Who do you care for?

Date posted: Thursday 14 June 2018

Nearly ten months ago my wife and I welcomed our daughter into the world and our lives were forever changed. Motherhood and fatherhood have brought with them their fair share of sleepless nights, a never-ending line of bottles to be washed, giggles, smiles, and the daily miracles that come with watching her learn and grow day after day. They've also brought with them a change in identity for us - at least in the eyes of our friends and colleagues in Iringa. No longer 'Jenny' or 'Peter' we are now known as Mama Hadley and Baba Hadley or Mother-of-Hadley and Father-of-Hadley.


Naming conventions and personal titles are interesting phenomena. With many families tracing their roots back to Scandinavia and other parts of Northern Europe, Minnesota is also the land of ten thousand -sons. Scanning phone books and contact lists, we have oodles and oodles of Andersons, Johnsons, Olsons, and other-sons among us. These patronymic family names mark us as being 'sons' or descendants of forefathers named Anders, John, Eric, Ole and so on. We're also the land of many trades, with Bakers, Millers, Carpenters, and more. In short, many of us are defined by who we belong to and what we do.


In Tanzania it is a little bit different. While family names and first names convey similar notions of continuity and connection, the custom of identifying parents by the name of their firstborn demonstrates a different cultural and relational orientation. It suggests that what matters is not who you belong to or what you do but who you provide care for.


We experienced a version of this identity shift as a newly-married couple a few years ago. Following our wedding ceremony and celebration, I continued to be known in Iringa as 'Peter' but Jenny picked up the added title of Mama Mchungaji (Mother of the Pastor). Questions of my own self sufficiency aside, the naming convention identified my wife by the one she was to provide care for. Now, with the birth of our daughter, we are both known by the little one that we provide care for.


As Father's Day approaches, this identity shift has me looking both backward and forward - honoring those from whom I come and being mindful of those that depend on me. At the same time, this practice of our companions expands my understanding of what it might mean to be a 'father' or a 'mother' and opens it up to all. Like Jesus' exchange with a lawyer in Luke 10, the definitional question is ultimately one of expressing care and concern. "Who is my neighbor?" now becomes "Who do you act as a neighbor/father/mother to?"




The Rev. Peter Harrits

Director of Bega Kwa Bega and Assistant to the Bishop