Over the years, the family unit has undergone a transformation but one thing that has remained constant is the stigma that men raised up by single mothers face.
Many are victims of the condescending views that they are weak due to lack of a ‘father figure’. Is this true?
We spoke to five men who albeit growing up without their fathers, have matured to be men of honour, are hardworking and successful.
NAME: NYAMAWIH CHARO
Occupation: Director, Department of Trade and Cooperative Development, Kwale County
“Most of my childhood memories are encircled with tears and pain because of the humiliation my brother and I went through due to lack of a father figure. I feel like we were judged at a very young age and most people around us thought that we were lesser human beings just because we were children of a single mother. Often, I had to explain why ‘father’ missed in my conversations and up to date, I occasionally have to use ‘Dzifugwa kuche’ which, translated from Duruma language means that ‘I was raised from the female side,’ he ex-plains.
However, Nyamawih’s education background is so impressive that it over-shadows the challenges of his past. In 2006, he was the top Kenya Certificate of Secondary School (K.C.S.E) student in Kwale District earning him a place in the Equity Bank Pre –University sponsorship program. After his undergraduate studies at Egerton University where he studied a Bachelor in Economics and Statistics and graduated in 2012, he proceeded for his postgraduate studies at the University of Bath, UK under Chevening scholarship graduating in 2015.
“I learnt the value of education at a very young age. Partly because it is what made me stand out at school but mainly because my mother kept reminding my younger brother and I that only education could change our lives. She often wished that her parents took her to school and that wish became her drive to see us succeed academically,” he says.
Although he lacked guidance from a father figure, he says that his mother did pretty well wearing both shoes, and that is why conversations that tend to tarnish men raised by single mothers as sissy often stir him into a sly laughter.
“It is unfortunate that people would think of us as cowards or weak men. Un-known to most, being raised by a single mother moulds a strong man,” he points out and adds,
“while in class four, at just nine years, I had to assume the fatherly role to provide when my mother became very sick that could not even walk by her-self. It was then that I learnt all about decision making because every morning, my brother and I had to decide which classes to attend. Attending classes for a whole day signified hunger and for two terms, we attended school half a day, with the other spent doing meagre jobs to eke a living.” Surprisingly, that year, he still topped his class.
“I don’t know how I would have turned out if my father was present but through my mother’s and teachers’ guidance, I am proud of the man I am to-day,” he says.
Through his childhood experiences, Nyamawih describes himself as easy going, hardworking and a solution provider.
“Back in primary school, when there were fewer desks, I reused wood and timber from broken desks, seats and tables to make shifts-desks. I also planted trees to prevent soil erosion. Such efforts and activities ensured there was so much for other children to emulate than ridicule, provoke and speak ill of me. However, for the boys and girls who never knew my background, of course life was seamless with them,” he explains.
“Single mothers out there, I would advise, from my experience, tend your children at an early age. The early stages of my life really shaped my thinking, value system and perspectives. I am rarely biased and hard-lined because I seek information. Also, I don’t find it difficult to apologise even when on the right,” he concludes.
NAME: KELVIN GITHAIGA
“Your father should be proud of the young man you’ve become” is a genuine compliment that I have heard many times from a patriarchal point of society’s view which I comically smile back with a “yes, she is” response to their bemusement.
Githaiga finds it amusing that in this day and time, people still attribute proper upbringing to either being from an affluent family background or having both parents with an emphasis of a father figure.
“Nothing apart from my conspicuous surname “Nyambura” would give away that I grew up without a father because I believe I turned out well,” he says, noting that being born in 90’s was challenging. “The social stigma and open discrimination for those of us unfortunately born out of wedlock was at its peak. Unfortunately, this is out of ignorance because the society may not understand tough choices that many single mothers have to make. For instance, in my mother’s case, it was running away from an abusive irresponsive drunkard and unfortunately, her second attempt to marriage also failed. She chose to raise my younger sibling and I alone rather than settle for mediocre standards imposed by the society that merely want to see a married woman, her suffering notwithstanding.”
He confesses that although his mother made a sober decision to raise them alone, his childhood was not as rosy as that of other kids in his neighbourhood.
“I vividly remember that in lower primary school, the definition of a nucleus family consisted of father, mother and children. One day a teacher asked us who would bring their fathers for the parents meeting and I was the only one with my hand down. I also remember being pulled out of a family’s photo session by my aunt protesting the illegitimacy of my name and another time when an aunt refused take my mother to hospital using her husband’s car.
