I have always imagined us having a long, heart to heart conversation on Father’s Day. Never did it occur to me it would happen after I became a new father.
Looking at my baby photo that still nestles in its old-school green and white frame on your living room wall, I wonder what must have gone through your mind the day you first looked at me, fresh from the maternity ward with an obviously tired but happy mum.
Did you know that I would grow up from the round-cheeked infant with large, inquisitive eyes to become this unassuming writer who loves reading and writing stories about ordinary people?
Maybe you did; after all, you surrounded me with books, newspapers and magazines. I learnt to love them from an early age. Well, that was after I outgrew my childish tendencies of scribbling in them and tearing out some pages, driven by the curiosity to explore a new and exciting world.
To this day, some of the books still carry the marks of my childishness. Perhaps I did more damage to them than my relatively calmer younger siblings.
One time, my mother was away on night duty as a nurse in the hospital and you had to put me to bed.
I recall how you washed my feet, gently wiped me with a towel and placed a generous serving of that evening’s meal before me.
“Time to eat, Boi,” you said, using my nickname with a gentle but no-nonsense look. I knew better than to try and say something smart then.
Such kindness was present in your hands that were equally firm in holding me in place when I was injured during a soccer match with friends.
I had decided to personally nurse the wound without intervention from you and mum, and after a few days it turned an ugly purple.
On that unforgettable evening, you both made sure I had eaten then engaged me in small talk. As I relaxed, enjoying the conversation, you suddenly grabbed me in a secure grip while mum squeezed the pus out of my toe and cleaned the wound with cotton wool and spirit, then dressing it.
My screams did nothing to stop you two, but the action probably saved me from losing my toe.
I was the ever talkative one in the house, ever chattering about one thing or the other. You were, however, patient enough to answer my endless questions and teach me how to spell the new, big words that I kept finding in the grown-up books, newspapers and magazines on the shelf.
Like a river flows to the sea, I grew to love reading the Bible and children’s authors. As my appetite for big words and complicated story lines grew, I later branched out and began to enjoy the adult titles.
Your carefully preserved music collection still plays in my mind.
You never tolerated laziness, under-performance in academics, dishonesty and disrespect for all, including God.
“Laziness and failure in schoolwork is the highway to poverty. Failure to pray is the devil’s loophole to cause disease and misfortune in your life," you would say, wagging a warning finger at me. "Always pray so that God gives you wisdom to succeed.”
As a teacher, your hands were quick to use the cane whenever I went out of line.
Adolescence gave birth to many rows between us, leading to my eventual rebellion and disastrous adventures with drugs and alcohol. You still remained my friend and prime source of tough love.
“Boi, you cannot drink like that when you don’t have a job! Where will you get the money to sustain your extravagant lifestyle except by getting into criminal activities and end up being shot dead by the police?” you exploded one day as I staggered into the house.
Thank God I finally sobered up.
All your toughness notwithstanding, I never saw you shout at, insult or hit my mother. That is something I hope to carry into my children’s lives.
Eloquent, with polished manners and ever smart in a suit and tie, I was proud of you in conversations with schoolmates and friends. I must confess, most were in awe of you, especially when you spoke English. Your equally talented English students, who became journalists and editors, now guide and mentor me.
My wife and I welcomed Nadine a month ago. With those large, curious eyes looking up at me as I hold her, she looks a lot like her Dad and Grandpa. I will do my best, but God knows if I will ever be half the father you were. Happy Father’s Day. Thanks for a lifetime of unmatched love.
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What would you like your dad to know this Father’s Day? Can you say it in 800 words? Email: [email protected]