This week, five and a half months into the year 2012, The Bahamas recorded its 66th murder, that record outdistancing any in any year thus far in modern history.
A few of the murder victims were women, but by far they were men, a good number of them “known to police” as persons with criminal backgrounds, some of them mowed down by criminal opponents.
Some of the male murder victims were fathers, young and middle aged, which means there exists children, perhaps hundreds of them, who will grow up fatherless, as thousands of others through the years before have been forced to do.
But that is the way it is, and the mournful way it will continue to be through the end of this year, and beyond, save for dramatic social or moral reform, or, of course, divine intervention.
This Sunday The Bahamas, along with most of the western world, will observe Father’s Day, an idea born in Spokane, Washington just over a century ago, and made official in 1972 by former U.S. President Richard Nixon, who declared that the third Sunday in June each year should be set aside in tribute to fathers.
In that declaration Nixon explained that the Father’s Day observance ought to be “in honour of all good fathers that contribute as much to the family as a mother, in their own way.”
For many years that American tradition of Father’s Day has been followed by countries all over the world, including The Bahamas which cannot truly boast of any superabundance of good fathers that contribute as much to the family as a mother, in their own ways.
This Sunday across the bothered Bahamian landscape, in churches and at lavish lunches, thousands of Bahamians will fete fathers, good, bad, indifferent, gone missing, or simply, as the late Archdeacon William Thompson used to describe them, “worthless and good-for-nothing”.
Yet over time this country has had its share of caring fathers who tried their best, but who far too often find themselves, as they grow nearer the grave, neglected by offspring who know, but who simply do not give a tinker’s damn.
Far too many once caring fathers are left to lean heavily on the Christian charity of strangers.
Not many blocks south of Mount Fitzwilliam down Blue Hill Road, where the Governor-General resides, there exists a graphic reflection of what we truly are in this nation of nearly 39 years.
At that somewhat famous crossroads Over-the-Hill, there exists an historic church stretching back before emancipation, and atop of which there is a concrete cross stretching high into the heavens, as if beseeching special intercession for God’s dispossessed.
That is the point of conjoinment with Grant’s Town and Bain Town where in the faces and in the lives of so many in the surrounding area there is on the ground the pained and wounded, a sad and sorrowful reflection of the real Bahamas.
Morning after morning there sit a tiny congregation of elderly, obviously indigent Bahamian men, now and then accompanied by who seems an equally depressed and disadvantaged old lady in need.
They sit on boxes,makeshift benches, and sometimes one or two perch with a kind of decrepit elegance in wheelchairs, seeking alms from the stream of motorists who must stop at the juncture waiting for the light to change from red to green.
Those waiting there at the corner, like others long before them sitting at the Bible’s Gate Beautiful are proud and no doubt prideful fathers and grandfathers and perhaps even great grandfathers who no doubt wonder what happened to human and familial gratitude.
We remember well how about five years back there was a funeral service for an elderly dear departed lady, and the young woman reading the Epistle or New Testament Lesson was so consumed with deep grief as she made her way through the scriptural passage.
The departed was the “grandmother” of the young lady, the quiet and almost fragile Sabria Armbrister, and the surrounding story was one of caring and concern which could have taught the Bahamian nation volumes about caring and concern, despite the indifference and neglect of blood relatives.
Sabria was at the time not even 30, and for a long time back in the 1990s she used to grieve over the death of her own grandmother, finding herself often at the graveside in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, putting down flowers and reflecting with a lingering, relentless fondness.
There was no blood relationship between Sabria and the departed matron over whom she grieved with a kind of beautiful sadness at St. Agnes Church that Saturday afternoon, and therein existed a tale of compassion, amazingly exuding from a lovely young Bahamian with apparently little time for discos and the cataclysm of the fast lane.
Sabria had played a major role in what, in the late 1990s became the Grandmothers and Grandfathers Association up at the Geriatrics division of the Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre, where a good number of the elderly residents were in need of caring relatives.
In the programme, caring members of the community, like The White Boy, were prevailed upon to “adopt” a grandmother or grandfather, paying visits from time to time, remembering birthdays, and on occasion taking their “grandparent” for an outing.
It was a wonderful testimony of true caring and outreach, and strong bonds were formed between grandparent and “child”. As one of those “children”, The White Boy was at the time nearly 60.
Of course time would eventually overtake a grandparent, and death, the inevitable, had to be faced. That death came to Sabria’s grandmother, and the girl was completely distraught, so entirely connected she had become with the old lady.
Why is there today such a dearth of Bahamians who care so deeply for the elderly of the land, even when the elderly is a flesh-and-blood mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, or even an old aunt, uncle, or cousin?
Indeed why is there so little carting or compassion, like the gentle Sabria’s, simply for the withered old woman who years ago used to live down the street in the old neighbourhood?
Many, for whatever reason, do not find themselves ensconced up at the Geriatrics Hospital where at least there is orderly and efficient care, even if close, personal love is missing. Instead they fend for themselves in the outside world, often living alone, never quite knowing what the next day will bring.
Incredibly, the children and grandchildren of some of them, both up at Sandilands and in that outside world, are fairly prominent citizens of the community, some of them, well, economically comfortable. No one, except perhaps God, knows the whys and wherefores of their indifference and disregard.
What is indeed known in this community, however, is that there are far too many elderly folks sitting at crossroads, some who are blind led by children or other guides, as they make their way to regular and familiar places and people where there is a reasonable assurance of a hand-out.
And all this in a land where, despite the effects of the recession, there is often yet the boast of economic success and prosperity, where, it is said, there is a greater percentage of of landed, middle class, and wealthy blacks than there has ever been before.
Well, if truth be told, many of those sitting and waiting patiently at the crossroads daily are the forebears of some of that same fortunate ebony, wealthy, not a small number of whom find themselves present to prayers in church, raising their hands to heaven.
Yes, they raise their hands and their voices, but perhaps dare not raise their eyes, fearing they would eyeball God.
Yes, this Sunday the fathers of the land will be gaily feted and showered with praises and prayers and thanks, and that is well, especially for those who, as the stained Nixon put it, contribute as much to the family as mothers.
However, in the days and weeks following, there will continue to be at the various crossroads, corners, junctures, on porches and roadsides all over the modern and successful Bahamas, the elderly, forgotten, and dispossessed.
They, except for the love and caring of such as Sabria Armbrister and such as her revolutionary Grandparents Club would, in the words of Robert Frost, have, “nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.”
Nevertheless, a Happy Father’s Day to all, especially the worthy . . . for what it’s worth.