Three years before you were born, I made a neighbour’s son cry. He was about three years old and I thought he was becoming too unruly so I decided to punish him. It was a slap or a pinch or something but I am sure he cried. Unbeknown to me, the other kids with him were taking notes.
I didn’t see anything untoward in what I did. I had spent a few of my former years as a teacher and I still believed that it takes the whole society to raise a child. But when his mother showed up that evening, I knew I should have done better.
WHO ARE YOU?
We didn’t exchange harshly, but if one could squeeze the 1,001 questions from the mother and blend them into juice, the extract would be: “You don’t have a child yet; so who are you to discipline other people’s children?”
Then you were born. With that came a spellbinding smile, overnight cries, the tireless desire to play and the general testing the patience of any adult handling you.
The patience-testing happened in many ways. Often, it was at night when you decided to become a diagonal line in bed. A line is the shortest distance between two places and many are the times you decided to be the shortest distance between your mum and dad, defying your designated sleeping position and rotating with the earth as you slept.
Sometimes it was during mealtimes when you would do more spreading than eating. You were not the best of eaters and often your food would end up in your cheeks and from there it would end up in the clothes of whoever was feeding you. The saying goes: “Sleep with the dogs and get the fleas.” But you changed it to be: “Feed Ji-Jee and get the food stains.”
NOT THE SAME
Such antics of yours made me realise that raising a finger against someone else’s child is not the same when a person has their own.
And it wasn’t long before it dawned on me that I should have handled that nagging boy differently that day. As I write this, you are at least two years younger than the boy I punished but I’m sure your antics would surely get into the nerves of anyone.
Perhaps that is why by the time you were born, Kenyans had watched several video clips of house helps captured by secret cameras mercilessly clobbering their employers’ kids. A 2014 clip from Uganda showed a female house help punching a hapless baby as if she had been taking lessons from a “pastor” who once threw his child against a wall in an apparent exorcism procedure.
It takes the patience of three monks to cope with your own child, and your birth taught me that if one is not a parent, one will lose one’s cool pretty easy.
But caution in handling other people’s children was not the only transformation. You also made me a softer person, a man who could shed tears.
It was until I found myself shedding tears when a tragedy happened at a boarding secondary school in Nairobi that I realised that fatherhood had made me softer and more emotional.
On the morning of September 2, 2017, the day you turned exactly eight months, I was sent on an assignment at Moi Girls Nairobi. Nine girls had died after a fire broke out in one dormitory and I had to go there on behalf of my employer. My job entailed attending to such emergencies, and I had gone to sites where people had died before.
But unlike previous events where I had covered tragedies, on this one I cried. The sight of a father breaking down after failing to locate his daughter was too painful to bear, even for someone who was expected to be a neutral bystander like me. So, I found myself breaking down.
That was a first because in the many tragedies I had attended, not even the wails of those who had lost their loved ones had made me cry. But this one was exceptional.
Days later, while searching the internet on what had happened, I chanced upon an article published in 2010 by Daily Mail: “Research shows that levels of oxytocin, the ‘cuddle chemical’ released into the blood during labour, also rise in new fathers,” it said.
“It is thought that in the months after becoming a father, the hormones rewire men’s brains, making them more empathic,” it added. And with that I had found the answer.
In 2017, men with an overly soft side risked being called “sissies” and all I can tell you for now is that your birth converted me into one happy and unapologetic sissy.
This series brings you writings by PETER MOGAMBI, a Nairobi residentwho became a father in January 2017. By the time his son is old enough to read and comprehend, which is at least 11 years from today, a lot of water will have passed under the bridge. So, he has decided to preserve happenings in black and white so that when the boy can finally comprehend, he will get to follow his father’s feelings.