The two men hugged and cried, then hugged and cried some more. It was a father and his son who had fallen out for a decade.
Graduation days are emotional but this one had more reasons for the copious amounts of tears. The father struggled to find words to explain the how and the why on things not working out. The son, too, was lost for words.
Looking at them from a distance was Mr Simon Mbevi who, together with a team of facilitators, had made the reconciliation possible.
“There is nothing like two men hugging and crying as they release the pain of the past,” says Mr Mbevi as he relives events of that day.
The reunion had been made possible through a programme he runs, called Man Enough. Though the father and the son had gone through the programme separately, when they met for graduation they felt the time was nigh to bury the hatchet.
Mr Mbevi recalls some of the messages they exchanged.
“Dad, this is why I hated you,” one said.
“Son, that was not what I really intended. I’m sorry you misunderstood me,” the other replied.
Mr Mbevi’s programme, Man Enough, is among the few thriving initiatives focusing on men and nurturing boys to be upright and productive people in society.
There is also Hodari Boys Club, Mother’s Delight and Boys to Men — all based in Nairobi — that offer different types of support for men to fit more effectively in society.
The Man Enough programme, under the Transform Nations company founded by Nairobi-based Mr Mbevi, encourages men to come together and be real with each other. The men share their experiences and exchange their experiences.
“Men do not naturally open up about their issues like women,” says Mr Mbevi.
“For a man to open up, he needs a safe place where he doesn’t feel judged to talk about the pain of his past,” he adds. This, he says, is therapeutic and men really value it.
Giving the example of the man who reunited with his son, he says one of the highlights of the programme is to help men deal with whatever ghosts are plaguing them.
“When men know how to handle their pain and how they deal with it, they are better people,” he says.
He cites another case where a man in one of the programmes was violent to his wife.
“After one of our classes that we call “wounded warrior” where we encourage the men to walk back in time to face their buried emotions, he realised that the pain was inflicted on him by his parents as a child. He reached out to his wife with whom they had separated and opened up to her and explained his violent behaviour. The couple reconciled and are together to date,” says Mr Mbevi.
“Unresolved pain is likely to show up unless it is dealt with,” he explains.
Man Enough also focuses on reviving the traditional values where men get to sit together and talk about their masculinity and the challenges they face.
“I’m a firm believer that men are made among other men,” says Mr Mbevi.
A good number of men have “father wounds” as a result of passive, absent or dads that were too harsh, explains Mr Mbevi.
The majority, he says, are “unfathered” — where the dad abandoned or is deceased; “underfathered” — where the father barely has time for them or “misfathered” — where a father is abusive, angry or a drunkard.
This programme usually runs during school holidays and focuses on holiday camps. Its founder Mr Bonnie Kagiri wanted to design something where he could give mothers a break from parenting.
When Mr Kagiri decided to go camping with his two sons, seven and five years, he had no idea that it was the beginning of something bigger. Having done physiology in college, he perfectly understood the role of a dad in the lives of his children and was keen on imparting them.
“It was during their holidays and I wanted to spend some time with them in a different environment far from home,” says Mr Kagiri. But when he mentioned this to his friends, they all wanted to join and this first camp ended up having about 20 dads and their children, thus Mother’s Delight was born.
“When you get out of your comfort zone, it not only helps you see how your children can deal with challenges but it also helps them to grow and learn some skills and lessons they would never learn at home or school,” explains Mr Kagiri.
He adds: “You cannot fully understand your child when at home. However, when you have to pitch up the tents at camp together and make breakfast together, you begin to observe various traits in your child.”
SHARE THE MOMENT
Mr Kagiri’s sons Henry, 7, and Ndung’u, 5, are always looking forward to the holiday camps.
“I enjoyed swimming in the river and helping dad make breakfast,” offers Henry. “I also did zip-lining though I was scared the first time I did it,” says the youngster.
One of the people who have previously made use of the programme is Martin Karuga. He went camping with his five-year-old son and says the experience encourages dads to share the moment as they bond and have fun.
“Parenting is more sharing and seeing than telling them ‘not to’,” says Mr Karuga. “When the children see how you react in different circumstances, they learn patience, creativity and resilience.”
