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Passing the baton of fatherhood forward

Does anyone know who their father is? This question posed in the Greek myth, The Odyssey, is asked by a son who grew up while his father spent many years “fighting battles in distant lands”. The answer wouldn't pertain to DNA, but something deeper.

During his father's absence, the son experienced his own challenging odyssey, receiving guidance from his mother, others and a family friend named Mentor.

The term “father” speaks to guidance and protection. The son's question relates to how one is assisted in their evolution into mature adulthood.

This Father's Day, let's consider offering some assistance where appropriate to that evolution, as members of the “Village”. Our gifts may help some young person, leveraging their journey to become “authors of their life story”.

The story of Howard Academy captures this theme. The regime of segregation blocked access to secondary education for children of colour up to the early 20th century, until pioneers created The Berkeley Institute and Sandys Secondary School. When Edwin Skinner retired as the principal of Cavendish in 1946, he honoured the spirit of Mentor, helping children who had no access to secondary school; first at his home and eventually at the one-room schoolhouse, Elliot. In those few years, right up until his death, Skinner assisted numerous students with his limited resources. Among that group were Roosevelt Brown, Ottiwell Simmons and John Swan, a trio renowned for having forwarded gifts that they received to upcoming generations — passing the baton.

After Skinner's death, Edward DeJean picked up that baton, taking over Howard at 28 years old, with two infant children of his own. As the number of students increased, DeJean used ingenuity and fostered collaboration to sustain the effort.

One such student, Donald “Dick” Dane, testifies to the key role that his father, Skinner and DeJean played in his journey, when he almost “veered over the edge”. Dick was able to transform an initial “lifeline” from Skinner into a lifelong relationship with DeJean.

DeJean used the passion for football as an incentive for student academic development. Dick directly benefited, becoming integral in Howard's domination of interschool football. With chemistry not offered at Howard, David Dearnley, the principal of the neighbouring Bermuda Technical Institute, volunteered and tutored Dick. Clifford Maxwell also from “Tech” collaborated, tutoring Howard students in maths. With that support, Dick became the first boy at Howard successfully to receive the full Cambridge Certificate and in the Fifties went off to Ottawa Teaching College.

When Dick returned in 1960, he began teaching at his alma mater. Among the students he mentored was Eugene “Bobby” Durham, who like him was from a single-parent family. Bobby loved football and benefited from the strategy to strengthen his academic skills. Bobby subsequently won a football scholarship to Philadelphia University in 1968, along with two other locals — Alfie Smith and Gordon Chomondeley — through Dane's guidance.

Bobby returned to serve as a teacher after being the first in his family to graduate from college. While Bobby never had a relationship with his own father, when his first son, Hasan Durham, was born, he chose to make a difference, although he was not married to the mother, Betty Grant.

As a personal friend, I witnessed Bobby being fully engaged in the life of his child. Hasan went on to complete a master's programme and now serves in the Ministry of Finance. He has been active in cricket, including representing Bermuda and playing in Cup Match.

Bobby was subsequently married and with his wife had twin boys. They subsequently divorced, and again Bobby has demonstrated his transformative capacity, maintaining significant involvement in the lives of Cole and Che. The twins have been attending Bermuda College, are involved in martial arts and serve as young mentors with Raleigh International.

Hasan has two children; a boy and a girl. While he and their mother are divorced, he carries the baton passed from his father: maintaining extensive involvement with his children.

We see in this story “answers” to the question from The Odyssey. The source of the “father” is diverse. The “baton” can be passed across generations. The collaboration between “Tech” and Howard demonstrated the power of getting beyond boundaries — there's no “they”; only “we”.

Recognising that life's challenges can be transformed, with that spirit of collaboration, the “father within” will evolve so that any person can author their own story, carrying the baton forward.

• Glenn Fubler is a social commentator who represents Imagine Bermuda

Passing it forward: Bobby Durham with sons and grandchildren. From left are twins Cole and Che, and Hasan, the former Bermuda and Cup Match cricketer. At front are Hasan's children, Nkenge and Nadhira (Photograph supplied)

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Published June 17, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 17, 2016 at 8:34 am)

Passing the baton of fatherhood forward

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