In one passage of Book II of the French book we used in secondary school, Pierre et Seydou, a farmer laments the never ending worries of farming. Before the onset of the rains he wonders if the rains would come on time or late; if they would come with a lot of wind; if there would be a drought after the planting and so on. When the rains start he wonders how the pattern of rainfall would be. When the crops are high, on a rainy day he wonders if the wind and rain have flattened the crops and how much of the crop he would lose that way. He worries till the harvest and then he worries about prices.
On Mothers’ Day we eulogise mothers. From the pulpits, through social media to individual children, we say thanks to our mothers and wives, for their role in growing children. Fathers hardly tell their stories – after all mmarima ԑnsu.So if they felt any anxiety and concern for their children, it would be unmanly to exhibit it, let alone announce it. In fact, the stories that are told of fathers give the impression that fathers only engage in joy rides with their wives and the products from that relationship are seen by fathers as irritants than products they should be responsible for. I share the anxieties many fathers have felt, and continue to feel, openly to contradict this generally held view of fathers.
A father’s joy at the safe delivery, whether normal or through an operation, is boundless. Your love and your bundle of joy are home and you don’t need any other excuse to feel the song in your heart. Till the first night you sit up all night taking turns holding the crying bundle in your hands. There is no temperature so you can’t even guess what is wrong. At only a few weeks’ old it is too early for the pain of teething. A stomach upset? For a baby still only on breastmilk? You do not know the cause let alone what to do. The night really drags for you. Other nights you feel the body and it is so hot you could boil a tin cup of water on it.
As the baby begins to recognise people and movement around them, and later even seems to smile and laugh, and respond to playful acts, your boundless joy pushes the bounds even farther out. Again this is laced with periods when the baby cannot keep anything down the tummy. Sometimes it came with a cough and at other times there would be no cough.
Very soon the baby learns to sit on their own, after some weeks of coaching, coaxing and encouraging. Another milestone to celebrate as you immediately look forward to the next one. In a few more weeks baby crawls and you celebrate. But then begins a difficult period for all in the house. Baby celebrates the ability to move by actually using the ability, causing anxiety as baby crawls towards everything, the bowl of pepper, the bowl containing hot water, the dead cockroach which may seem yummy to baby which baby just sighted. Baby tries pulling the table cloth to pull themselves up. The soup sizzling on fire is attractive to the agile baby. The list of ‘danger to you but fun to baby’ is endless. You learn fast to put such items out of the way but baby discovers new ones each time.
Fast forward to several years later and your headache now is to get a good school for your child. Not only one that teaches but where your child will not pick bad habits from bad company. Don’t mind the fees; if your child can learn and be disciplined you are prepared to pay the price. After all, good things do not come cheap. You are roped into the homework the teachers give and God knows how much the educational system has changed, with you struggling to do even primary school homework. You monitor the child’s reports and your feelings go up and down, as the performance goes up or down. You ask questions; you discuss; you encourage; you advise. As the number of children increases you are pulled in many directions. You are supposed to be the know-all of the family and if you must scratch your head over a problem, you do so discretely.
As your child enters Junior High School you monitor the yearly performance of the school and sometimes you wonder if to leave the child in that school or to change schools. You consult the private classes’ teacher who advises against changing schools at that stage. Each time you hear of leakages and cancellation of results you pray it should not happen during your child’s year. But it keeps happening and you continue to worry.
All this while you ‘fight’ the child over things that would pull them astray. X has this so they also want it. But that would detract them from their studies. They exhibit attitude that is rude or impolite contrary to your effort to make them disciplined. Sometimes you even ‘fight’ your wife over this; it is the craze of this generation, she tells you. But it is wrong, you shoot back. We should lead our children, not let their peers or the environment bring them up.
You discuss possible Senior High Schools with friends and teachers in your child’s school. And with your child. You make your child try the selection exams of those schools that still conduct their own selection exams and the period between when the exam is written and when the results are released seems like forever. Because of your anxiety.
Your relief when the child gets the school of their choice is very loud. Then you start to worry about the company the child will keep in school and the habits they may learn. What is the right thing to do for them? Are you being unnecessarily stingy and overly cautious? Or are you giving the child too long a rope, one that will hang them? Again you start to worry about the WASSSCE and if your child will do well? Would there be leakages and cancellation of exams that year? What grades would the child get? What courses should they choose? What is the child’s interest and how does that match with future job prospects? You are no more dealing with a kid; so how much involvement is healthy? There is no test to ascertain this so your decisions are more your gut feelings.
Post National Service
After the National Service year, you have your child home for the next two years. You amplify their worry about being unemployed. But this is something you are impotent about. Your child has no interest in business. You did not prepare them for that, so you cannot raise capital for them, an act which is within your power. Then they get their first job and you are relieved that they will be busy everyday and begin to feel useful. And they will earn some pocket money while hoping for a ‘better’ job.
That is the point at which I am and that is headache enough. I will not open the window to the worries ahead. But I can see myself worrying, and of course celebrating, each step of the way over my children till my last ride in a wooden box.
And it is not just me. At a school where I sent our son for an interview recently, I met with a good number of my friends who had also brought their children. And it was consoling listening to them express the same worries I harboured. The irresponsible father exists, just like the irresponsible mother. A father may be unduly strict, just as a mother may be unduly doting, both of which can destroy a child. But given my own experience and that of friends, I won’t put all fathers, or even majority of them, into a box labelled uncaring.