'My Sister Was Kidnapped. Now I Foster Girls as a Single Dad'

I come from a place where women were seen and treated as second-class citizens. Men believed that they had the right to do anything they wanted to those whom they felt were the inferior sex. In my childhood home, this was evident in how my father treated my mother. He considered her worthless, and that's how he behaved. As a little boy, it hurt me to see my mom—the person I loved the most—disrespected and harmed in this way.

Each day, the children in my village in Uganda would walk miles away from home to fetch water. One morning when my sister was a young teen, she went to fetch water and did not return. She was taken by a man who believed that it was his right to make her his property. There was nothing we could do to help her, because in my world, this was just the way things were. My sister had a baby by the man and then she came home. Having seen my mother mistreated daily and knowing my sister had been violated made me feel angry and helpless. This affected the way I viewed myself as a young man. I vowed that I would never treat any woman unkindly.

Decades later, as a foster dad living in North Carolina, I'm reminded of the pain and vulnerability I saw in my mom and sister. For the past several months, I've been fostering a 6-year-old girl. When I consider the life experiences she's had so far and I see the pain she's going through, it takes me right back to that powerless feeling of desperately wanting to help the females in my family.

Peter Mutabazi and his foster daughter
Peter Mutabazi with his sx-year-old foster daughter. Peter Mutabazi

I want so much to protect my daughter. I feel angry that the people who should've sheltered and nurtured this vulnerable little girl didn't do so. I try to understand her pain, knowing that as a man I can never fully grasp it. I try to take away her hurt and shame in a way I couldn't for my mom and sister. It hurts to reflect on the way their lives were damaged because of the actions of men, and this motivates me to fight for my daughter's well-being.

Often I will take my foster children to visit with their biological families; but more and more the reality is that no one shows up. I can see the sadness in my kids' eyes as they wonder why their mom, dad, or grandparents weren't there to see them. The children verbalize their disappointment and sadness to me, wanting to know why no one from their family could be there after waiting days or weeks for this one appointment.

The first time this happened, I was angry, but then I began to think about my own mom. If my foster children's family wasn't able to be there for their little ones, there must be a reason. I started wondering how some of the mothers may have been treated. What happened during their childhood? How had they been treated by the fathers of their children? What might they be coping with now?

People are quick to judge a mother who isn't able to support her children, but what's often missing from one's place of judgment is an awareness of how a man might be adding to that mother's struggles. As men, we are failing our girls and women. I believe we are called to be protectors and providers—to shield our loved ones from harm, to support them, to love them.

Peter Mutabazi and his children
Peter Mutabazi and his four children. Mutabazi has been fostering children since 2017. Peter Mutabazi

Why is it socially acceptable for a man to create a child with a woman and leave the mother to provide everything for that tiny human? Why are we not enraged when a man creates a child with a woman and then harms mom or baby? Rather than judging the woman who is left carrying the weight of a man's abuse and often abandoned responsibilities, why aren't we more eager to hold the man accountable?

My daughter's pain, her mother's pain—none of it is unfamiliar to me because I saw the same hurt in my family. Thankfully, I'm no longer helpless to defend the people I love. As a foster dad, I have the ability to protect my little girl. However, I worry about how her future might look after she leaves the safety and love of our family. I've lost many nights of sleep knowing that the people who are supposed to protect my girl may not do so as she gets older. How can I create some groundwork for her that will ensure history does not repeat itself? I wonder how many girls just like her have been left behind.

I spend a lot of time wrestling with my role in all of this. For now, I know in part my role is to nurture and care for the foster daughters who walk through my front door as if they are my own, to ensure they have—even for a short time—an example of a man who respects and protects those he loves.

My other job is to say this to all the men out there: we have a responsibility to lead the boys and guys around us in being better humans. Females are not objects; they're human beings who desire to be loved, supported, and respected.

As we all go about our daily activities, sometimes it's easy to forget that not all girls and women have been cared for in the way they wanted or needed. Rather than judging a mom who may not have it all together, consider how she may have landed in her struggle. Encourage her. Support her. Ask the men in her life to stand beside her.

Challenge yourself today to uplift a woman in your own life, no matter the circumstance. We may not be able to change the past, but each of us can do everything in our power to make things better here and now.

Peter Mutabazi is an advocate for children and the founder of Now I Am Known. In the midst of fostering many different children, he's come to believe every child and young person, especially the forgotten, neglected, or abused, deserves to be celebrated, seen, heard, and known. His debut book, Now I Am Known is available to pre-order here. You can follow Peter on Instagram @fosterdadflipper.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.