Friday, 26 October 2018

'Families without fathers', by Rachael Minott (a visual-poetic reckoning with paternal absence)

Returning to Fathermen's ongoing concern with what Tracey Reynolds has termed the 'absence/presence dilemma' (2009) that surrounds black fatherhood, in this post we share a visual-poetic reflection on Jamaican paternal concerns by Jamaican-born artist Rachael Minott, entitled 'Families without fathers' (2013).

The narrator in Rachael's piece, who is her own father, echoes the words of Jamaican social worker Amy Bailey who once deemed her island 'the land of dead fathers' (covered in an October 2015 post on this blog). The mission of Fathermen has been to contend with such experiences and narratives, to understand how Caribbean men (and their kin) build fatherhood from the ground up, against pervasive notions of Caribbean paternal absence. Such challenges, set in motion by plantation histories and recurring throughout the region, remind of the legacies, longings and possibilities of fathering in our Caribbean presents/futures.


Families without fathers
Rachael Minott (5.9.2013)

"My practice is an exploration into the concept of Jamaica as a matriarchal society, and more specifically it as a consequence of the abdication of men's roles as fathers. Although Jamaica's classification as a matriarchal state is debatable, statistically, with women making up 80% of the countries of business people; a quarter of a million women as the single heads of families and a female Prime Minster; Jamaica is often viewed as such 

Some academics that examine the country, blame this "matriarchal" society for the high levels of crime, and social disruption in the country, and believe that while women seem to be excelling, the men are diminishing. But there are countless reasons as to why these men are abdicating their roles. Some academics believe they can pinpoint it to the 'stud' culture developed during the slave trade. Others see the influence of the drug cartels from South America and Columbia who draw the men in with the promise of 'fast money'. Others look to the 80s and the abandonment of the concept of 'illegitimate children' and the acceptance of most men having multiple families. Whatever the cause maybe the symptom is a country left with generation after generation of men being raised by women and who lack male role models. It falls into a cyclic pattern of not having a father, so not becoming one. 

I wanted my practice to illustrate my research and so I used the manner of strange objects to depict the various causes for this matriarchal society"

Rachael is an artist and curator who sits on the UK Museums Association Board and her works have featured in the 4th Ghetto Biennale in Port au Prince, Haiti 2015 and the Jamaica Biennial 2017.

More on Rachael's artistic and curatorial works

Thursday, 2 November 2017

The Harder They Come: Glimpses of fathering in Caribbean cultural memory

I am often struck by how widespread narratives and experiences of Caribbean fatherly indifference are in the region. So much so, I have frequently argued, that they often cause us to miss the quietly attentive fathering of many Caribbean men; often hidden behind the more visible performativities of masculine personhood (dressing nice, telling tall tales of adventure, playing the role of provider). This trend can be historicised too. It is easy to get the sense that the intimate and actively involved fathering we see is something new, something that emerged recently in the Antilles: attested to by the materials and activities of family planning organisations (see pic below), the UN and men's groups (p.5 Father's Inc) in the region.

Yet, a look a across the region's popular cultural record reveals numerous everyday examples of paternal connections, dedication and love. Yesterday evening I screened Perry Henzel's The Harder They Come, Jamaica's first and most famous feature film, for a class with my students.

I was struck by the loving paternal commitment of the main character's friend, a Rasta man named Pedro - who provided for his sickly son (medication and food) and became a 'hands on' father after the boy lost his mother. These images of fathering came across as mundane, non-patriarchal and cooperative, alongside Elsa (the main character's kind and loving girlfriend) who becomes the boy's foster mother. Henzel's depiction of working class fathering felt neither staged nor anomalous; but rather, was commonplace and intuitive, alongside Elsa's care.

Here's a clip from the film:

About the film:

Ivanhoe Martin (Jimmy Cliff) arrives in Kingston, Jamaica, looking for work and, after some initial struggles, lands a recording contract as a reggae singer. He records his first song, "The Harder They Come," but after a bitter dispute with a manipulative producer named Hilton (Bob Charlton), soon finds himself resorting to petty crime in order to pay the bills. He deals marijuana, kills some abusive cops and earns local folk hero status. Meanwhile, his record is topping the charts.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Barrel Stories

Today I am reviving Fathermen after a two year hiatus. The thesis is now complete and I am encouraged to return to this conversation on Caribbean fathering and family life. However, the focus of this week's Fathermen is mothers and aunties - be they blood-related or foster carers. 

