Fatherhood thoughts: the making of a memoir

I’m always torn between marriage and eternal single-hood. Deep within, I’d rather be single than attempt marriage only to fail at it miserably. If I am ever blessed with a child, I would love that kid to grow with both parents. I don’t want that scenario where the mother cheated or I did something and we had to part ways, (me) losing custody of the kid.

I don’t want to be an embittered dad who will one day drunkenly tell my kid, ‘see your mother was a hoe who cheated on me, don’t be like her’. Or my future ex-wife telling the kid that ‘your father was a SOB, incapable of discharging and fulfilling his manly responsibilities’. I am very territorial. Very monogamous at heart. And jealously so. Yet, the modern reality tells us; no matter what you do, she will most likely cheat on you, at least once when things stop working in the matrimonial bed.

Having said that, I should say that I have this deeply entrenched desire to be a father. Every time I have seen a young boy, who is confident and exhibits some shots of brilliant masculinity, I get quite jealousy. Is there such a thing as paternal jealousy? Freud, that is for you? As I type this, I am listening to Luther Vandross’ Dance with My Father. Not that I have a sex preference, but I would like to have a baby boy for very personal reasons.

One being that my childhood was deprived by circumstances beyond my calling. I never had a father of my own. The man who was supposed my father, was not my biological dad. I learned quite early. I only have vague recollections of the man. He was light-skinned, averagely tall.

We lived in Kibera. I was only four or five. He drank too much. Once or twice I remember him savagely beating my mother. He was the typically infuriated Kisii father. As a child, I never knew how wrong it was to raise a finger to a woman, much less beat her. He used to swear (prari pakin) which I would later learn was a corruption of the word ‘blood fuckin’.

I also remember someday that we went visiting another family, could have been in Kawangware. He held me proudly, the way only a father can hold his son. I really would have wished to know what became of that family. I somehow remember the other man. He was probably Kikuyu. The house was a Mabati shanty, and I can still picture that stove and his simple family.

My other recollection of him is when they went paying dowry for my mother. Could have been something else. But I remember walking with them the eight or so kilometres to my mother’s home. Along the way, either my father or one of my uncles threatened to throw to some river, in a jest. There was another day; I think we were travelling from Kisii, that we stopped by a bar, for him to grab a beer or something more sinister. Now I know the kind of man he was. Or just a short call. I scarcely remember.

He used to work in the House of Manji. Christmas time he used to bring this metallic box with assorted biscuit types; salted, sugared, dry, plain etc. I probably picked my sweet tooth from the indulgence. I particularly remember the last two Christmases.

These were my only encounters. There was no bond, chemistry or any connection. With the benefit of hindsight and proper understanding of our culture, I understand why he was not necessarily proud of me. Soon, he was taken sick and hospitalized. In Nairobi, and later in Kisii. There used to be a hospital called Getembe. Just as I was about to join Kibera Primary School, that January of ’92 he succumbed. I was too young to understand what death meant. I remember the villagers running helter-skelter, crying and wailing. He died before ever building a house, and the community was obligated to build him an aboard, given he was the first born, so that we could inhabit it, now that we had to permanently relocate to the countryside.

Later on, I performed the cultural rite when his grave was being dug. As the ‘firstborn’, I was the one to strike the ground and scoop some soil. That day, I ran with some other ‘cousin’ my age mate and namesake oblivious of what was happening. There used to be a photo of me, sweaty from running that I can’t now trace. Memories!

Soon, I was to join some shady primary school. On the first day, I sat on a brick. The other children treated me suspiciously. Soon, I was to be reminded that I was a BASTARD, in no undisguised terms. Being illegitimate in my community is liability you carry for life. I know a dozen politicians who have been denounced-their bright ideas, notwithstanding- because their mother ‘carried’ them with them when they were married. It was impossible to integrate, even as my mother tried her best to incorporate and assimilate us. We were handled cautiously and as the lone boy, I had a difficult time and only my elder sister to look up to. She too could be mean, in the ways only siblings are normally to each other when they are kids.

My sister was resourceful. She was the wiser and I was the awkward and cowardly, little brother. My cowardice was more informed by self-preservation than anything. I really wanted to get out and play with the boys, perform all those heroic things in the formative years, but the turmoil both at home and externally only meant we had to tread on our lanes. When you were not being called a bastard, you were being reminded that you never quite belonged to that village. I am only thankful that God had gifted me and I was not badly off in class work. I always emerged among the top 3. Bright chaps were always given a benefit of doubt. And luckily my mom’s side was ever so helpful and supportive. We always visited them. Grandpa, gave us money and Gradma was just amazing(God bless their souls).

One day, I remember the biological son of my ‘father’ came visiting and we shared a bed in my saiga(a house built for a boy once you have been circumcised. You were not supposed to share your house with your mother). He was a young man, older than me by may be three or four years. He was too shifty for my liking. Reports were already up that he was thief in Kisumu. I never knew the purpose of that visit. May be it was to remind me that I was not the only heir to that prized piece of land. When he left, I never heard of him, nor saw him anywhere.

When mum died, I had just turned 11. The pain, the untimeliness and the inconvenience of her death only made every one mad. Her funeral was rushed and in three days, it was done. My sisters had left with my maternal side. On the last night, I was left alone with a few of my childhood friends who stayed me through the night. In the morning, I was beside myself with grief. No one around. Not a neighbour. No folk or one friend. For one fleeting moment, I thought that is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but with an orphaned young boy seated outside their house with just radio, listening to some Kwaito songs. I remember it was Nthombi Marumbini, Mafula or such third rate South African musicians released in the post-apartheid period that as peasants we enjoyed so much.

