FOR THE CHILDREN OF ABSENCES AND SILENCES, IT’S A BLEAK DAY INDEED

“No love for my daddy cos the coward wasn’t there,
He passed away and I didn’t cry,
Cos my anger, couldn’t let me feel for a stranger”

Today, the world celebrates a most alienating and divisive day. Father’s Day shames single mothers and excludes widows. It stirs dormant doubts in the minds of young people trying to make peace with a reason they have learnt to live with: he died in a war. He left. For studies abroad. To work far away. He used to be a powerful man. He went to the best schools. He once worked for Barclays in West Africa.

Fathers’ Day is completely unlike Mothers’ Day. Everyone has a mother. Everyone knows who their mother is, and where she is. Biologically, everyone has a father too. But in the true meaning of parenthood, very few people have fathers. The sort of fathers Father’s Day was designed for: giants upon whose shoulders we stand to see far, the heroes who catch us should we fall, protectors, providers, leaders and guides, the constant rock ever present in our lives.

Fathers are missing. Gone with the wind. Dead. Wrecked beyond redemption. Those that are there – the ones who show up – are daunted by the demands of a changing world which has overturned masculinity, challenged manhood and ridiculed fatherhood according to the traditions of patriarchy.

Men are alienated, confused and angry, and this angst is compounded by the expectation that somehow, they will pull themselves together sufficiently to reasonably perform in the fraught role of father. Fathers are no longer those terrifying, reassuring brave presences in our lives.

Father sitting with son on the stairs.  Getty stock image.   Original Filename: 85756520.jpg

Father sitting with child on the stairs. Getty stock image.

Fathers today are potbellied sissies who go into a funk when Hamilton slips behind in Singapore. Fathers today are those terrified wretches whimpering, “Yes, Madam…….At once, Madam, ………It will not happen again, Madam….” over the cellphone as Junior lies patiently on his back, waiting to resume the play session.

Fathers today have younger women and men for landlords. They cannot drive a nail into the wall without some youngster’s permission, and they simply must behave. Men are not equal. Men can be poor. Men can be sidekicks and underlings. There are no tribal wars of conquest for our men to prove themselves, with cattle and brides as just rewards for valour. The watchman tells you how to get in, the conductor tells you where to sit, your boss tells you what to do: you have no say. Manhood is cracking under systematic onslaught, because it has no mechanisms to reinvent itself in a new world.

But if you think that fathers and men have it rough, you are mistaken. The children have the short end of a stick. Let us take a moment to reflect on the inner turmoil of a child who knows beyond all doubt that her father is a deadbeat, ne’er do well. Who has seen his mother fight blistering manly battles to garner a bursary from the MCA, HELB through Mheshimiwa.

Whose mother works her ass off everyday, comes home to do the homework, cook, tend to the brood and balance the budget as Daddy frets over a Sudoku clue while clipping his toe nails. Whose mother daily pleads with god to be the head of this household because Daddy is essentially an effigy. Who has seen their father afraid, uncertain, cornered, helpless.
Take a moment and remember the little boy who has learnt those fateful adjectives too early: biological, illegitimate. Who has noticed the implications of his incomplete or awkward name and the significant silences that rend mundane conversations when he is in the room. Who looks at every male stranger with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Who looks at everyone in the world, spotting resemblances and differences, constantly consulting a secret mirror, always asking, “Who do I look like?” Who has learnt that adults, families and entire communities can lie to you quite shamelessly: alienda Kosovo.

Angola. Eritrea. Peacekeeper. Your identity is appropriately woven with the destinies of communities in turmoil. Somalia. Liberia. He died. He never came back. He hasn’t come back. And as you grow older, you become a stakeholder in peace processes, silently praying for ceasefires so that your father can return. Following Boutros Ghali become Kofi Annan and then Ban Ki Moon without every yielding your missing father. Suspecting all along that it is a lie and that the truth has been vouchsafed beyond your reach forever more.
Or indeed he died. You know he did. You were at the burial. You know the spot where he is buried. Ever since, you are the widow’s child, mtoto wa marehemu, object of pity, something different in a fundamentally unlucky way.

Relegated to the back of every queue, living of the benevolence of strangers. Expected to drop out. Living off a borrowed father who must stand and speak for you at negotiations, at initiation, who must draw whatever comfort he can out of the fact that the community will eventually sort you out, albeit grudgingly and gracelessly.
Fathers’ Day when children relearn that they are different, and that that difference is important. It is a day when society assembles its children and divides them in two: those with fathers and thought without. The legitimate and the illegitimate.

The valid and the rejected. Fathers’ Day is the day a lone boy will steal glances at the door, at the gate all day and shed painful silent tears in the dark of the night. Fathers’ Day is the day society drops its guard to signal to children who-we-really-are: callous hypocrites, worshippers of a decaying patriarchy, rank bigots.It is a day children learnt to pretend to be happy that Roy and Njoki took cards and gifts to Daddy and he accompanied them because his Daddy is away, to accept that they are different in an ominous way. It is a day when the pillars of certainty and trust are shaken by unkind reminders, when children cry within because they are the children of silence; the offspring of empty spaces: at family gatherings, in conversations, in official documents, in stories.

Fathers’ Day is a bleak day for them who will never, ever utter the words, “my father used to tell me…..”, whose children will never have grandfathers, whose spouses will never have fathers’-in-law, etc, etc. Silences and empty spaces all the days of their lives.
Absences and silences are the father of many kids. Let’s see if they will have a happy Fathers’ Day.favicon

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