The Father You’ve Always Wanted
It’s a fine time to be a father. A great time actually, because the bar our fathers set is absurdly low. I mean, how hard was it to be a father in the 70’s or 80’s? There wasn’t any democracy: he spoke, you obeyed.
You never talked back. You didn’t have an opinion, rather you did, but you kept it to yourself. You didn’t dare scream “I hate you!” and then ran upstairs and slam the door.
He paid fees and you went to school. He said, “You will study engineering in campus, OK?” And you said, “Yes, daddy.” Then you went to University and did Eng’ and one day, when you are standing in the middle of a housing development site in Ruai in your hard hat and your steel-nosed safety boots you realize with an alarming clarity that you are actually miserable and a part of you resents him for that.
You realize that you actually hate what you do and you hate the people you do it with and all you want to do is be in advertising or be a stockbroker or you want to make music or work for Kenya Wildlife Society because you love animals, especially baboons. It’s a light bulb moment and you finally “come out” right there in the middle of the site in the scorching African sun, as the mixer chugs a few feet away. You mumble, “I love baboons….I love baboons…I love baboons..” then you scream out loud, “I LOVE BABOONS!” but nobody hears this final declaration of freedom because the mixer is thunderously loud.
Later, as you drive down Thika Road, you realise that all you really want to do is save baboons and maybe their cousins the gorillas, if there is some time left. It fills you with overwhelming hope but right before Alsops, doubt starts creeping in. You start thinking, “I’m already 35-years old, I have three toys and I just can’t wake up one morning and announce that I want to save baboons.” Plus you are already in mid-management at work and they are now giving you an entertainment allowance and things and soon you might have your own name on a door…. if you start wearing better pants.
As you drive through that Forest Road tunnel, you are gripped by the realization that you are in a prison of your own making, thanks to your despotic father and your weak spine.
And before you can say “bamburi cement” you have hit 40, you finally have your name on the door and there is talk of making you partner but you realize that lately you are constantly moody and grumpy. Your kids start leaving the living room when you walk into the house because you are such a sour person and a spectacular killjoy, hogging the remote so you can watch Monkey Thieves on Nat Geo Wild, grinning through it like Bill Cosby. You even change your passwords to “Baboon!2021. Nobody can stand your angst, not at work and not at home.
You drink more or find yourself sitting outside the UoN hostels in your top of the range luxury car, waiting for a bird only 10 years older than your daughter and you feel miserable, foolish and old. You could always gun the engine and drive off but she is the only one, in the whole wide world, who thinks you are cool anymore. Sometimes she even says you are funny, when you buy her the latest phone.
Meanwhile your resentment of your predicament and inertia festers like a compost pit and every time you see your father you feel betrayed and fastened to this big chain-ball but you can’t even say anything to him because you are still scared that he will tell you, “Stop whining and be a man! Us men from Ikolomani don’t whine, OK?”
So you live your life in that manner, a coward, an invertebrate, a man who settled, until a bad disease slips into your resentful and unhappy heart and one day you collapse at a different construction site with a bigger (and louder) mixer.
We will all then come down to Ikolomani to your funeral and mumble, “He was a kind man, he really really loved baboons.” Then go get hammered in Kisumu and catch our flights back the next day and continue with our lives.
My ramblings about Baboons aside, my very simple point is, we just have to let our children be whatever they want to be. Yes?
But surely, we should draw the line when their life’s aspiration is to dance in a Nonini musical video. Ama? It’s a fine time to be a father because more of us are involved in fatherhood, even if only on social media. We stand outside jumping castles every Sunday and watch our kids squeal as they derive great joy from jumping up and down. We listen to them because we have democratized parenthood. We don’t impose our ideals on them. We take them to better schools than we attended. We might not be engaged completely as dads. We might fail spectacularly as fathers but we try because we have great intentions. Most importantly, we kiss them goodnight.
I think kissing your child goodnight will save them from dancing in a Nonini video. No, I’m serious. It gives them security. They have fewer nightmares at night because they sleep confident and safe that you are there and you will be there when they wake up and they will be just fine.
Do you know I was never kissed as a child…good night or otherwise? Come to think of it I don’t think any of my siblings were ever kissed as kids. I doubt even our neighbors were kissed by their parents. Generally, there wasn’t an awfully lot of kissing going on in the 80’s and 90’s. I mean, who here was kissed as a child? Ati, actually kissed good night on the cheeks, or read a bedtime story, or tucked in? Heck, I wasn’t even hugged! I think most of my issues as a man (and they are many…random bouts of moodiness, impulsiveness, grand impatience, perpetually dry elbows, large forehead) stem from the fact that I wasn’t hugged or kissed or told that I was a beautiful child who they were proud of and who could do anything he sets out to do.
I would have loved to be told I was a beautiful child and that I could take over the world. I don’t think I would even be writing this blog every Tuesday, maybe I would be at John Hopkins doing something that can change humanity.
You know, I suspect Obama was told by his grandmother that he was beautiful and he was kissed and tucked in at night. Don’t even sit there grinning, pretending that you were the child who was tucked in and kissed on the forehead in the 80’s – unless you grew up in Runda or Kile – back in the day before everybody in a VW Polo moved in. We – the famous X-generation – is teeming with damaged people who weren’t kissed. You can find us on social media Instagramming our socks.
By the way, I wanted to write about when to stop kissing your daughter on the lips. Or if it’s even you to stop or her. Like Tamms is 7 now and she still kisses me on the lips and sometimes I feel conscious, like shy and I think maybe we should just kiss on the cheeks now because what if she never stops and I become that freak who kisses her 21 year old daughter on the lips? So I wrote a further 900 words on that, but when I woke up this morning I read the last half of that rumbling and I didn’t like it, so I highlighted it and binned it.
Otherwise, how are you? If you didn’t get to spend time with your Dad over the holidays, don’t make him do what this mzee did. Call him. Call him right now and tell him you miss him. Or words to that effect.
Read more on Jackson’s Biko’s blog