‘I realised I needed to change to raise my children as healthy adults’: former businessman Craig Wilkinson with his children, Luke and Blythe
What crisis inspired Craig Wilkinson to take a brutal look at his fathering, then go on to encourage Khotso Kubheka and thousands more men to become better parents, too? Be inspired by this honest interview. TEDx speaker, author, social entrepreneur, ‘dad coach’ and innovator of the not-for-profit programme Father a Nation, Craig lives in Johannesburg with his second wife, Martinique, and has two adult children. By SUSAN BENTLEY
‘I WAS A DIRECTOR AND CO-OWNER of a successful business, loving the good things in life, when everything changed dramatically. My family and I were involved in a hijacking in which my then-wife was shot in the face, and my son and daughter were almost shot as well.
I found myself asking: what kind of man shoots a woman and her children? What kind of desperation takes him to that point?
Seeking to heal our trauma and find answers to these questions, we moved to Knysna on the coast. I took a job as CEO of Outward Bound. Working with young people made me realise that every person’s emotional wholeness as an adult is profoundly influenced by their childhood experiences.
I saw over and over again that if children feel seen and validated as individuals and are taught, loved and disciplined by their parents (or significant older caregivers), the chances are very good that they’ll grow up emotionally whole and rise to their potential. If not, the chances are good that they won’t. Everyone needs to have life modelled to them, and to be mentored in the life and purpose that lies within them.
the ultimate fathering tool is our own lives
As I came to understand this, I realised that I too needed to change if I was going to raise my children to become whole and healthy adults. We father out of who we are as men. No matter how many great fathering techniques we learn, the ultimate fathering tool is our own lives. I began to see the woundedness I carried into adulthood from my own childhood, and the role that it played in my failed marriage and every aspect of my life.
It became a process of re-fathering myself, looking in the mirror and being brutally honest with myself about what in my beliefs, psyche and behaviour was whole and healthy, and what was not. A deep and growing level of consciousness is the starting point for this journey – and there’s no greater inspiration and motivation in the world than two wonderful children who need you to be your best.
Unresolved emotional woundedness in men is endemic and the solution is whole and engaged fathers, mentors and male role models. In the UK the leading cause of death amongst men under 50 is suicide. Men are carrying deep wounds and don’t know how to deal with them.
Craig with young men and women at Fight with Insight, a therapeutic boxing project in Johannesburg
In January this year I conducted the funeral of a dear friend who took his own life at the age of 57. What made his death particularly tragic was that none of us saw it coming. He’d had financial and other struggles which he kept from both friends and family. From the notes that he left, it was apparent he firmly believed he was worth more to his family dead than alive because of the insurance payment they’d receive on his death. What a desperately sad deception that is! What concept of masculinity allows a man to think that his provision is more important to his loved ones than his presence?
We live in a materialistic and harshly expectant society which creates uncertainty around what it means to be a man. I’ve seen how, for young men in particular, the confusion around what masculinity means can result in them playing the macho man by drinking too much, taking drugs or being promiscuous, often getting stuck in a ‘going nowhere’ peer group.
Father A Nation, the NPO I set up, has evolved out of all these experiences. We run programmes and workshops where we teach men that their masculine strength gives them the power to build or to break down, and that they have the innate capacity to use their strength responsibly. We show them how to stand for what is right, fight against what’s wrong and be authentic, vulnerable, and generous.
They come to see that masculine strength is about character, self-control and the value you add to the world – and learning to make life-affirming choices around money, power and sex appeal. Used well, masculinity loves, serves and protects.
‘We teach men that their masculine strength gives them the power to build or to break down,’ says Craig
I met Khotso Kubheka in Bophelong, a township fraught with violence and difficulty, when he accompanied a friend to a course we were running. He was clearly a young man with potential, smart and articulate – yet his swag also suggested insecurity. I’ve seen him grow into a mature, grounded and committed leader and father with a heart for his community who now manages a group of mentors, believes in himself and is dedicated to his family.
It’s been inspiring to see him take on a deep sense of responsibility and care for others while growing into his own manhood and personhood. It has confirmed to me the irreplaceable value of building a band of brothers, the absolute necessity of men validating other men and the power of making the right choices.’
Khotso Kubheka, who was mentored by Craig and is in turn volunteer-mentoring other fathers in his community. He has two children: Nobuhle (5) and Siphesihle (2)
[Craig continues] ‘Internationally – and in South Africa in particular – men are wounded. And the most prevalent wound of all is the one inflicted by fathers. The long-term vision of Father A Nation is to create a network of men from across all socio-economic backgrounds who know what it means to be a man: who father their children well, and are good husbands, mentors and role models. Enough men using their strength well will transform this nation.
My inner inspiration for this work is my own two children. I’m also greatly inspired by Jesus, who, as a man, went about doing practical good and healing people. He never got upset with sinners, only with hypocrites. He gives me the strength to face my own inner issues head on, fully embrace all that I am as a man and to do my best, with His grace, to live an authentic, generous, and whole-hearted life.’
Enjoy Craig’s son Luke give him a surprise visit in South Africa… all the way from New Zealand!
Savour the impact of Craig and other leaders via the Carling Black Label #NOEXCUSE campaign
HOW TO BE A GOOD MAN AND DAD (IT STARTS WITH YOU!)
Craig’s top 3 tips
1. Build a band of brothers – a group of men with whom you can be totally honest and vulnerable, who support each other no matter what, and help each other do life well
2. Don’t take yourself too seriously – no one’s perfect!
3. Use your strength well. The opposite of masculinity isn’t femininity, it’s passivity. Stand up for what’s right and against what’s wrong. Be dangerous to whatever is dangerous to society