How memories from our past shape our character

Wednesday March 18 2020
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As we mark the Mental Health Awareness month, the government needs to take measures that will demonstrate that it values the mental health of its citizens. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


I don’t know about you, but my way of dealing with unpleasant memories is to banish them from my mind and move on, and until a certain conversation or experience triggers it, I rarely dwell on the past. I was therefore surprised, and more than a little tickled, when someone I know recently mentioned that he had never forgiven his father for going to visit him in school carrying just a newspaper.

Like many of us, this friend went to boarding school in high school, and like many public boarding schools in this country, food is not only a rare commodity, the diet also severely lacks in imagination — it is either weevil-infested githeri, or porridge-like ugali with a dash of watery overstayed cabbage. At least this was the state of boarding school food in my time. Every student therefore looked forward to visiting day, when parents, no, mothers, would go all out and prepare a feast fit for a king. Unfortunately for this friend, his father’s visit did not portend anything worth looking forward to, and whenever he saw him, and not his mother, walking through the gate, his heart would sink.

His dad would nonchalantly walk in, shake his hand, ask him how he was doing in school, and then together, they would walk to the person selling soda and ‘ice’. He would then buy him a bottle of soda and a marble cake or two scones. That would be it. When his mother came, it was another story all together. Her heavy-looking kiondo would produce dish upon dish of mouth-watering food, including chicken and chapatti, which she would watch him stuff himself with, with a satisfied smile on her face.

It is over 20 years later, but he is yet to get over that “demoralising” experience. He thinks this is the reason he sends his mother money, never his father. Ever the optimist, I pointed out that he was luckier than most, because I had schoolmates whose parents did not even bother to show up on visiting days. But he would hear nothing of it. The last thing he’d want, he told me, is for his children to harbour such long-running resentment towards him. With this in mind, he is careful about the image he presents to his children. For instance, he deliberately does the household shopping regularly and buys them clothes, responsibilities that normally fall on mothers in most Kenyan households. The last thing he’d want, he tells me, is for his children to get the impression that it is only their mother that ensures their comfort and cares about their welfare. Twenty years from today when he is old and bent, he wants his children to treat him with the same kind affection they will treat their mother. And yes, even though he is bringing up his children to be independent, and to understand why it is important to make their own money and get their own property, he would want his children to think highly enough of him to give him things too, in his old age.

The writer is the Editor, Society and Magazines; [email protected]