Bikozulu:Fathers in school

Jackson Biko

Jackson Biko is a Writer and Father living in Nairobi. Follow his work at Bikozulu.

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Towards the close of last term, my “lito” girl’s school organized a Father’s Forum thingamajig. The school invites you for these school shindigs by placing cards between the pages of The Diary.

The Diary is this small book that acts like a medium of communication between parents and teachers. It’s what parents use to get stuff off their chest on, school related stuff, not your recent bladder issues. The Diary is not a book for your windy tales. You keep it pithy; I’m still not happy with her reading, you write. Or. She didn’t come home with her tie yesterday. Or.  I think you guys sent me the wrong child, mine is a girl, not a boy. Or. For the umpteenth time, teacher Immaculate, it’s close, not crose. I’m sure you get the drift.

The Diary is also a barometer, a smart device that school administration uses to get an inkling as to who runs the home, you know? Who is the absentee parent, an information that helps them understand when a child attempts to drown her doll in the toilet bowl while shouting, “Drink water daddy, it will make you sober, drink!”

Not to trivialize The Diary, it’s quite useful. It’s the best way to communicate to the teachers as well.

For instance, Tamms came home one day with a long scratch on the side of his face, just above her eyebrows (an inch to the left and she would be grow up with a pirate-like eye patch) and when I asked her how she got it she said with a shrug, “ si at the pitsand.”

“The pitsand scratched you?

“Noooo! We were playing at the pitsand,” confused look.

“But who scratched you, what’s his name?” I demanded going all Jack Bauer on her. She just smiled, protecting the villain. So I let it slide because kids are kids. But two weeks later she came back home with a small “hole” at the back of her palm, like someone had tried to crucify her.

And yet again she refused to say how she got it, so I went on The Diary and wrote that I was very “concerned” with the kind of “injuries” (I wanted to add “grave” but that would be pushing it) that my daughter had been coming home with recently and if it was “ any possible” for the teachers to “pay closer” attention to this? Of course what I really wanted to write was; What the f**k are you guys doing to my child back there?!

What do you know, they actually read the comments from fathers as well because next day I got a call from a very amiable deputy head teacher (impressive) who gave me an explanation that both satiated and mortified me because she insinuated very smartly that my daughter – like most children that age who are prone to such injuries when playing – was cool with the small injuries and that I was the cry-baby here. Small injuries my ass you should have seen that scratch; it was aimed at the eye, but thank God it was saved by the forehead. Ah, who would have thought her inheriting my large forehead would come in handy? Lessons learnt in High School today; a large forehead will save your eye.

Anyway, I have totally digressed; I was talking about the Father’s invite. The card read; How To Be Your Child’s Hero: Come share and develop on fatherhood. Little problem; they conveniently put this event on a Friday evening of an end month when everybody has money in the bank. They conveniently made it easy to skip. They are smart, I suspect they did this purposely to see how important our kids were to us when given a choice between choosing drinks at Slims and listening to some cat bang on about being your child’s hero. Well, the joke was on them because fathers turned up in large droves. The place was swarming with fathers: fathers in ties, fathers without ties, fathers in specs, fathers with short trousers, fathers on foot, fathers in guzzlers, fat fathers, thin fathers, happy fathers, tired fathers, fathers, fathers….a sea of fathers.

black-black-happy-father-with-son-and-daughter-graduation

Yes, contrary to what you might hear, the X generation fathers are pretty involved. We care. We really do.

You park inside the compound. Or, if you come late when all the showy fathers with their fancy V8s have hogged all the damned parking, you park outside over the kerbs. There is tea in the garden, and mandazis and bread. Everybody avoids the bread. Poor bread. Fathers mill about the garden, making friends. And fathers make friends much easier than mothers because we don’t care for the kind of weave you are wearing, or if you look tatty in those red heels. You walk up to a guy and you say something like, “ Hey, mine is in Golden Apples.” (Er, mine being child here)

“Oh hi,” the other father will say, transferring his cup to the other hand to pump your hand in handshake, “mine is in Orange Sunshine.”

“Boy or girl?”

“Both.”

“Hermaphrodite?”

“No, boss, I meant, I have two kids here.” And you guys will cackle, the ice broken off you will set to the races. Some other father with an uncanny green tie (probably a business reporter or a stationary supplier) will wander over to you guys and say, “Hey, mine is in Maroon Bells,” and you will say, “I’m in Golden Apples and he has two in Orange Sunshine.”

And the new father, while biting into a mandazis, will ask, “Two, huh. Twins?”

And the other father will say, “No, I got ‘em on a Buy One Get Other Free offer.” More laughter.

The head teacher – a huge no nonsense scholar the age of our mothers – will stand at the top of the staircase and ask us “gentromen” to get into a room because the session is about to start. The lunje fathers will struggle to quickly finish their hot tea (“Imejoma!”) as the rest of us walk past the – now solemn – ignored bread (poor bread) and into a room with all these decorated pictures and letters plastered on the walls. A very cute colourful room with letters of the alphabet pasted on every surface, small placards written “Special words; Thank you. Please. I’m Sorry.” Pictures of princess characters and action heroes.

And sitting in that room makes you feel proud and grateful that you send your child to school (Nation’s headline, “Send your child to school or go to jail,” is so far my most poignant newspaper headline this year) but it also stirs, in you, that fatherhood pride. It does, sitting in that room just makes life so innocent, pure and so damned fragile. And the room commands respect because during the whole session nobody used a bad language even though the group was the age group of 29yrs to 41yrs, a group known for colourful language. And nobody stepped out to pick a call.

