Vi Waln: An appreciation for all the fathers in Indian Country

I am a bit late in wishing all of Indian Country a Happy Father’s Day. Every year, the third Sunday in June is designated as Father’s Day. I hope those dads who are still part of their children’s lives enjoyed their special day.

Sometimes it is not the biological father who is the most appreciated. There are many people have never even seen their biological father. Others have had their fathers pass away. And there are also those who have severed all ties with their biological fathers.

Many of you have other male figures besides your father who you look to for advice and guidance. Those of you who were not raised by your biological father may have been fortunate to grow up with an uncle, older brother, stepfather or grandfather as your male mentor.

I see many Lakota men who are good providers for their children and families. A good provider is not just someone who pays the bills. An excellent provider is someone who is attentive to not only the physical needs of a child but is also aware of the mental, emotional and spiritual needs. Fathers can be responsible in terms of providing financial security and I think society expects that. But do they also provide for the emotional, mental and spiritual needs of their children?

Your father is someone who is supposed to support you, not only financially but in other ways too. It helps if your father is also your friend because then you could have meaningful conversations. Some people do not know who their biological fathers are. Many Lakota children go through their whole lives without knowing their biological father.

This is a contributing factor in the breakdown of our kinship system. Our ancestors took great pride in ensuring family members knew their relatives. Our people respected everyone who was a blood relative and addressed them with the proper kinship terms. Our children were taught how to interact respectfully with relatives of the opposite sex.

Things are very different today. I want to thank all the Lakota men (and women) who are taking an active role as a parent for their children. I see many of our Lakota men who work hard to provide for the needs of their children. These Lakota fathers work side by side with Lakota mothers to help their children grow up to be responsible and productive members of society.

The efforts of a father are felt all through our lives. Many adults will remember what they went through as a child. Parents should keep in mind that their children will one day be adults who will remember the incidents which the parents wish they would have forgotten. Some children grow up with the resolve to not be like their parents.

I also want to thank all Lakota mothers, especially those of you who are raising a family single handedly. Some of you make a choice to raise your children alone. You work very hard to be both mother and father to your children.

There are also single dads out there who are doing a great job with their children. It is difficult to raise children alone. Perhaps the hardest part is trying to explain to your children why they only have one parent instead of two like some of their friends do.

There are also stepfathers out there who are helping their wives raise children from a previous marriage or relationship. I know many of the stepfathers are very good to their stepchildren and consider them their own. But how many stepfathers or stepmothers are neglecting their own biological children?

Some fathers have more than one family. I think it is important to treat all of your children equally. You should not do something for one of your children that you do not plan to do for them all. Children remember things like that even after they have reached adulthood. Sometimes the little things are what create the most difficult emotional or other barriers to healing.

Any man has the capability to father a child but it takes someone special to be a real dad. A real father accepts his biological children by allowing them to live their lives as they wish. He does not resent them for not being what he wants them to be. A real father does not blame his children for things that happen. A true dad will help his children through the hard times without judgment.

And there are the fathers who are referred to as the deadbeat dads. This is the phrase which usually describes the father who does not pay child support. I suppose we can’t really blame some men for not paying child support since the unemployment rate on the rez is somewhere around 90% or so. Still, a father could choose to support his children in other ways.

I know some fathers who have worked very hard to dodge their obligation to pay child support. I know of one man who got a job after many years of not being employed and when the state informed him that they would be garnishing his check for child support he quit his job! Other men (and women) will refuse employment because they do not want to pay child support.

It is all a personal choice but one can lose important privileges if child support obligations are not taken care of. You can be denied a driver’s license if you owe child support. You can also be charged with a federal offense if your child support reaches a certain amount. Actually, the only people who lose more than you by your conscious choice not to pay your child support are your children.

Our children are the future. How bright that future is depends on our actions today. If you are a father or mother you have an obligation to care for the children you brought into this world. Your children need you now more than ever.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at vi@lakotacountrytimes.com.

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