The moment a boy grows a beard and graduates from university he becomes two things- a man and a threat. To the society he is the former. He is expected to make big decisions that impact on life, his community and country. He is looked upon for mentorship and potential brides are lined up for him as he has proven himself. To the father however, the boy becomes a threat; not a threat to the throne alone but in form of ideologies, control and power. If there is something that paralyses fathers is the notion that a son, he watched grow, has gained so much power over the immediate family that he-the son-has started calling the shots. The father feels estranged, down-trodden as though he has lost the mantle of the household’s spearhead….and there, the battle line is drawn.
Fatherhood and son-ship is a topic less discussed at family level, with daughters, dads love what they become but with sons they should become what dads like. Here is where individuality sets in, sons are fifty percent paternal genes but turn out very different. Genes can only confer intelligence and physicality but never personality. Socialization and experience shape one’s personality.
There are two main types of sons from a father’s perspective. The one who is always trying to prove himself when there is nothing to prove. This is one who strives to be independent and powerful. He leaves home early, probably in his teens to chart a course of his own. He thinks by so doing, he earns the approval of the dad. He wins battles and also loses some. Fathers are protective but only when one is limited to the coven. The wanderer son leaves the safety of the coven and out there he is fought, maimed and allured to join other teams. He doesn’t though. When he establishes his own empire, it threatens the father the most. The other son is wise enough to enjoy the safety and provisions under the roof of his father, he may wander about but not far away. Well, if it’s within sight it’s still in mind. This son gives the father control over him and because the father doesn’t feel threatened, he relaxes and takes each day as it comes.
James was an acquaintance in our college years. He was loveable and attracted females we only dreamt of. He had the looks, the money and led the kind of life girls liked. When we teamed up in groups to afford a single room in cheap Ngara apartments, he lived in a servant’s-quarter apartment in Nairobi’s South B. This was an achievement for any guy in Kenya Poly, a dream many had. James patronized themed events in clubs like Tribeka and Space while we drank ourselves crazy on Keg and spirits in dark bars. I admired James until I met him.
A two-minute conversation and he had mentioned his father twice.
“Maze kuna pesa nategea kutoka kwa buda na imedelay. Akikosa kutuma leo sijui ntakula nini.” (I am waiting for my allowance from Dad today. It has delayed and if it does not come in now, I don’t know what I am going to eat.)
That was normal, if it happened only in campus. Most of us depended on our parents for upkeep. Knowing James, he hinted at his life after campus.
“So man, what do you plan on doing after we maliza campus?” I asked him after writing our last paper. I tried inserting a Swahili word in my statement to sound hippie.
“Next year narelax. I will go back home, wait and see how things roll.”
“Will you look for a job, internship or something?” I pestered and he looked amused.
“Well, hii ni interview kwani?(Is this an interview?) Wacha nikwambie boss, I don’t think I can work for someone. Unless ni organization kubwa kama KEMRI ama UN,” he grinned,” If dad will not connect me with them he will give me money to start a business. Mean time don’t be so serious about life. You only live once. Next year I chill, first he promised me a trip to Dubai when I finish campus then when I’m back najibamba tu.”
I got a perspective of life from an uptown kid. It is terrific from up there. Kujibamba means a lot of sex, drugs, money and traveling. For us sons of normal fathers the route was clear, well-trodden and explained to us by older siblings. We would continue having roommates and probably move from the now expensive Ngara to Mlango Kubwa or Mathare North. There we would live in either a tin house or an overcrowded apartment. Houses in Mathare North as you move towards Huruma have windows that face the ever dark corridor overriding their function. The houses smell damp most of the year. Women store water in containers lined along the verandah all the way to the communal bathroom and toilet. Giant rats ruled the corridor, the streets we called them. At night, the rats made so much noise that children believed that demons were real. The clothes line above the containers ensure that the little light that diffuses from the transparent rooftop does not get to the rooms. The stench is overwhelming as the mixture of the smell of garbage, frying omena, cooking food and burning weed ghost around all year.
We lived in such an apartment and made peace with it. Better days are coming. Living here drove us closer to God, we believed in humanity and appreciated each day as it came. Sometimes when we afforded a free day we would buy KC and weed and smoke it from the rooftop as we watched Mathare Valley come alive at night. Monday to Friday we littered all potential employers’ offices with application letters. We tarmacked as we sold everything on every platform. Flash disks on OLX, events on Facebook and fitness products as conned by some companies. We looked rugged, worn out and hungry when compared to James who woke up at nine for a sumptuous breakfast after a hot shower bath. James will never have a life of ours. Every day he will get an allowance to spend. He will drive around in one of his father’s cars, dress up in fancy clothes and drink coffee in expensive restaurants. On social media, he will post photos with friends on road trips, with girls and expensive whisky. For a moment we would feel jealous and wish we had such a life. For a moment though. The adventure of building a coven outweighs the benefits of staying within one. It comes with scars but is worth it.
The son who chooses to stay creates limits. A father is jealous of his position and mindful of his property. The lion king pretends to love male cubs but when the mane grows on the cub, he knows a threat to the kingdom has come. Whether docile or aggressive, sons are men, suckers of power. The father feels safe to keep providing on the condition the son will not crow or roar. Crowing and roaring are inevitable just like taking a pee or singing in the bathroom. There is pride when a father ensures the son looks presentable enough to stand behind him like a gallant knight.
“He is James, the first born son. He has grown up quite well and we are looking at the next operations manager. Right now he is watching and learning,” the father says to his friends over dinner. When James smiles and nods, he means that the father is still in power and he will do anything as requested.
The independent son is a sworn enemy of the father because instead of being smily-noddy (what the hell is that) he gives opposing suggestions and ideas.
“No dad, if we changed that strategy, we would save more money while reaching out to a higher number of people.”
“This company has used this method for ages. It has always worked, attracting a certain kind of people not any Tom, Jack and Harry,” the father argues out.
“Father, with all due respect, times has changed and this is outdated, time consuming and way more…” he derails off as the father reacts dramatically.
“Are you trying to call me conservative and outdated? That is very disrespectful. If you continue like this, the board will be more than glad to let you go.”
“Fine. I will walk away before they do so.”
“You will regret this decision son. Think then act. You are abandoning an empire for what? A crazy dream.”
The son will move a couple of inches of his father’s face and glare.
“Sometimes death comes coated in an enticing cover called wealth, you always said that when I was a kid. Long before it killed you. I am not ready to take that path.”
Fatherhood looks easy on the outside but it’s complicated inside. A father is a source of inspiration, funds and counsel. He is not allowed to make mistakes but again there is no standard except what he knows or picked from his father. Here and now decisions are not the best but fathers are expected to make them and they should be flawless.
Fatherhood is temporary and happens in a flash. One day your son is asking you about where he came from, the other moment he is a father just like you.