Recent events prompted me to write this post. On 18th September 2017 Hurricane Maria battered the island of Dominica, killing 30 and disappearing 18. Maria destroyed homes and damaged 90% of structures on the island. She razed the agrarian island's abundant 'garden' farms to the ground. Many subsistence farmers, and those dependent on them, are without food. The island is hurting.

An 80-year-old man stands in front of his destroyed home in Marigot, Dominica, on 27 September. Photograph: Jose Jimenez/Getty Images

I, like many in the diaspora, have been spending weekends since the storm frantically 
filling blue shipment barrels (pictured above) with water, corned beef, tuna, pasta, oats, soap, candles, detergents and a host of other essentials to meet the needs of families in the wake of Maria. Many local stores are closed on the island (following looting), humanitarian relief is piecemeal and personal food stocks are depleting (if people were fortunate enough to have accumulated them at all). As such, personal barrels and general food aid are in high demand. 

And so ubiquitous are these blue (plastic) and brown (card) barrels in the Caribbean and her diaspora, that when me and my mother were trawling the aisles of a supermarket collecting tins by the crate-load, an elder Jamaican lady who appeared to be coming from church asked with a warm smile: 'you all are fixing a barrel for you to sen for your family?'

This ubiquity made me want to explore the biographies of barrels further: to ask where they come from (like the social life of the oil drum-cum-steel pan, some are second hand from industry) and where they go (into homes, basements, yards and gardens); how they become literal containers of material necessities and symbolic holders of love and affection; and then how they morph into quotidian features of the domestic landscape (emptied of consumer goods, used for storage, holding water or germinating seedlings). 

Reading up on the subject I was able to position this acute need for barreled goods in context of a hurricane alongside examples of more quotidian barrel sending to support a child, providing everyday relief, treats, technology and fashions. During such reading I encountered Lisa Harewood's Barrel Stories project, which shares the narratives of children left behind by emigrant mothers; children sometimes referred to in Caribbean sociology as 'barrel children'. Yet, as I read the article below, about Harewood's project, my thoughts were cast to Robyn Seller's fine, though lesser known article, Out of State, But Still in Mind. It reveals how barrels and other goods sent by emigrant kin bring about their extra-local presence in the lives of loved ones 'at home'. These are barrels are sent bearing love in material form - but whether the child receives them in this vein is perhaps another matter.

I would add, in Dominica at least, that this process is part of the cultural ethic of 'not forgetting' ones kin (as people put it); not allowing distance to make you fail to support elder and younger dependants 'left behind' when one migrates. This centring ethic (morally orienting emigrant imaginations towards Dominica) intends to keep the idea of home and loved ones ever present in the minds of outer-national kin.

Therefore, using this counter example we can see two sides to the same story: one an expression of love that attempts to bridge vast distance; the other, a feeling of loss where such material gestures have fallen short. 

The article, which covers Harewood's fascinating project, appears below.


Barrel Stories: history project captures the Caribbean migration experience

An empty barrel is many different things for someone living in the Caribbean. It might capture rainwater in the backyard, be cut in half to make a kitchen garden, used as a chest of drawers, and more.
The story of how it arrived at the person’s house, however, is the same.
The tan paper or blue plastic barrel is sent home from a family member who migrated overseas. The items in the barrel—everything from canned food to clothing to sweet treats—are a source of financial support, as well an attempt at an emotional connection.
“[The sender] is trying to communicate and express something. But it’s always going to fall short,” said Barrel Stories founder Lisa Harewood in an interview with ivoh. “And in keeping the barrel, you’re constantly reminding yourself of the person who’s missing. The barrel can be a really complicated, conflicting thing for people.”
Modeled off NPR’s StoryCorps, Barrel Stories is an oral history project that captures the complex experiences of those who leave and those who are left behind—specifically “barrel children,” a term coined by Jamaican sociologist Dr. Claudette Crawford-Brown in the 90s.
“It can sometimes feel like it’s a normal part of Caribbean family life to say someone’s parent lives overseas,” UK-based Harewood said. “But what does that mean for the family? What does mean for the child? What does that mean for the parent?”
Harewood, filmmaker and founder of Gate House Media, takes her audio recorder around the Caribbean and its diaspora and talks to former barrel children in an attempt to find out. So far there’s a handful of stories up on the site, with many more she’s in the process of editing. Oscillating between heartbreak and hope, the stories run the gamut of experiences.
Image result for Send love in a barrel

