Let us pretend am talking to you in a conference. You are sitting while I am standing, addressing you through a faulty microphone that for a seven minutes talk the microphone will give us two technical breaks. In the breaks I will take huge gulps of water from a water bottle, refer to my points, think of my story and prepare my tonal variations hoping to make my story thrilling.
In my opening thoughts I will say “Sons raised by single mothers make responsible men.” I will pause and then continue talking, “I said sons, and I did not say all sons. A good number of them however make terrible men and dads. That will not make an interesting story if it is not about Sam.”
Before ‘he’ (not Sam) became your father, he was a boy, a man then your father. He made mistakes that boys and men often make. With fathers, you grow up just to realize you cannot become any better, you only become responsible. Your mind, position and attitude are things that are susceptible to change depending on your experiences and what side you choose to decide your things from. Changing your expectations gives room for less disappointments. The earlier the better!
I choose to say less and mean more. On the other end.
If a single mother was a commercial sex worker at a downtown bar or brothel. Then there are some things that she would never mention or explain to her kids. The exact kind of work she does. Why her job means ‘no’ dignity. Why she came home last night with bruises. Why she could not buy a bigger bread, buy no bread or afford three meals. She would not explain why her looks did not sell, for a reason maybe her old skin did not glow enough. Or even her previous client did not like her services and therefore could not earn her an extra ‘rating star’. This same mother will never go to bed on full stomach because she has to make sure her kids eat to the very last slice of bread as she looks. Similar case, a single mother who is a nursery school teacher in a village school, would not also be able to explain to her kids why her two thousand shillings salary cannot sustain their needs. It is either because it is too early to learn the truth or they would not understand. Lucky kids continue to grow with their mothers giving them their love in equal measure.
Explaining things would not be their responsibility because of the destruction the past causes and the unbearable moments to forget. Instead teach their kids culture and morals.
At 23, Sam, (not his real name) wanted out of his mother’s house. His body, heart and soul wanted another life elsewhere. He liked his mother’s unconditional love, but was fed up with the constant calls of responsibility from her. All his life he had lived with his younger sister and mother in a 2 bedroom house in Rongai. The absence of a father figure in his life, meant his mother would again and again shout at him whenever she was angry to remind him “I am your Father!” He would not complain either. It was true because she had ‘father and son’ like conversations with him. After every birthday and a few family weekends Sam learned something new about being a man from his mother. She gave the lessons with the boldness that each lesson deserved to cover the gap. Her informal job at a downtown brothel (story for another day) would not limit her parenting job. She struggled to provide basic needs but at least both of her kids were able to get an education.
At 24, Sam had upset her and she boldly told him to prepare leaving her house for his own place. He regretted upsetting her but that would mean he was starting the next chapter of his life. He was taught being a man but never taught living like one. He was hungry for freedom but scared what it would do to him.
It is frightening to be new to a city but it is worse to be new to a village that you know nothing or less about. More lessons were on their way. But it was time to man up and not care what was coming. He wanted to settle in a one bedroom apartment before he bought his house or ended up in his own compound. But his first house was a single room, one that he could afford to pay from the commissions he got for selling insurance policies.
Sam knew how to respect people, people who were not so proud, people who had zero obsession with authority or power no matter how small it was. His shortness for ‘respect’ got him on the wrong side of the landlord’s son. You know this other son of the landlord. Who every time calls him baba or mzee, the one that works like an errand boy always running up and down and always careful not to upset his boss, mzee. The one who looks more hardworking more than his other brothers. That one. The care taker.
Sam had an eye for his daughter. A 22 year old, university student and the pride of mzee’s other son. She was one of his many girlfriends he was involved with. He got her pregnant. And thereafter would never see the care taker in his eye. Water would be rationed for him. He would never be reminded to take is garbage out. His rent was supposed to be paid in good time or else his house would be put on lock and summoned for a long meeting. To remind him the estate’s must follow rules.
He could not run away because he would have failed his mother and became like his father. His conscience would haunt him forever. He wanted someday, in his old age, to sit in his rocking chair at the veranda, rock himself through the evenings and imagine that he was still a good person.
Today, this morning as I talk to you. Sam is somewhere in a hospital maybe in a maternity room. Against his then word. When he was 21, he swore never to step in a maternity ward. 3 years down the line, he has made up his mind he will get in there if he gets a chance, and know what it feels like to be a dad at the first cry of a baby. He hoped not to feel useless in case he gets a chance of setting foot in the labor room. He hopes to hear his baby say in his speechless cry, ‘Kiss me, a little more, my cheeks are ready.’
As I conclude, he asked me to say this for him: Remind your brothers and sons to become responsible.
And I say.
Sam, son of the Maa people. See how you look on paper. Your name next to responsibility. I pray you do not make a terrible Da.