The speaker was this doctor chap who is also a counselor, businessman, speech therapist and a father of adult children. A man who has walked the walk.  An introduction of his credentials took so long the lunjes in the room almost walked back out to get the bread after all. After we were assured that we weren’t about to be addressed by some phony, he got into it. I won’t delve into the nitty gritty, but I will glean over the most vital talking points.

One, the professor said, to become your child’s hero you have to treat his mother right and it doesn’t matter if you are separated or together. Respect, he stressed raising one finger. Children see through things, he assured us; they pick vibes and see more than we imagine they do. And what they pick from you changes who they are and how they view the world. Do your part gentlemen, he urged us.

Hushed silence in the room.

In short, he continued, what I’m saying is that flowers are sold even on days that aren’t Valentines Day. Buy them! Laughter in the room. “It’s the small effortless things that really impress women,” the doc said more seriously.

“Small things?” some father from the middle of the room sighed dramatically, “You obviously haven’t met my wife!” Raucous laughter.

“Order! Order!” Some lunje said, obviously taking this Marende/Speaker role too far. It’s not a community responsibility, guys. OK, fine, no more Luhya jokes.

The second talking point: Do things with your child. Don’t do things you like, do things he/she likes. Here is a story. My daughter loves when I carry her on my shoulder; I have always done that even though the missus hates it because she always says she might hit her head on something. Now, it’s not my favourite plaything anyway because she loves it when I’m back home at the end of the day when I’m beat and in no exact mood to carry a 45kgs kid…OK, 18kgs.

So anyway, last time I’m in the bedroom headed to shower when she insist on climbing up. So I hoist her up. I’m shirtless; I have a towel wrapped around me.  To avoid her banging her head on the pillars above, I stoop low to pass under the doorway, I take a turn into the corridor and I stoop low again as I pass under another pillar but as I’m rising up, my towel starts sliding down. Now, our house help who is about 200 years old is seated in the sitting room watching one of those Mexican things, she can see us from her seat and there is my towel falling off, which means she will definitely see my ass.

What would any man do, Gang? Hold the child and expose your ashen ass or drop the child on a hard concrete (remember that phrase from Snoop’s 90’s Doggy Style album?) and save your ass? I did what you would do; quickly hold the damned towel with one hand and come up abruptly. The result: Tamms really bangs her head on the ceiling. The impact is so loud I’m sure the clubs in Westlands switched off the music and asked, “Ngai! Umeskia hiyo Ngash?”

“Pengine ni Al Qaeda,” says Ngash emptying the cash register for a quick getaway.

I swear I thought I broke my baby’s neck. You should have seen the missus’s reaction, she was pissed off!  She had that you-wont-touch-this-child-for-the-next-three-months look. Suffice to say, I spent an hour in the bathroom, washing away my parental sins and waiting for the mood outside to change enough for me to venture out.

But I’m very ashamed of myself that I chose to save my bare ass. I’m an embarrassment to all fathers reading this blog and for that I apologise and soon I will endeavour to save ass, uhm, face.  My point: sometimes you do things your child likes but you end up hurting them. Like buying them ice cream when it’s a bit cold because they wore a puss-in-boots look and you couldn’t say no.

Third talking point: Be involved in her life. Ask about her day (even if it was spent in the pitsand), ask about school, ask about her cartoons and when she is talking to you, the professor insisted, act interested in whatever he/she is saying. That is straight forward, yes?

black-father-playing-with-the-daughter

By the way, I realise some of you imagine that I owe High School an apology for not calling an assembly last Monday. These are the same chaps who threatened to go to other schools down the road. Well go, they don’t serve chicken there once a term. So, go. If you had taken time to read the admission letter here, you would have read that if a public holiday falls on a Monday I won’t post. It’s an unfair expectation because I also love to do nothing on public holidays.

Last talking point: Leadership.

The professor said something very important; he said that our sons and daughters are getting socialized “inside out” (his exact words) because they see their mothers doing more than their fathers. What’s that primary school expression again; you could hear a pin drop in the room. His argument was that what this does is it weakens the boy-child and strengthens the girl-child. But what is wrong with the girl child growing strong, you ask. Well, if the girl child grows stronger than the boy child they wont be able to have a “normal” relationship when the time comes because the boy would be too weak to “engage appropriately” in their male roles. I think that guy was onto something very very vital.

He said: If you are going to live at home, offer leadership, “tell and show” the family where y’all are headed, don’t create a “vacuum” (his exact word) because your wife will step in there and change the “domestic paradigm” (his exact phrase). Nobody said a word to that, not even the you-obviously- don’t-know-my-wife clown who would constantly crack people up with one-liners.

And so those words hang in the air; vacuum, leadership, domestic paradigm. Words so heavy we could smell them. And that’s the thing with that daktari; he was funny and light but once in a while, to drive an important point he would use such dense words like that because they firmly anchored down an idea. No way any idea was going to float out of that room. Also very impressively, he didn’t act perfect, you know all goody two shoes and shit, like he has had the best marriage or been the best father in East Africa. He gave examples of his weaknesses but how in hindsight he would have handled and made all of us feel slightly better of our transgressions. “But amidst all these, you have to know your truenorth,” he said.

The meeting ended with him saying, “I’d like to continue, but there is someone who for the past hour has been waiting for me at Njugunas.” Chuckles in the room. We clapped for him when he concluded. All of us. I liked him because he didn’t load on us, because he was affecting, funny and because for a man his age he wore a trendy blazer with leather elbow patches.

Did we leave the room better fathers?

Definitely. Did we leave the room better men? I’m certain we did. Was it worth skipping drinks at Sherehez for? Yes, besides Sherehez is getting an influx of old ghastly hooker-looking dames (not that it would be better if they were young and ghastly hooker-looking dames).

Most importantly; did we feel remorseful that we didn’t touch the bread? I’m certain the Omusakhulus did.

Read more from Biko on his Blog.

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