Daddy Issues

A friend of a friend that I’m visiting, lost his father last Wednesday. He was 90. Had battled an aggressive type of prostate cancer for a short while as his condition remained tepid. Doctors knew his end was near and told the family as much. So they lay in wait {the family}. Nothing is as distraught and emotionally draining as waiting for death. It’s depressing. It saps your energy.

Eventually the call he had been dreading came in the wee hours of that Wednesday morning; the news came from his sister and it was terse; “dad has rested. Come over.” Naturally, the guy was thrown off balance, because you never prepare enough for death, even if you saw it coming. He remained quiet at first, then tried talking but stuttered. His words trailed off. His lips dried. His voice shook. Then eventually, he mumbled “sawa.”

He knew he couldn’t travel to Eldoret right way because his finances were in the doldrums. So he made phone calls and he received phone calls. His phone shivered the whole day. He sat next to it at the dining area, close to the socket, charging. He looked forlorn and lost and almost defeated. I could decipher a faint ring of anger around his disposition that raised my antennae. I was intrigued. A 37 year old man just lost his 90 year old father, and, he was angry {as opposed to sad}. I reckoned there was more to it than what met the eye.

That night after a dish of chicken curry {with lots of turmeric and cream} and ugali {Lunjes in the house hehe}, the three of us had a long and deep conversation on the intrigues and melodrama surrounding his father’s death. It morphed into a riveting conversation about family politics and fatherhood. Daddy issues.

So this guy’s father was a chief; back when chiefs were demi gods. When their presence alone could cuddle milk. They were revered. No, the right word is dreaded. They were held in consternation. They were the unbridled law, the epitome of tyranny. He lived his title with chutzpa. Chutzpa and impudence and insolence. He was filthy rich, if the thousands of acres of land to his name was anything to go by. And as you’d expect of those days, he was polygamous. Our friend tells us that the siblings known to him are 24, but there could be more. However, the rub is that they hardly see eye to eye. They don’t get along at all. The dad failed {his word} to galvanize the family. The fissures in the family are deep and wide and ugly. It’s a family where everyone has disowned everyone. It’s dysfunctional {again his words}. He didn’t have much contact with the dad growing up. They didn’t have a relationship, not even in the remotest sense of the word. His kids haven’t met him; they have only seen a picture. As a result, he doesn’t hold him in high regard.

I asked him what impact that has had to him as a man, and his tart response was; “I don’t want to be like my father. I’m not proud of that man.” Which evoked a quote I read somewhere; every man is either trying to live up to his father’s expectations, or making up for his father’s mistakes.

He said he’s concerned about what his kids think of him. He’s concerned about what they’ll say about him when they grow up, especially in his absence. Which is something that worries me too. What kind of man will I nature my boy into? What impression will I give him regarding women? {And I’m well aware that would be hinged on how I’ll treat his mother.} I worry about how high I’ll set the bar for the young men preying on my gorgeous daughter.  Because I’m alive to the fact that she’ll use me as a yard stick to gauge the men hitting on her. I’d want to be my kids’ best friend and role model, though I know they might find me boring when they hit pubescence. But I want them to say that daddy’s cool.

Our friend’s dad was keen on being feared, as opposed to being respected. And he got it. He was adamant and refused to change with the times. I think in this age you can’t bulldoze anyone. Not your kids or your wife. Though it might achieve some short time results; the resentment will be sure to swing back – hard.

I think in these times, love and persuasion and leadership achieves a lot more than an iron fist would.  The ultimate measure of a man is how effectively he can navigate around an emotive issue without raising his voice {or hand}. I read somewhere that to be argue effectively you don’t raise your voice but you raise your argument.

So I asked the guy what, precisely, he is doing differently from the dad. The response was profound; “I show love and respect to their, mother. I demonstrate (and please put a thumb nail to the word demonstrate) that they are my priority. That they are my everything. They know it. That boosts their confidence. I explain issues to them that I feel they need to understand. I apologize when I feel I’ve made a mistake. Because kids pick nuances. Their silence doesn’t mean that they haven’t formed an opinion. Their memory is sharp.  The stakes of parenthood are at an all time high. You can’t afford to be aloof and get away with it. This generation is inquisitive and informed and intelligent and restless. Men should have ‘difficult’ conversations with their sons. Women should have ‘difficult’ conversations with their daughters.”

By the way, did you ever watch this old movie Boyz in the hood back in the day? I’m sure you did. What do you mean you didn’t? Okay, go get it. It’s a smash, take my word for it. Anyway, so there’s this guy who separates with his wife and moves out with one kid, a boy. The wife remains with two boys – from different dads. They have no male figure to look up to. No direction. The mum is somewhat aloof. Life is ‘good’and éasy’. The man on the other side holds difficult conversations with his son. He is so present. So form, but loving. The boy turns out right. Very decent. His brothers, however, get entangled in booze and guns and estate gangs. They’re killed in separate incidences. That movie will break your heart.

I asked our host if he’s ever lost his cool before his kids and he said he has. Against his wife; their mother. “I had to apologize to them the following day. And explain myself. It didn’t make me less of a man. In fact it brought about this inexplicable sense of respect between us.”

It’s challenging being a well adjusted man, I think. The expectations, the competition, the pressure and the ego that comes with it. Trying to cut your own niche and identity. Either trying to leave up to your father’s expectations or making up for his mistakes.

Image source: Men’s Style Pro

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