Send Love inna Barrel, Kelley-Ann Lindo

There’s Trinidad-born Tonni, who was was split between her mother and aunt in Trinidad and Canada while growing up, the arrangement loving and seamless. Samantha was born in London but was sent to Guyana to be with her aunties as a baby, and still grapples with a strained relationship with her mother to this day.  C.H. stayed behind with various relatives in Barbados and was often neglected, sometimes left hungry, but now works with foster youth.
While some participants use their real name, many choose to remain anonymous or use pseudonyms. Caribbean migration is a sensitive topic — barrel children don’t tend to talk about much in fear of being seen as ungrateful. A parent acquiring a visa in the hopes of making a better life for the family is regarded a privilege, after all.  
“We don’t look at it in terms of being psychologically traumatic. As long as the children are being cared for and your parent is able to send you money and goods, you’re not seen as being at risk in anyway,” Harewood said. “You’re considered lucky.”
But as Harewood has learned, the feelings are complicated. The project began from outreach around Harewood’s first short film, “Auntie,” about a caregiver grappling with her child’s inevitable reunion with her birth mother. After screenings people would share their own story of being a barrel child, a term they’d usually never heard of but one they’d identified with immediately. Harewood knew she had to do more to capture these multiple narratives of the migration experience.   

“I really didn’t want that one fictional film to be seen as some sort of truth. It’s just one story and each person’s story is very specific,” Harewood said. “The film also doesn’t tell the story of the reunion with the parent and the aftermath of all that, the adjustment to a new country and life. ”

Harewood herself is not a barrel child, but grew up shuffling between family households in Barbados when she was younger. She wanted to facilitate Barrel Stories precisely because it wasn’t her story, but one that continues to be commonplace.
“Unfortunately the Caribbean is a place that’s chronically, perpetually challenged in its development,” she said. “If you’re a parent leaving your child behind, you’re often doing it because you want your child to have a chance at a better life.”
While countries like Jamaica have identified barrel children as a social problem, it’s hard to pin down exact statistics elsewhere and study its effects. Mainly because people are afraid of putting their immigration status at risk, or have the state intervene in their caregiver arrangement. Globally, however, there are an increasing number of female migrants. What Harewood can infer is that more mothers are leaving.
Barrel Stories has scant voices of the parents themselves, which Harewood would like to change. Of the few stories that feature a parent, however,  a conversation between a mother and son has stuck with her. The mother recounts her harrowing experiences abroad after migrating, including being in an abusive relationship, working 130 hours per week, and saving up money for her children’s plane tickets only to find it was a fraudulent scheme. 
Image result for barrel stories
“She’s an incredibly strong woman and afterwards her son and I had a conversation about this kind of toughness. I think we’re a little too bought into this image of Caribbean people as some of the most resilient and resourceful people in the world. We’re not showing our vulnerabilities,” she said. “I want to show that while we’re incredibly resilient, there is a price we pay. It takes a toll.”
Even the process of recording these stories for Harewood has been much more emotionally difficult than she anticipated. After a while, watching people break down in their houses and hearing the sadness in their voices through her headphones started to take a toll on her.
“You can’t help but feel a duty of care to people beyond taking their story,” she said. “What I can offer them is an outlet and hope that it is a start of some kind of healing. And there are also the stories that lift your spirits because they show arrangements that work where children feel loved and cared for.” 
Harewood posts resources on the site — academic papers, books, art, films, etc. — for barrel children to access. Although most participants express relief after they’ve shared their story, she doesn’t generally hear from them again. A few have used their recorded story as a tool to have a conversation about the past with their families. Ultimately, Harewood wants Barrel Stories to encourage more people to speak honestly about what happened.
“I want people to feel like they have permission to say it wasn’t all great. Some of it was actually really hard,” she said. “And hopefully it encourages a parent to sit down with their child and explain what they went through or why they made the choices that they did. Quite often those choices were really limited.”
As for the future of Barrel Stories, Harewood hopes to create an interactive site where people can upload stories themselves. Further down the road, she’d love to see offshoots of the project in other regions — the Philippines and Nigeria, for example — where migration is equally as common.
For Harewood, who believes the barrel is going to be around forever, there’s never been a better moment for the project.   
“It’s an issue whose time has come and I’m fortunate to have offered a tool to help people make their voices heard,” she said. “I think Barrel Stories has it’s own momentum that’s driving it. The stories need to be told.”

