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.
Boys with absent fathers pick up the cues and internalize ingrained prejudices and bitterness towards their fathers from what they hear. Many growing up into insecure adults overcompensating for the inadequacies they believed their fathers had. Kenya’s social scene is littered with numerous examples of grown men crying out for validation. Men spend their whole lives totally unaware of their life purpose, clueless as to why they react in certain ways and forever trying to live up to the changing expectations of those they commit to love.
So here are a few truths that I picked up once I got over the illusion of a perfect father, to discover a man who was trying to teach me through example, that manhood is what you make it.
1. Don’t wait around for praise and validation.
Don’t obsess on the good you do. Instead, do what needs to be done and then get out of the way. If you linger around for praise, you end up squandering new opportunities to do good. Change is constant, good deeds get erased and people forget. It is easy to build resentment, when you keep score of the many good deeds you perform that go unnoticed.
2. Contentment is the greatest wealth a man can have.
A man who develops the gratitude for cherishing is rewarded with the joy of contentment. Parents who crave endlessly for the possession of material things set up their children for a relentless acquisition in the belief that it will fill the emptiness their parents droned on about.
3. Hardship is what makes a man but they also break men.
Problems only become bigger and better and each success sets up one for the next greater challenge. It is challenges that reveal a man to himself. Challenges are a constant feature of development and in suffering consciously we find endless opportunity for self awareness.
4. Good sex is important.
But it is less determined by the size of your genitals and skill set in lovemaking. Deep intimacy is created through vulnerability. However, do not be too quick to display your vulnerability, for it not always attractive to women.
5. A man is not a thing to be.
No parent cannot teach you who you are. It is a process and choice you make and figure out as you go along. In learning to accept our imperfections we approach perfection. But the work is never done and there is no arriving, no destination, no scared hill where perfect men eventually go to die.
6. You are responsible for your health.
You only have one body. It wears out if you mistreat it and you are invariably what you eat and drink. Exercise is a constant practise and it won’t always be structured. The important thing is maintain the discipline of exercising in moderation as one’s physical capacity reduces. That goes hand in hand with good nutrition for disease stalks us throughout life.
7. Becoming a man is all about the roles we assume in life and how we perform in them.
One of the defining virtues of becoming a man is protection. The ability to stand in harm’s way, face fears on behalf of those we commit to care for. Other men will judge your performance in roles that entailed the survival of others. To take on that role, means to agree to sacrifice your life for the benefit of others.
8. It is the tribe of men that we live among that creates a shared identity.
To know yourself, you have to be around people who know you. When you start to recognize the values you hold in others, it draws people together in solidarity and shared identity. No man is an island. Men need gangs and clubs where they are bound by the allegiance to look out for one another and to protect those things that they hold dear.
9. Even the strongest spirits can be broken.
The feeling of hopelessness is not just for destitutes. The only way to rise again, is to admit that you have fallen short of your own grand expectations. Your chances of recovery are greater, when you learn to ask for help.
10. In the end,
You have to free your father of his responsibilities to you and chart your own destiny.