Skip to main content

Son, this is how to be a man

By Michael Alandu
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
Michael Alandu with his son John Paul.
Michael Alandu with his son John Paul.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Michael Alandu: Son, I'll be gone for Father's Day, working to help women in DRC
  • He says life there is hell for many, particularly women who are vulnerable to attacks
  • He aims to educate men that respecting all, including women, uplifts the community
  • Alandu: Son, when you are grown, you must treat everyone, including women, with dignity

Editor's note: Michael Alandu is the governance advisor for CARE International in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He wrote this open letter to his three-year-old son, John Paul, explaining why he won't be at their home in the Atlanta suburbs for Father's Day. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Dear John Paul,

Father's Day is here. I know you will once again be wondering why Daddy doesn't come home from work. I know this makes you sad. It makes me sad, too. I want to see you. I want to help you dress, brush your teeth and drive you to school. I want to take you outside so we can tend to your garden of tomatoes and peppers or ride your bicycle. Since the last time we were together, I am sure you have gotten better at applying the brakes. I bet next time I see you I won't have to keep yelling "Pedal backwards! Pedal backwards!"

I am writing this letter to explain to you why my work takes me away from home for so long. You may not understand everything I'm saying now, but I hope one day you will.

Katungu Mwirawivu offers her opinion in a communal assembly. The 50-year-old mother of 10 lives in Virenge, a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo where CARE worker Michael Alandu trains community members in gender sensitization and equality.
Katungu Mwirawivu offers her opinion in a communal assembly. The 50-year-old mother of 10 lives in Virenge, a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo where CARE worker Michael Alandu trains community members in gender sensitization and equality.

I work in Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. This country looks like heaven, but for too many people here, it feels like hell. There is stunning natural beauty, but it seems like so many of its 77 million people are simply trying to survive. Their daily life is defined by extreme poverty, sickness and constant fear of marauding militias of men who roam the country molesting women and kids with impunity.

John Paul, my job is to try to make life better for mommies and kids. Women in DRC, as they do in so many countries, work farm fields, bring home firewood, fetch heavy buckets of water, cook for the entire family and take care of all the children. Even though women do that work, they earn very little money and are often treated very badly. Men receive the money earned by women. Men decide how it is spent.

Much of the time, men don't even listen to what women and girls have to say about how the family money is spent. Women are excluded from many of the family's most important decisions -- even decisions that directly affect their own lives.

I try to help women and girls in Congo go to school, visit the doctor and earn money so they can take care of themselves and their families. I got into this line of work because when I look back on my own childhood in northern Ghana, I realize that I could've easily been one of those people that organizations like CARE are trying to help.

"I also tell them...manhood is not about physical strength or the power to bully others. Rather, it is working to make society better for everyone, including women and girls."

To help women and girls, I spend much of my time speaking with and educating men. Just as men here have the power to make life very difficult for girls and women, they also have the power to support the girls and women around them. We are most successful helping daughters and mothers when sons and fathers are working alongside us.

We talk to husbands about the community-wide benefits of supporting girls' education and their wives' efforts to save money and start small businesses. We show men how violence undermines the families and communities they value. I like to remind men that the women they can help lift from misery and despair are their mothers, aunties, daughters and sisters.

I also tell them that being a responsible man requires being respectful of everyone. Manhood is not about physical strength or the power to bully others. Rather, it is working to make society better for everyone, including women and girls. That is a lesson still being learned not only here in the DRC but also there in the United States and the rest of the world.

When you grow up to be a man, John Paul, you will have a right to be free and make decisions for yourself. But you should not take rights away from girls or women. Robbing a girl or women of her rights is like robbing yourself. When a man takes away a girl's right to go to school, he is taking away a girl's right to do what she wants when she grows up -- her right to be a doctor, engineer, pilot, teacher, nurse or university professor. He is robbing his community of her talent and contributions. Work for the freedom of others, John Paul. Freedom is like a boomerang. What you throw into the world comes back to you.

I'm sorry I won't be home for Father's Day or to open the card you made for me at school. But I'm proud to be part of a movement of men working with women around the world to make sure everyone -- regardless of gender -- is treated with dignity and respect. I may not come home in a uniform, but please know that our family's sacrifice is for the most important struggle of our time. I know it makes you sad today, but I hope one day it inspires you to help others.

I am so looking forward to spending future Father's Days with you. And watching as you grow into a good man.

Sincerely,

Daddy

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 6:48 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 4:49 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT