Fathers in the Dark

When do you think the lights are coming back?

I don’t know.

Guess.

How? This is supposed to be your house.

My house right, but now my mind is busy. Can’t waste energy thinking about a company rationing electricity.

But you can get time to stare at your phone for two hours?

I’m writing a story.

You? Writing a story?

You and I
Fathers in the Dark

Yes, unfortunately. And a masterpiece for that. Continue reading “Fathers in the Dark”

Headman

Sometimes you look back into your past and say the old girl and her boy are the best. The trouble they had to endure, the sacrifice and all. Those are things you ask whether you could do for yourself, leave alone your kids.

Do we assume our parents lived in another age? Yet there were vehicles as are vehicles now. There were computers as are computers now. There were rental houses as are rental houses today. The truth is that we’ve lived in the same world with our parents. The only difference is that one group consists of strong-willed humans while the other consists mostly of irrational jumpy two-legged creatures masquerading as parents.

Are you a good father?

Parenting is a tough course. You will see life’s scars on the necks of those who have been there. You have to take the blows of life. You must always rise again, dust yourself and assume nothing is wrong. I remember how we used to plan mischief in the house: that is the shit you have to go through every day. You have to solve problems and make amends with the neighbour because your son mentioned a vulgar word to their daughter and they are sure you are the mastermind. You have to tell stories when the time comes; and be a master at it. You have to answer questions till midnight….

A friend tells me his wife is expecting. He is specific: the pregnancy is eight months and two weeks. He says he is worried. He says there is fear in him. He says he is happy. That anxiety is eating on him. He doesn’t actually know what is happening to him. He doesn’t understand what he is feeling nor what he should feel. He wants help.

Okay, how does it feel getting the first born? This is a question we have to be very direct and ask only those who sleep naked. You don’t ask those hit-and-run boys who pretend to be fathers – those who are only fathers because Darwin lied so and nothing more. We must ask only those that share a roof with a third citizen who chooses any hour of the night to experiment with his lungs and yell till dawn. If you want blood, you break the skin of an animal, not a guava. So, o ye who are blessed with naked nights, what did it feel when she one day said she was bringing a life to the world? Did you jump up and announce it to the surprised cashier at the restaurant? Did you walk away and say it was not your making? Did you blame the contraceptives guy? How was the feeling?

How does one feel when a new member finally arrives?

When in college, there is this guy who almost died because his brown girl thinned into the air. He goes to their home and meets an arrogant father who is least willing to help. He even threatens to arrest my friend. Then she reappears eight months later. She simply texts that let’s meet at point x. So the guy asks us and we say why not. We man him from a respectable distance because a woman who disappears for eight months can do anything in one second at point x. then Mademoiselle comes. She is more beautiful than last time and her skin glows like the Orion. Her ethereal head seems to glide over her neck every time she makes a movement. And she puts on this pink dress that sweeps the ground and the sight too. In that dress lies a bulge. In that bulge lies a life.  That is the life that is to be denied by the Darwinian father a few moments after the owner of the dress sits down for a talk. I need not talk more of that story. If Jesus wept, that girl rained, and my friend made himself an ocean when he came to think of it. Sad climax.

People will run away from being first-time fathers.

Is parenting such a scare that we should run away from? This is an area I think TV has failed terribly. Parenting mums are portrayed as some camps of human sorrow who make the fathers go through hell to put a smile on their faces. Whereas this could be the case in Antarctica, there is this air around it that movie guys and lifestyle magazines overexploit to scare will-be parents.

All the same, parenting is not your idea of a joke. Leave alone the second or third born. Let’s talk of the first thing that ever has your rabbit ears, your mother’s protruding ankles or your step sister’s flat face. It is serious business. Waking up and knowing it is another day the Lord has given you to be in charge of another rude, egocentric and indifferent piece of nature that takes after your appetite. You wake up and feel the magnetism to this calling, this responsibility to always be there through thick and thin. Every time you hear those infant sounds you know you are bound in this house forever: you can’t go hiking on Kilimanjaro with other freaks; you can no longer throw your money the way you used to; you can no longer overstay out on Friday evenings nor go to the stadium on Saturday afternoons. Business gone sour. You feel like running away but the magnetism always drags you back home.

Sometimes you wake up and find your kid playing at the balcony. Since you have not bought it any monkey toy to toy with, it comes to play with its own. It is naked and healthy. You guys are still sleeping and the only play partners are the people walking down the block. So Kiddo extracts its member and pees down at the gateman giving directions to another elderly man. You find Baby in the middle of the act and it is merry all over. You don’t know whether to take a stick or rush down to the man and apologise. You don’t know whether to hide and assume you are unaware of the boy’s conduct. You feel like calling your brother to ask what he does when his kid pees on old men but you realise your brother is younger to you and elders are not supposed to ask toddlers about parenting.

First parenting is tough.

Immediately the kid is born, your wife begins to take more time with the boy, diverting the attention she previously had for you. You feel the unwanted prince in your own kingdom. You used to receive hugs at the doorway. You used to take supper from the kitchen in each other’s laps. You used to be told stories with laughter and happiness. That shit is now long gone. Sometimes you go without food and nobody realises. Hugs are officially illegal now. You start updating statuses to vent your frustration. What makes it more frustrating is that she doesn’t even seem to notice your sulking. You pretend to be unwell and she can’t even say your temperature is high. Man, your government has been toppled.

This is the time you miss your mom the most. At a point you will give up and dial that number miles and miles away.

“Halo Nyawando.” (Well, insert there the name you call your mother).

“Hallo son.”

“Much silence, mum. How is Shianda?”

“We are doing great. Your uncle’s cow gave birth last Thursday and that calf is very healthy. Turufosa’s child is this weekend getting married to a doctor from Tanzania. I was planning to send someone with a present though we are very broke. The new shamba boy is good. He doesn’t take alcohol and he has even brought home his second wife. They are living with us….” You let her talk on and on. That voice is the medicine for now. Until you interject after twenty minutes.

“Mother.”

“Yes son.”

Silence.

“Halo mother.”

“Yes son. How is my husband?”

“The chap is fine, mum. Are you in the kitchen?”

“No, I’ve gone to Turufosa’s shop to measure a new dress for your aunt. I’m still waiting for her to come back from Mumias.” Silence. “You seem quiet today.”

“Actually…. Err…. Ummh…. Mum?”

“Yes son.”

“I love you.”

Ayie! Have you been arrested again?”

“No mum….”

“Is it the landlord, then?”

“Mum, my problem is not….”

“What is it you want this time? Maiko I thought….”

“Just wanted to say that I miss you. I love you so much….”

“Are you drinking again? Oh my God Maiko I thought your uncle talked to….”

“Mum I am okay…. Mum…. Mother….”

The other end is long dead. Enough is enough. You go to the kitchen and lock the door behind you. You take a sharp knife in your right hand and hold it firm. You then grab an onion in the left hand. You use tool x on item y below your eye, cry all the hell out and curse Sigmund the sexing Freud. Oh, it is Saturday and tyrant and his mother have gone to the salon. You sit down on the floor, spread your legs and cry more.

One morning you wake up late. The sun rays are penetrating your windows. You don’t realise another guy has crawled into the room. You only hear a sharp sound that makes you jump. Turning, you see a small African on the fours. He calls again and smiles. It is that smile that kills your earlier fright and cushions your pulse. Baba, the call comes again. Then smile, smile. Hands are outstretched. You look at the thing down there with two white teeth. It mumbles something again, this time flapping its small wings in excitement. You drop the shaving machine and take a moment taking it in. For the first time you’re being called a genuine Baba. You kill the small distance between you and the next thing is that your son is in your arms. You hold it tight onto your bare chest. Your soul crashes into the baby’s, and the baby’s into yours. You bond into one. You even don’t care as the baby lets loose its bladders on you to mark the ritual. You forget that you are late for work and the only thing you want now is a camera crew from CNN.

But that lasts only like a blink. Now listen

A family of mother, child, and father.
A family of mother, child, and father. (Image courtesy of umkhontowesizwe.wordpress.com)

Despite you doing the donkeywork, check where the credit goes. She will post photos on Instagram and Facebook. People will laud her impeccable mothering and handsome genes. You will post a photo and people will say your wife must be a good mother. As you are busy at the office, she will walk with the boy to the salon, to her home, to her x and to her place of work; all the time people will attribute the goodness in the kid to her. You will be left in the dark; a non-existent object in a non-existent world. Even men will be there to praise her as if kids are made in handbags these days. They can’t even say the forehead is yours.

Now he is three. Boy makes abnormal demands. Last evening it was a zombie he wanted for a toy. Today he wants a monkey for a pet. He has this powerful pair of lungs for backup just in case. And when he makes those demands, the ninja, who is your wife, shoots at you this look that defines whose side she is on. You feel betrayed. There is no shop that sells monkey toys. If he insists, you will organise to have a live monkey around. The monkey father can come stay with the monkey daughter to entertain a monkey grandson that wants a monkey for a pet. Case closed. Clerk!

The demands never end. Before you realise, it is time to go buy that big cake because mum says it is the fourth birthday. And before you pull off the grey hair it will be the sixth or tenth. The unfortunate thing for you in that house is that you cannot say no because there is an army after your ass. She is the commander, and when she is the commander, the only way to remain alive is to play captive and know you will never win any war here. Again, you are alone.

But above all, the hustles, the frustrations, the sulking and the sobbing are the things a father will die for. Men want power, and fatherhood provides you with subjects that can never change allegiance. You become a headman and your status rises. The bad experiences give you that unique pride that at least you can dine with men. When you go back to the village and they want someone to split firewood, they will not come for you. When a boy has stopped going to school and the parents feel he needs advice, it is you they will come for, for fatherhood initiates you into that completeness of life.