The Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) office is located off Juja road in Nairobi’s Eastlands. It is situated in a single-storeyed building planted right at the edge of Mathare Valley. The building stands out in contrast to the sea of tightly packed shanty dwellings with rusty brown tin roofs dissected into two parts by the congested Mau Mau road running through the bottom of the valley. Dark grey smoke rises from the valley depths and one catches a glimpse of the murky waters of the Mathare river flowing parallel to the busy throughway. Visitors are primed to see ruins and deprivation, but residents speak of its beauty. A Rastafarian man named Jah Driver told me to think of Mathare as a chocolate city, and in a phrase, that captured the essence of Mathare’s complex sensory qualities.
A Daughter’s lament to the father she never knew on Father’s Day.
Words: Mary Jane.
After a busy day at work, I called my mum to check up on her. She running an errand on my behalf. We spoke for a bit about stuff before she abruptly asked if I had received ‘THE NEWS’.
I thought of her goats, hundreds of them. She had probably made a killing selling them off at profit. Yet, my heart instantly felt heavy because she repeated the same question and I sensed some hesitation in her voice.
No goats had been exchanged for cash.
“He died”, she pronounced.
All I said was okay, and hang up.
You see, ‘he’ was my dad.
“Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance”.
I do not have kids of my own…none that I know of at least. On that score alone, I am the most ill suited to give advice on fatherhood. What do I know about midnight runs to the chemist and the pressure of paying school fees or the agony of a teacher’s strike?
But this article is about transitioning into manhood and why it is important for boys to be mentored into mature men. In Drivers of Violence- a study on Male Disempowerment in The African Context, Kenyan author Anzetse Were makes a strong appeal for concerted Male empowerment.
“African men in particular must make a deliberate point to acquire knowledge and actively seek mentors to help them transition into manhood. Once those in our generation evolve into men, the future generations will be better off. For their children will have mature men to guide and encourage their transition into manhood.”
Even though my own father passed on when I was in my puberty years I have never lacked fathers. Traditionally, I was brought up to understand that anyone who was of my father’s generation was a father.
Many assigned themselves to me, many others I adopted along the way. I quickly learnt that fatherhood is not limited to a biological link. Fathers come in all shapes and sizes. All one has to do is pay attention.
The pressures of contemporary living have reduced the value of fatherhood to a chore. An obligation that you buckle down for, hoping for the best and dreading the worst. A father is only as good as he is a provider. At least that is true for young men who up grow to believe that provision was a good father’s strongest and only quality. The “deadbeat dad”, oh! them that are ‘good-for-nothing’ probably failed to meet their financial obligations to the family and in the process lost respect and dignity in the eyes of their wife and children. Taking it all a little too personally and children would suffer for it. For the good measure, fatherhood was in my understanding, a precarious walk between love and fear.
I had the privilege of a father who was present. He died just as we were moving into the realm of friendship, that special bond of partnership and commitment to growth between father and son. He passed when I was 15 and for the last 25 years, I have been piecing together his character from accounts of people who knew him personally. It feels, I only just began to grasp his immense commitment to his role as a father. Each account revealing the breath of his character. He was not a father who obsessed on trying to be good. He simply did good.
Through the memories, from my older siblings, aunties, uncles, relatives and the many he counted as friends, I have gathered lessons that have allowed for a deeper understanding of the consequences of choice, he made in his career and family life. The parts of his life that he had a hold on, the ones that appear his glowing eulogy and the hidden ones, out of his control where fate decreed the outcome.