Photo: Lawyer Nick Ruto with his father Deputy President William Ruto
“You become a man, the day you understand your father,” a friend told me earlier this month.
“Understand, not agree with him, but understand him…”
It is an old maxim, but it was refreshing hearing it again. Fathers are extremely misunderstood out here and in the African context, mothers are seen as holy saints, always victims. While some fathers were downright irresponsible, the agency of women in the choices men make as they age is conveniently ignored and I think it is time we spoke about it.
Because, every day, I meet adults with a broken relationship with their fathers. For some innocuous reason, matatu drivers always open up to me a lot. Maybe because I ride in the front of matatus most of the time and I get chatty and nearly half of them have nothing fancy to talk about their fathers. And more men out here work hard to help their mothers and if the fathers are still alive, they are merely afterthoughts.
I have seen the same among educated adults, men, and women. Some of the more rabid feminists directly attribute their salty attitude towards men to the way their father treated their family. And if from a divorced background, all the worse.
When I find an adult yet to come to terms with the choices their parents made, I am a bit disappointed. Maybe it is because I was orphaned at early age, and never related with my parents to a point of getting personal in their affairs, but still.
Parents are capable of inflicting the worst pain on children, especially through desertion, physical and psychological. Whereas, in Africa it is fathers who sometimes mess, in the West, I have noticed there are women with no motherly traits and have no feelings for the children they sire. One of my favourite French writer Michel Houlebecq has such a frosty relationship with his mother and she has featured in his books. He sort of never forgave her.
It is something I have noticed among millennial women lately. I have seen a number who have zero feelings towards their own children. I squarely blame capitalism. But motherly failures of parenting are never scrutinized as fatherly failures. Maybe because motherly failures are not as common as father failures. Granted.
But when I listen to some adults complain about their fathers not attending their karaokes, or showing up in school with only a newspaper, I laugh inwardly, because I remember more than half the kids in high school were never visited on visiting day and we never made this a big deal. We were grateful that we were in some good schools, there were others who probably had it worse.
To even have a present father is something some adults take for granted, when some people here have never called anyone father. And this is not about getting you weepy or letting off your father easily from his responsibilities. It is just for perspective.
But people walk different journeys. And that is something as an adult you have to think about. You make mistakes. You make poor choices. You drink more than you should. You are extravagant. You have probably made a dozen business mistake that were costly and maybe you have never recovered from. And never will.
You are probably a very bad spouse. You are proud, stubborn, silly, cheater. But somehow, you still judge you, father or mother, harshly.
Do you ever stop to think that your parents are human beings, individuals who are fallible like you? That they had their individual weaknesses. Maybe daddy ran away. Maybe daddy was absent. Maybe he never bought you even a belt. Maybe daddy kept a mistress who brought shame on the day he was buried. Maybe.
All our mothers’ sins are easily forgiven, but we are very harsh on fathers. But one thing I know mothers are not innocent. I have seen mothers who drive a wedge between the children and their fathers to buy more sympathy so that they can receive more money and better stipends, especially from their kids in majuu.
It is easy to cite that the fathers were tyrants. We rarely pause to think about the circumstances they operated under. We don’t know what demons were battering them.
Because millennials can be an ungrateful bunch.
As a man, in his mid-30s, everything that never made sense when we were growing up, is now crystal clear like distilled water. Now, we know why some men can’t leave the bar, they wait until everyone has slept before they can sneak back home. We understand why men keep secret families. We understand why some men do the things they do.
Now, understanding does not mean approval or support. But it is coming to terms about the imperfections of life and disappointments of adulthood.
I have been a harsh critic of older men, but it is with a lot of pain that I swallow my words, on some things. Women talk a good game about how their lived experience is a daily horror. But as a man, I know, men are not having fun, whether driving that Range, or doing mjengo.
Take this time of corona to understand who your parents are or were. Talk to your father if he is still around. Ask around why he was a tyrant, did he inherit it, was it because of his work, peer pressure, community expectations. By understading these things, they can make you improve on where he failed.
But to sit there and judge him, then neglect him, waiting for him to die in order to put a huge obituary and print T-shirts to lie to the world ain’t cool.
May the week break.
By Silas Nyanchwani via Facebook