First Person

Fathers: Some are not so terrible

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Da Taouem (right) with his daughter Sophea at the roadside food stand she runs in front of their home in Oddar Meachey province, Cambodia. Photo: Patrick Brown/Panos for Oxfam America.

Don’t let the bad news overwhelm you, some fathers are looking out for their daughters.

Father’s day is coming up fast! Allow me a brief appreciation for mine, a retired English teacher who tells me “Write in short, simple, declarative sentences. And use the active voice.” Now you too can benefit from his wisdom… or at least it’s a reminder of what your English teacher told you (or should have).

You’re welcome. Let me hasten to add at this time that any run-on or passive sentences in this post are my responsibility, not his.

My father raised three daughters, and as far as I can tell they all still speak to him, which is no small accomplishment. But some fathers are better than others at raising girls – not all are committed to education for girls, and they are not the best advocates for their daughters. You probably read about the worst cases in the news, unfortunately: Fathers who beat their daughters, or deny them their right to attend school. Some, dealing with financial and other pressures we struggle to understand, sell their daughters into sex slavery, or marry them off at an impossibly young age to abusive older men for a bit of money or a few cows. I just read about one family that burned their daughter to death for running off to marry someone they did not like.

Life can seem impossibly bad for daughters if you dwell on these things, but there are also plenty of great fathers raising some amazing girls, and I met two of them recently in Cambodia:

Chuk Meun: When Meun’s daughter Moul Phaly  was about 22 years old, she asked him if she could use part of his land in Pursat province to plant rice. He designated one of his smaller fields, and was expecting her to grow about three 50-kg sacks of rice there. But he did not realize that she was going to use a different method of cultivation called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). When he saw what she was doing he was not very supportive, but he did let her proceed. “I was angry because she transplanted very small seedlings, about 15 days old,” he said when I met the family. He also objected to her planting the seedlings individually, placed far apart in rows, instead of in clumps to maximize the number of plants in the field.

Meun was surprised when harvest time rolled around, and Phaly produced seven bags of rice. What makes him a good father in my estimation is that he was not afraid to admit he was wrong. He’s now learning all he can from Phaly: He’s an SRI convert, and says it’s a “powerful tool” for fighting poverty. He says he appreciates Phaly’s skill as a rice farmer and is encouraging her to teach others. As the years have passed, they now laugh about their past misunderstandings.

Da Taoeum: Taoeum is a powerful man of about 60 years of age who has been a rice and cassava farmer his entire life in northwestern Cambodia, not far from the border with Thailand. He encouraged both his daughters to join a Saving for Change group to help them save money for their future. His younger daughter Sophea, 18, dropped out of school and has struggled to find a profession. She borrowed money from her SfC group and started a food stand in front of their home. Sophea attended a special class for entrepreneurs run by the Youth Council of Cambodia, Oxfam’s partner. “I saw her start to change,” Taoeum says, standing in front of their home near the busy highway 68. Sophea told me the training inspired her to think big, so she is borrowing more money and devoting part of her savings and profits to building a store she will run, so she can expand her business beyond prepared foods and drinks to more groceries and even clothing – a sort of Cambodian general store.

Chuk Meun first doubted his daughter Phaly’s farming decisions, now he does all he can to learn from her. Photo: Chris Hufstader/Oxfam America.
Chuk Meun first doubted his daughter Phaly’s farming decisions, now he does all he can to learn from her. Photo: Chris Hufstader/Oxfam America.

“She came to me and asked, ‘will you build me a store?’” Taoeum says. “My daughter is still single, so she needs to learn to run a business, and I am happy to see her with this strong vision of her own. I am very proud of her and will support her, to help her dream come true.”

I was charmed by these father-daughter stories, so full of love and respect, success and sometimes mistakes, and optimism about the future of these young women.  I hope they balance out some of the horror stories that find their way to you through the media.

There are some great fathers out there, even if you don’t always hear about them. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+