He notes that his son has become a very independent little adult “and has learnt to speak his mind”.
“Camping breaks some barriers and your children learn to trust you and are more open with you,” he says, adding that the boy has also become courageous after seeing his dad jump into a river.
Mr Karuga encourages other dads to create memories with their sons.
“The only memories I remember were my dad playing football with me or when he took us for walks at arboretum,” he reminisces.
“You stop being a sponsor to your children and actively contribute to character building.”
His wife Wachuka is excited that her son gets time to go out in the wild and spend quality time with his dad.
“Today my dad and I don’t have much to talk about because this bond wasn’t strengthened in childhood. This is a good avenue for sons to open up and create a lasting bond with their fathers,” she says.
“When they are away, I can breathe,” confesses Ms Wachuka adding “They are with someone I trust 100 per cent and I am also able to do my thing.”
Another man who has seen the benefits of the Mothers’ Delight programme is Edmund Ndegwa, a consultant on health and safety systems. He normally camps with his nephew, Jelani.
“After I attended my first camp with my son I knew I had to tag my nephew along,” explains Mr Ndegwa. “I took it upon myself to be the father figure in his life since his mum is a single mum.”
He asserts that masculinity is transferred and boys need to spend time with father figures who can influence them positively.
“My nephew is seven and his environment is mainly a woman’s world. I realised he needed to be out there with men that could impact him and teach him to be a man,” says Ndegwa who picks him up every weekend to spend time with him.
“Children tend to learn from what they see rather than what we tell them,” he adds.
HODARI BOYS’ CLUB
This initiative focuses more on boys doing their work as required.
Mr Andrew Ritho, an administrator of the club, was enlisted into the club from his days in primary school all the way to university. He told Lifestyle that the club was founded by parents who were looking for a place for boys to study and do their homework.
The Hodari Boys’ Club has daily activities, especially for the older boys who are able to make their way home in the evening.
“The boys come to the club after school to do their homework and also get mentored on character formation,” says Mr Ritho.
“The younger ones come to the club on Saturday for various activities and mentorship,” he adds.
Hodari Boys’ Club is founded on the Opus Dei school of thought and `caters for boys of eight to 18 years and offers various activities like football, karate, piano and guitar lessons, basketball among other games.
“The club also organises father-son camps every holiday where they enjoy bonding sessions as they go fishing, hiking or jumping off cliffs,” explains Mr Ritho.
When the boys are away being mentored and learning to be men, their mothers can take a break.
BOYS TO MEN
This is another initiative under Mr Mbevi’s Transform Nations. But unlike Man Enough, this one focuses more on young boys and its core activity is having fun.
Boys to Men holds monthly events where boys are taken through different events ranging from skating, community service and gp-karting.
They are also taught how to overcome the wounds of their childhood to taking them for movies that call out the masculinity in them.
“We also have holiday editions where we have three to five day events,” says Mr Mbevi.
The boys are taken through lessons where they learn time management and self-awareness as most boys suffer from self-esteem more than girls.
Boys to Men targets boys in schools, churches and provides alternative fatherhood through male mentors.
“The five key roles of a father are summarised in 5Ps: Presence, Providers, Protectors, Priests and Prophet,” explains Mr Mbevi.
“Boys struggle with who they are as men and do not understand their roles in society and suffer from an identity crisis,” he adds.
He himself grew up without a father, meaning he lacked a role model to guide him.
“Like the typical boy, we grow up and were told boys don’t cry and that showing emotions as a man was weak,” explains Mr Mbevi, who lost his father at a tender age. “We learnt to bottle up our feelings from a tender age.”
Unfortunately, these caged emotions come out through violence, not being relational or substance abuse, says Mr Mbevi. That is why he started the Transform Nations company to help out boys in various aspects.
“I started it so that boys would not have to go through what I went through,” says Mr Mbevi, a lawyer by profession.
“When boys grow up without a father, it makes them feel incomplete as they have no one to show them what it means to be a man. We started a mentoring programme, Boys to Men, where we would encourage men to mentor young boys in schools and church,” explains Mr Mbevi.