Last week Sunday was Father’s Day. Like many other global celebrations, we adopted it from mzungus. I did some research on its origin and discovered that Father’s Day was started by a woman, Sonora Smart Dodd while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in church way back in 1909. The following year, June 19 saw the first celebration of Father’s Day in Washington State. Dodd’s father, William Jackson Smart was a civil war veteran who raised six kids as a single parent. And here I am feeling so achieved bringing up three totos with the help of their mum. Clearly I need to stick to my (modest) lane.
The surprise for me was that it’s a woman that started Father’s Day. I thought it was like a mzungu equivalent of Maendeleo ya Wanaume aimed at defending the rights of the man cub.
I really haven’t thought much of Father’s Day over the years. I’m more aware of Mother’s Day and I think the reason is twofold. I have several strong women in my life who make it impossible to forget. My mother and late mother in love, mummy shark, my big sis, and my daughters. Secondly, it keeps the peace when I celebrate these strong beautiful women plus I earn precious Bonga Points, which I redeem when I go on a golfing road trip with the boys.
I first doubted myself as a father when I turned 40. I felt weak and like I may not make it in this fatherhood journey. That freaked me out kabisa and the fact that I was financially vulnerable made it worse. Men rely on their financial ability a lot. That gives them confidence, ability and meaning. When that rug under their feet is auctioned (because they can’t meet their financial obligations) then they are like a deer in the headlights. Clueless.
Mummy shark was royally stressed when I went through this self-doubt season. Initially I felt she wasn’t giving me the support I need. As I look back now it’s like the poor girl was walking in our house with the lights off usiku not knowing that the furniture had been re arranged in her absence. She would often bump into stuff (our domes). She had been thrown into this role of stepping into my shoes bila notice after years of being sorted. I salute you and apologize at the same time mama. You did the best you could and maybe that’s why I remember Mother’s Day more than Father’s Day.
Today in Kenya, the issue of men and fathers is making headlines more often than it should. And almost always for the wrong reasons. I think men by nature are not meant for the limelight as much as women are. For instance, on Mother’s Day in my church, women will most likely get flowers. Last Sunday men got a pair of socks. The year before we got a newspaper. These are nice practical things and I did feel appreciated. But flowers are more visible and attract more attention.
Could it be that men are doing crazy stuff because internally they feel they should deal with their issues chini ya maji? Perhaps it’s time we let chaps vent openly (but appropriately) to avoid damage to self and families.
I was at a speakers’ cocktail at Nairobi Serena Hotel (the new wing is really cool by the way) last week and an expectant lady with her dad went on stage to give a short story. That sight alone led me to make a silent prayer that my girls would parade daddy like that when they are all grown up. The grey haired man called the daughter his mother and she said she would like to talk about good fathers since we hardly hear about them. I found myself wiping my eyes at that point. I think the pili pili in the prawns was too much (please believe me folks) hehe.
Now halfway into my forties I think I’m regaining my confidence both as a man and father. My baby sharks have been the anchor that has kept me grounded during my turbulent halftime transition. Without them, I most likely would have been swept by the flash floods of confusion, self-doubt and despair.
Having a wolf pack has also helped me be a better man. One of my biggest gains from playing golf is getting my golf brothers. These five chaps know a lot of stuff about me. We have met and continue to meet regularly to share our struggles (and triumphs too) and lean on each other’s shoulders. In fact, it’s a strange coincidence that we’ve been going through similar struggles in life at the same time. Being in our 40s has made for a great support group. It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous for midlife. Plus, we download a lot at the bar counter perched on those high stools. There is some sort of therapy from sitting there staring at the wall of colored liquids in bottles behind the barman.
Last Sunday my baby sharks gave me cute homemade cards with heartwarming messages. Mummy shark bought me a nice aluminum hot uji cup for carrying to the office in this Nairobi winter. Last year she got me happy socks. Maybe she’s the one who gave our church the idea of socks last Sunday. Because they seem to cannibalize each other in my drawer and disappear.
I feel strongly that for fathers (and men) to reclaim their position in society we need a mind shift. Men need to ask for help more (including directions) and women need to cut men some slack and encourage them when on low battery. I find that when I champion the causes of the women in my life, soon after they turn into my cheering squad and the mountains ahead seem to get flatter and easier to climb. Maybe we should amend the quote, “If mama ain’t happy no one’s happy,” to read, “If mama and papa ain’t happy no one (including the dog) is happy.”
A woman started Father’s Day. So me thinks for this day to have meaning we have to include our mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and other significant women in our lives. Happy belated Father’s Day to all my fellow dads and dads in the making. We can do this. And happy Father’s Day to all the women (not a typo) out there trying to figure out how to bring out the best from the men in their lives. Your support keeps us going, even when we don’t admit it.