In the 80s to mid-90s, before the advent of drugs to prolong lives of HIV-positive people, many families worried about their plight when the man, who was in most cases the sole breadwinner, died of HIV-related complications.
Our organisation handled many cases of widows and orphans who were disinherited; some even when the man of the house was on his deathbed.
Men are, generally, health slouches. There is need for men living with HIV to take better care of their health, and give their families the protection that only fathers can provide.
Researchers have noted with concern that record HIV-infections are being recorded in marriages. Not to water down the importance of women in their children’s lives, but when a father is alive, and alive to the cold harsh facts of HIV, it gives the children hope.
Many times, it is left to schools and non-governmental organisations to educate children about HIV. In some cases, children are mis-educated by their peers, who may dish myths as gospel truths, yet, by virtue of being HIV-positive, their parents have the firsthand knowledge, and should be the first line of defense against ignorance.
Education is one avenue that will help us achieve a HIV-free generation. And fathers, because they are the heads, should lead from the front.
I know that as a HIV-positive person it is hard to sit down with one’s children and open up about this virus. For me though, I would rather my kids heard it from the horse’s mouth than from anybody else.
This is a thorny issue. Many families are, decades down the line, still trying to find their way around it. In fact, lots of affected families prefer to live with the veil of secrecy, although a parent’s HIV-infection is an open secret. There is a place and a time for everything. Also, in disclosing one’s HIV-positive status, there are pertinent questions that must be answered beforehand. Who? When? What? How? Why?
Who: Some children may be underage, and therefore not wise to disclose to all your children at the same time.
When: because, timing is critical. Are you disclosing at a time when, for instance, a child is about to sit for national exams?
What exactly to do you say? And how do you say it, so that, for instance, it will not seem like you are passing the buck?
Having a will does not mean, contrary to what some of us believe, that you are about to die. HIV is manageable. Nowadays, HIV-positive don’t die of HIV-related complications. Personally, I am more afraid of plane crashes and mass murders by terrorists than HIV-related complications.
Someone I know once remarked that where there is a will, there are greedy relatives – a will means that should something happen to the head of the house, his family is covered. Widows and orphans cannot grieve, search for closure and at the same time fight off vultures. And that’s what happens when fathers die intestate.
A will ensures a somewhat smooth transition for the bereaved.
A HIV-free generation
In many instance, it is only the expectant mother who goes through the paces of prevention of mother-to-child transmission against HIV. Even the title, mother-to-child, places a huge responsibility on the shoulders of mothers to ensure a HIV-free generation. It is a cliché, but it really does take two to tango. If fathers can be more active – before conception, during and after conception – then, I believe, we can make more strides.
Then, there’s the issue of extramarital sex. There are ABCs. “Abstain.” Be faithful.” “Use a condom.” However, to have, for sure, a HIV-free generation, fathers should take the D option: “Don’t do it.”
Buddy for life
In HIV-speak, a treatment buddy is someone who helps a person on antiretroviral therapy (ART), to adhere to medication. Granted, it is not always easy to care for and support a HIV-positive person who is on medication. I have seen cases where treatment buddies, because of burnout, have thrown in the towel.
There are good men. But I also know of cases where husbands have upped and left when their HIV-positive wives needed them the most.
I have counselled HIV-affected children. I know for a fact that they desire a father who, through burnout and a mother’s ART-related mood swings, will be there for his children and wife. When these children see their father being their mother’s treatment buddy, they know that they too have a real buddy for life.