I sat there assuming that everyone had deserted me, and I was to start from scratch. It was harvest season and I started imagining myself as a manager of our farm. From now on, I was supposed to be a man, fending for myself. Thank goodness that my sisters arrived to save from these highly suicidal musings. We picked the few clothes and other possessions and hit the road, to our mother’s home, a road we had trodden for the five brief years we had stayed in that ‘paternal home.’

I was a highly privileged orphan. I was showered with love and parental care. I never lacked. But thing with growing up as an orphan is that you never quite belong. You are acutely aware of your place. You know when to talk, when to shut and there is no such a thing as 100% rights. Nothing to regret, however. I had a lovely and caring family that catered for me. My male cousins were accommodating and gave me a room to be a man. I looked up to them and admired their courage and ingenuity with stuff. But it was rather late to develop the essential life skills. You know, like kick some ball; crack open some stupid boy’s skull-they were many. But you are constantly reminded of the main thing: SCHOOL.

My uncle, Kepha, was a true father figure. He taught me two important things. Sometime, in February/March 1998, when we came for our mid-term break, he looked at my report form and told me (and I quote him verbatim),

“Gisiora, that is not your position. You can do better than that.”

It was not a reprimand. Hitherto, in that new school, that was my best performance. There was something touching about those words that left me feeling loved and appreciated. Of the nine or ten examinations during that year, I emerged number one, but for two. I never did anything special. God played his part, but his words were responsible for my performance and inculcated a strong sense of belief in myself. And that is what a father should do. Pat their sons on the shoulders, gently and reassuringly, and remind them that they are worth and they can make it. And constantly remind their daughters on the right men to pick, even though they might disregard the advice.

The second thing he taught me was to always live within my means. He always reminded me of my background. It is a lesson that has never abandoned me, even though sometimes I have been forced to impress women beyond my means, crying afterwards, especially when I didn’t have my way. He equally taught me the godly ways, and emphasized that a real man is the one who will grow in the ways of God. Have a family and take good care of his family. He has also taught the power of simplicity and modesty. The power of giving, and the blessing of receiving. The inherent rewards of generosity.

He always reminded me that only university education that will liberate me, and in deed ever since I set foot in University, he has never interfered with my affairs, other than occasionally call me to check on me.And I am a liberated man.

Another uncle of mine, taught the power of submission when you are disadvantaged. The circumstances that warranted the lecture were totally uncalled for and it is not right that I narrate them, but to wit he told me to always open my eyes, ears and nose wide and keep my mouth shut. If you are at a disadvantaged position, always listen. Another uncle taught me never to hold a grudge and never to burn a single bridge; friend and foe always play a role in our lives. But my comrade PO, insists that some bridges are not worth keeping. An ideal, that has become very persuasive lately. All the lessons really worthwhile.

So it should really be understandable, why I might need a son. In a way to immortalize myself, give the kid all the freedom I never had and let him be. My only wish, nay prayer, is that he never turns up gay. Now that will defeat the whole purpose. May be I should introduce him to porn at an early age; we don’t want them bending the rules, now do we?

I will teach him the world is not fair from an early age. I will teach the power of tragedy. It can strike at any time. Death, disability, anything can happen. I will teach him to love and respect women. I will teach him that women are complicated and most books written about understanding them are basically blank. No one has ever figured what they want. But they are special and nurturers of life. When they love, they can love. They can wash your poop, when you are bedridden, sick and dying. Women have guts to stomach so much shit from men, they are special.

I will teach him to obey the laws of the land and always be obedient to his seniors. I will encourage him to pursue his dreams and to be his own man. I will tell him to avoid loud women with an attitude that stinks. Time and again, they are never worth it. You toil to get their attention and they end up being disappointments both intellectually and in bed. I will teach him to live within his means, to cut that damn coat accordingly to his clothe. I will teach him the ways of God. I will tell him to avoid alcohol at all costs, and if necessary to test but never get addicted along the way. Even drugs, he should experiment, but to avoid indulgence.

Hopefully, he will love books. Hopefully, he will be courageous. He will look at me, not as a god, or a hero. Heck, even a super hero. I would like him to look up to me and carve a better man out of what I am. He will be called Silas Junior or Silas II.

And of course, my desire for a daughter is just as intense. I would love to see her as well. She will named Norah, the name of my mother. I would like her to grow in the ways of the Lord. I hope I have not broken many women’s heart so that I will be repaid back through her. Hell no!

I will never wish to see my daughter cry because of some stupid man. I would love her to be strong. And pick the right men; though it is sad looking at the caliber of men, we have around. Men have gradually grown stupider. That is just depressing. I would love her to be confident and bitchy enough to keep stupid losers at bay. I would love her to be principled and never to tolerate jokers. I would like her to look at her body as a temple of God and never desecrate it. I hope, she never sucks things. Wherever they pick the habit?

It was Tom Clancy who rightfully observed that daughters are often a punishment to men from the gods for the bad things they do to women. I have interacted with some women who left me wondering how their fathers look like.

But all these hopes, are forlorn hopes. Nowadays, they grow into what they wish. Ours is to hope that God will take charge.

This is an excerpt from a memoir I am penning…