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 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT