Those who do social and cultural analyses are extremely careless about how studies are designed, and are not held accountable to anyone because their work is often not peer-reviewed outside of Jamaica. The newspaper reporters are so clueless about research that they don’t even know what questions to ask let alone how to critique the work. Instead, they see their job as cheerleaders: to “big up Jamaica” and challenging internalized inferiority that “we can write books too!” And, of course, if you should disagree with UWI folks, it’s because you are not “Jamaican”, “you don’t live in Jamaica”, or “you don’t understand Jamaicans”, hence you could not possible have anything of value to say. These same folks are also very lackadaisical about how the public is informed about the work that they do. This is where the sensationalist tendencies of reporters come in.
Sadly, I think that you would be much better off emailing persons who are doing research in the area and pitching the idea; at the very least you could expect a response that appreciates your question in its fullest.
This question about the meaning of fatherhood in Jamaica is one that I am quite interested in, both from my own family history, as well as in relation to the majority of women and men with whom I relate on a number of levels. I am looking to answer the question using the data that I have and continue to gather, but that is far from adequate in speaking to public policy and discussion regarding the larger problem. But, every little helps. You know the adage “one one coco…”