Social commentary

Who will be the fathers?

This story was told at my church a few weeks ago:

“Elephant herds are formed of an intrictate social web of the extended family. Two or three generations of parents and cousins all play their part – it really does take a whole herd to raise an elephant child.

Adolescent male elephants go through a period of Musth, which normally lasts a week to ten days. Massive hormonal changes and a period of separation from their mothers and grandmothers mark the change into Elephant adulthood. During this time the bull elephants can be unusually aggressive and violent.

Back in 2006 Park Rangers in the Pilanesburg and Addo areas of South Africa noticed that the elephants on their patch were taking far longer than normal to emerge from their period of Musth. A few days, a week and a month passed and the destructive aggressive behaviour continued with no sign of them emerging into adulthood and returning to the herd.

The Rangers were aware that the young elephants were orphans. Not only had their parents died in the rush for ivory or capture for the entertainment industy, but there were no older adult males left in the herd at all.

The Park Rangers took the unusual step of introducing older males. Within a short time the young bull elephants left their prolonged period of Musth and matured into adult males, rejoining the extended society of the herd.

The young bulls needed their older counterparts to ‘father’ them and show them the way into their new role.”

 In the wake of the riots last year the role of fathers is starting to come into the spotlight. Actor and DJ Reggie Yates made a programme for Radio 5 Live broadcast this week asking ‘Is Mum Enough?’. (on BBC iPlayer until 16 April)

Reggie “was very close to his Mum and believes he had all the support and love he needed, but is now starting to question whether he was one of the lucky ones and wonders how not having a father in the home has shaped him.”

One of the contributors poignantly added that they had sought “bits of dad from wherever they could find them.”

The older elephants introduced onto the plains of South Africa weren’t  fathers by themselves, but together provided what was needed to bring the younger males through into their new roles in the herd.

The challenge for us is not to ‘replace’ people’s biological fathers, but to creatively seek out our responsibilities to father those around us and take joy in seeing people mature into playing their new part.

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