See too:

Sending Love in a Barrel: The Making of Transnational Carribbean Families in Canada
Charmaine Crawford

'Send love inna barrel': Mixed-media Installation, Kingston, Jamaica
Lindo, Kelley-Ann

Sunday, 25 October 2015

A Land of Dead Fathers, a commentary by Amy Bailey (1941)

For this post I share an essay by Amy Bailey; a teacher, social activist, social worker, 'Lady of Letters' and astute commentator on the Jamaica of her time - the 1930-40s - a moment of great upheaval on the island (eg. labour movement ).

This essay entitled 'Dead Fathers', was one of her countless pieces for Public Opinion, a journal for/by the emerging educated middle classes to discuss the issues of the day. 'Dead Fathers', has an almost psychoanalytic quality to it (albeit a grounded one), as Bailey assesses the social death of the father in Jamaican society by virtue of his material, emotional and moral absence from everyday family life. Whilst I would argue that much has changed in terms of the lived experience of fathering in the region since the time of writing - e.g. greater visibility, somewhat more effective maintenance courts and many men keen to disrupt cycles of 'absence' - her general thesis on the symbolic place of the father in Caribbean society audibly echoes into the present. That is, the ideal of the beneficent provisioning patriarch persists as a fatherly model that continues to elude the mainstream of Caribbean men - to the anxiety of those who marshal the moral/social order (pastor, politician, social worker, magistrate etc).

This leads me towards the conclusion that perhaps such enduring anxieties about everyday Caribbean family life (as succinctly summarised in Merle Hodge's 'We Kind of Family'), are as much an artefact of a Caribbean kinship order, as they are a representation of and commentary on it. I would even go so far as to contend that perhaps such concerns are more recalcitrant and resistant to change than the paternal patterns they bemoan. In other words, maybe some of the changes Bailey hoped to see are occurring, yet the hymn book of respectable society is yet to catch up. That said, you'll have to wait for my phd thesis to be finished for me to empirically to back this up ;)

