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DEAR SON: Why you shouldn't judge other parents

Friday December 8 2017

Whatever the story is, however unhealthy a child looks, fatherhood has taught me not to be so quick to condemn parents of any unhealthy-looking child. ILLUSTRATION | IGAH

Whatever the story is, however unhealthy a child looks, fatherhood has taught me not to be so quick to condemn parents of any unhealthy-looking child. ILLUSTRATION | IGAH 

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Dear Jijee,

Nowadays I don’t silently rebuke at any parent I see carrying a child whose nose is clogged with mucus.

There were times I used to automatically hate such parents. My musing would be something like: “I mean, someone who has borne a baby cannot find time to clean their child’s nose? You only had one job, parent.” But today I am wiser; thanks to you, dear son. And I know that it is not always the parent’s fault.

A child, however young, can scream and cause a stink at any attempt to clean their nose such that it is better off letting them be: let mucilaginous noses run. And there were times I had to let your nose run, however unsightly the viscous fluid looked.

Then there is a woman (I will not name her because I still treasure my jawbone) who I used despise because of her untidy house and stained sofa cushions. I once hated her for being an untidy, carefree plain Jane who could not do the simple task of keeping her house tidy.

My thoughts then would be along the lines of, “How can a house look like the children of the devil alongside their pet pigs were using it as a playground yet the household has a mother?” But nowadays all I have for her is empathy.

She had a young child and did not have a house help. She has never had one, five children later. I empathise with her because youngsters in an age like the one you are in as I pen this — 11 months — have no sense of tidiness. A simple hand movement and a whole bowl of food is spilled on the floor or the sofa. And as the cleaning up starts, you are crawling towards a risky spot at the sitting room, distracting your handler. Basically, no time for cleaning up anything if you are alone with your child.

Heaven only knows the many times I have wished that no visitor comes to the house by surprise because there are moments when your handiwork leaves the living room looking like the devil’s children came to dig up where they will hide when trumpets are sounded from the four corners of our spherical earth. At other times you leave items sprawling all over in a manner reminiscent of a blown-up house in Aleppo.

That aside, nowadays I’ve learnt not to judge parents who look well-off but their children appear emaciated. While I’m making no excuses for those who do not provide healthcare for their offspring, it happens every so often that a kid will reject food. It gets worse when the baby is not yet able to speak so they can say what they would like to eat.

Whatever the story is, however unhealthy a child looks, fatherhood has taught me not to be so quick to condemn parents of any unhealthy-looking child. Luckily for you, you have your low and high days, meaning that in total, you are an above average eater. But the low-appetite episodes are a real bother, if my discussions with other parents are anything to go by.

You may create room for your jaw for this: I’ve finally come to forgive women who breastfeed their children in public. Many were the times I thought it was a habit that should have been left in the 18th century when the breaking news items of the moment were about ageing sages foreseeing metallic snakes slithering all over Kenya.

But ever since you came along, I have realised that it was my perspective that was atavistic. There are times when a mother cannot find any private space and the child is wailing, sending threats about calling 911 and/or filing a lawsuit for neglect and gross mishandling — all those communicated through the coded language of crying at full volume.

So what does the mother do? Pull out the milk store and let the kid gulp their fill. That may be smack in the middle of a church session where 1,065 souls are trying to catch the eye of their maker. I do not detest such actions any more. The baby comes first.

Besides that, I have also come to understand why the great Swahili ancestors came up with the saying, “Mtoto akinyea paja halikatwi (A child’s thigh is not chopped off because he/she has defecated on it).” I have seen times when you did your number twos in a manner so scary that someone can actually contemplate cutting it off. Thank you, dear Swahili wise men for your invaluable piece of advice.


This series brings you writings by PETER MOGAMBI, a Nairobi resident who 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.