The first time my father and I talked about sanitary towels was through a school shopping list. Every new term, he would sit my sister and me down and make us write down every little last thing we needed in school.
There were always the usual items — pens, exercise books, writing pads (oh, the wonderful days of letter-writing) — and then there were the pads. He always stopped there. He would either circle it or underline it.
“What is this?”
“Pads, baba,” I would respond, always in that incredulous tone he never seemed to catch.
“But you have already listed writing pads as the third item.”
“They are not those kinds of pads.”
“Then which ones are they?”
“They are sanitary towels.”
“Towel? Don’t you have a bathing towel already?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then I am not giving you money for an extra towel.”
And just like that, he would cancel out pads from the list firmly with two thick strokes and that would be it! I would always find a way of buying cheaper items on the list to save up enough money to buy pads. I had not yet mastered the language of speaking to my father about my womanhood. About reminding him that I had become a woman and my needs had changed.
We did not have to worry about such conversations when mum was alive but her absence at the peak of my adolescence made it necessary. My father took his new double role so seriously that he even had an input on our facial creams and “those things you wear inside your clothes…take this money and buy some”. He never called underwear by its name.
But of all the things that flustered him, it was perhaps our blossoming into women that did it the most.
How do you tell a father that has loved you as a little girl that it was time to love you as a young woman?
In retrospect, I can only chalk it up to his being in denial that I was no longer the Kafei, as he fondly used to call me, but was now Faith.
When I was in high school, he still bought me chips every year on my birthday, just like he had done when I was a little girl.
When I turned 16, the same year that my mother passed away, I told him I needed more grown-up clothes and not the frilly-frilly dresses he wanted me and my small sister to wear.
He gave me a white shirt he had bought for himself earlier.
“I think it suits you better. It is womanly.”
He handed me the shirt as I regarded it with trepidation. It was the manliest shirt I had ever set my eyes upon.
It was also the first time he had used the word woman in reference to me. That wasn’t lost on me.
I had always been an obedient child, but when I turned 18, I briefly indulged in a rebellious phase. I went to visit friends one day and came home past 7pm, which was way past the 6pm curfew.
“Faith, you know it is not safe for you to be walking around unaccompanied at night,” he said solemnly as he always did.
We had moved to Nairobi from a tiny town and he always had this story or that about something bad that happened to this person or that. This time I was “ready” with an answer:
“I am not a child anymore, baba, I have an ID!”
I don’t know what I imagined an ID would protect me from but I was spoiling for a fight.
“Alright,” he said.
The “alright” was laced with some kind of threat because I never stayed out that late again. At least, not until I joined university.
I had a conversation about relationships with my father once. It went something like this:
“Those Toms, Dicks and Harrys will give you Aids.”
That was it. There was no preamble, no introduction, no conclusion. He told me this as he gave me his mobile phone to use to text. I did not own a phone then and a boy I liked was using my father’s phone to text me.
There was never any other conversation about relationships.
My father’s love for me was manifested in the things he did rather than in the things he said.
Like when I was 10 years old and he let me go to his office and use the secretary’s typewriter.
Or when I was 16 and he sneaked a small radio into school because I told him I “couldn’t stand the boredom”.
“Hide it quickly, someone might see you! I put in some fresh batteries,” he said in a conspirator’s whisper.
Or when I was walking with him in town when I was 17 and a madman tried to touch me inappropriately. My father swung a kick at him. It narrowly missed the rather agile lunatic but my heart swelled with pride in having a father that protected me.
Or when I was 18 and he took me to the district commissioner’s office to help me fill out the ID form.
Or when he bought me my first camera when I was 19 because I told him I wanted to become a journalist.
Or when I was 20 and was joining university and he helped me carry my suitcase to the hostel and insisted on meeting my room-mate!
These are the peculiar yet precious memories that I carry of my father.
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