Dead Fathers
 Public Opinion, October 18, 1941:10

Jamaica had had several names that have characteristically described the country—“Land of Wood and Water,” “Island of Springs,” “Land of Perpetual Sunshine,” etc. but yet another name may very well be added as we have qualified for it, and it is “Land of Dead Fathers.”
 It is just possible that this name will bring a smile to the lips of some who read it and that they will declare it far-fetched. But after a little thought, it may be borne in on their minds that it isn’t quite so ridiculous after all.
 By “dead” I do not just mean literally dead. Would that some of the fathers were. I mean dead in spirit, dead to moral or practical responsibility for their children, dead to a civic responsibility towards Society and the State, dead in respect and consideration for womankind and womanhood. And if a man can be more dead when he is all of these things, then I’d like to see him. For it is well to remember that we are made up of body, soul, and spirit, and when the last two are dead surely the body is but a carcass that functions because the life isn’t gone out of it.
 There are large numbers of men in this country—too large for us to feel comfortable about—who answer to the above description; who have children for whom they assume no responsibility; who have children whom they refuse to recognise, who have children of whom they are unaware. Thus bearing out what Ella Wheeler Wilcox tells us, that “Men may be fathers unaware.”
 Those of us who do social work among the poor know only too well how many times the reply to the question “Where is the father of these children or this child?’ is “He is dead.” More often than not, what the mothers really mean (this comes up after close enquiry) is that they have no idea where he is. Some will tell you frankly that he left for the country or went abroad years ago, and they had never heard from him. It is not a large percentage of names of these “dead” fathers that finds its place in the Registrar’s Office.
 Then there are the instances of genuine neglect where the fathers are dead to every decent instinct. Only last week I came across the case of a young girl around 17 years of age, who was the victim of one such man. All the money she had received immediately before the birth of her baby and since then—five months now—is 4 [shillings] from which to pay hospital fees and take care of the child. This despite the fact that he is in a good job.
 Lately there came to hand also another case where the father of 4 children coolly stepped out of the picture and left the mother, a domestic servant, earning 5 [shillings] weekly to take care of these children single-handed. He had gone elsewhere, no doubt, to do the same job all over again.
 But why multiply the instances? The great point is that something must be done about it. It is not for want of effort on the part of the Women’s Liberal Club, [which] at their two last annual conferences brought the question of  the irresponsibility of fathers forcefully before the public in the hope of stirring up public opinion on the matter, and which, in representations to His Excellency the Governor, stressed the importance of the government amending the present law, or introducing new ones, so as to improve the deplorable condition which is really a serious blot on our civic life and a menace to the future.
 In discussing the matter among other social questions with representatives of the Liberal Club some time ago, Prof. Simey pointed out, and quite rightly too, that an outsider could not be expected to do that job for us. Such reforms should come from ourselves, not enforced from outside. In other words, we must create sufficient strong public opinion to impel our legislators to move government to act.
 Do we care sufficiently enough to build up such a public opinion? Apart from a few who are like voices crying in the wilderness, the majority pass indifferently by. Can’t we all as members of a community take some interest in this matter? I am appealing especially to the upper and middle classes. Can’t we take a personal interest in our employees, establish the human contact with them, i.e. treat them as if they were not just automatons to get through our work? We would in this way get to know details of their family, or lack of family life, and thus be in a position to help them not so much financially, as in many other ways. This should not be done in a spirit of curiosity as people soon get to know the difference between “nosiness” and interest.
 Employers of chauffeurs, men waiters etc. have a unique opportunity to encourage respect for and development of a family life in this country. All things being equal, preference should be given to the man who has responsibilities and assumes them, rather than to the man who neglects them. And, where possible, if it comes to the notice of an employer that an employee willfully neglects his children, he should be dismissed. This is not third-degree punishment by any means.
 In the same way, many a mistress will find the opportunity of helping a maid to get support for her children, if she will take the trouble to find out what happens when she leaves the job on an evening, or an employer who employs girls in shirt- or other factories can do much to help in this matter. Sometimes just getting a Salvation Army Officer in touch with the delinquent will be of tremendous value.
 I repeat that improvement in this direction must come from ourselves. Of course, when there is Universal Suffrage, women will have the chance of bringing aspiring representatives to book and pinning them down to declare just what is their stand on this problem. According to their stand, so will the votes be given or withheld. Then afterwards keeping the eye on them, to bind them to their promise. But until then, can’t we do something to lessen the sum total of these “dead" fathers? They, though dead, speak in loud terms to us. At least their children do. Won’t we listen to them?
This and more of Baileys writings are available at this excellent site: 

Friday, 9 October 2015

My Uncle, by Lorna Goodison

Today I re-read one of my favourite poems by one of my favourite authors Lorna Goodison, entitled My Uncle. I share it here: 

Her poem expresses love for a recently deceased father through the careful craft of his progeny.

Her uncles feature in Goodison's beautifully written 'From Harvey River: The Story of My Mother and Her People', a five generation memoir of her maternal kin in Hanover, Jamaica.

This deeply evocative description of the family's provision at a plentiful funeral illustrates affect in many material forms. To give a splendid funeral with all the trimmings is to publicly declare familial care for a departing ancestor. In the Caribbean fatherly provision constitutes care. Thus, reciprocal provision during his death rite expresses mutual caring and regard towards a father's spirit. Since Lorna's craft is words, her poem seems an apt contribution to the death rite.

Lorna and her poem speak more eloquently for themselves than my analysis might ever hope to, so I will leave it here.

Lorna Goodison (1988) 'My Uncle',Caribbean Quarterly,Vol. 44, No. 1/2,

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Fathermen Summer Exhibit at the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Father's Scotland Video

To celebrate the lead up to Father's Day this past June myself (Adom) and Stella Phipps held our collaborative exhibit at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

The exhibit hung between the 10th and 30th June 2015, presenting a dialogue on issues of paternal proximity and absence between Dominica (where I did fieldwork) and Scotland (as Stella offered her visual memories as a father's daughter).

The opening event was attended by Nick Thorpe of Fathers Network Scotland - a charitable organisation that seeks to promote positive fatherhood in Scotland. Nick interviewed both Stella and myself shortly after the event and produced this great short feature:

For more on Fathers Network Scotland and to learn about their exciting 2016 Year of the Dad campaign please click here and here

Thanks to all those who were able to attend the opening and catch the exhibit throughout June, particularly Stella's great father-child arts workshops on Father's Day!

Below are some photos from the exhibit.  


Saturday, 18 July 2015

One word: Father

Cut Video asked men from 5 - 50 (and every age in between) to respond to one word: "father." These are their responses.

For more such videos on a variety of themes visit -