Also, in many occasions, we were tossed from one relative to another be-cause they did not want to be associated with the shame that we were; my mother being jobless and having extra mouths to feed. Because of this, I at-tended more about 10 primary schools. But all these struggles did not deter my mum’s ambitions. Instead, she used all the ropes sent to strangle her to weave bridges.” He reminisces.
After performing very well in his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (K.C.P.E) in 2005 where he set a record that was only broken last year, his mother walked for more than nine Kilometres to secure a vacancy in his preferred secondary school. He not only got a place but also a scholarship in the said school.
Githaiga may have missed the love and affection of a father figure but his closeness to his mother, her tenacity and determination moulded him to the man he is today.
“In retrospect, the challenges that I went through of not having a father figure has made me very intentional. I learnt the need to give back to the society be-cause growing up, I got so much help from strangers” explains the pharmacist.
Today, he is a respected member of the society and a youth mentor at Change Mind Change Future-a Non-Governmental Organisation whose focus is on mentorship and entrepreneurship.
“I have also travelled across the borders for volunteer missions with International Citizenry Service and continue to inspire and fire up less privileged children to rise above their limitations and circumstances. I am also a board member of Decent Conversations, an online platform for healthy and unhealthy relationships, sexual reproductive health among many.” He says.
NAME: KENNETH MCHARO
Occupation: Managing Director, Lukundo Tours & Safari
“I have no idea of how it feels like to have a present father because all my life, because I have only known of my mother’s love and guidance. She bore me at a tender age of 16 and we both experienced a lot of ridicule from family members and the society at large,” Mcharo says.
However, although his father wasn’t present, he is grateful that there were other men in his life who took up the responsibility of offering him guidance and fatherly love that he so much needed.
“It wasn’t easy growing up without a father because I was always an easy pick for humiliation from my close relatives. I lived with my grandmother while my mother worked away from home but visited regularly.
In 2005, while in secondary school, I was overwhelmed with all that was go-ing on around me–being harshly reminded that I needed to identify myself with my father’s side, a father I didn’t know, and that affected my studies.
But, we had a family friend, Gibran Keah who really believed in me and would often visit me in school to offer me advice concerning life and how I needed to change my perspective if I was to be successful. He even introduced me to his brother who is now my spiritual father and mentored me all the way from secondary school to the university. I studied a Bachelor in Economics and Statistics from the University of Nairobi and graduated in 2015,” he explains, continuing to note that the absence of his father challenged him to be a better man and a better husband to his wife and the best father to his daughter.
“Growing up without a father was an experience packed with many lessons to learn. At a young age, I had to learn the value of independence and hard work such that I was able to start a travel and tour company while still at the University. I am also a hardworking father having seen all the struggles that my mother went through to provide for my basic needs such as food and clothing. My father’s absence challenges me to be the best father and I am a better decision maker.”
Mchora is also a leader and while at the University he joined ECOSA and SONU politics. Currently, he represents youth from Taita Taveta at the Youth Senate.
“In the efforts of trying to make a difference in the society, I co-founded a community based organisation – Hope Alive initiative which counsels rape victims and rescues girls from early marriages. I like helping women as a way to say thank you to my mother and the strangers turned friends.” He offers.
NAME: DUNCAN MNYOGHA
“In an ideal family set up, I think it is important for every child to have a present father figure because as a young boy, there are some conversations that you cannot have with your mother.
When my parents separated in 2004, I didn’t see much of a difference probably because I was just nine years. However, when I got into my teen years, transitioning from a boy to man, it occurred to me that there were questions that I couldn’t ask her. I needed a father figure and since he wasn’t there, it took me time to learn some of the things that entangled my adolescence,” he offers.
Mnyogha saw the father figure he wanted in a close relative and although it was mostly by observing how he treated his children and listening as he offered them advice, picking some valuable lessons.
“Although my father wasn’t present when I was growing up, I was intentional about being a man that my mother would be proud of. I think that we shouldn’t allow narrow mindedness to measure an individual’s character based on whether they were raised by one or both parents. When I heard other young boys being urged to work hard by their dads, I made a mental note to do the same, he explains”
He attributes most of his values to his mother who single-handedly worked hard to ensure and his siblings and him had their necessities. It was also through her that he learnt the value of handwork and the need to respect women.
“For some time while studying Bachelor of Commerce at Strathmore University under East Africa Breweries Limited (EABL) scholarship in 2011, (where I graduated in 2015 with first class double major in finance and management science), I was a chauvinist and I wouldn’t have a lady beat me in class. However, by watching my mother, I learnt that ladies are as good as men and sometimes even better. I now respect and honour them, “explains former secretary general, Strathmore Student Council, 2015. I have also learnt the value of forgiveness and right now, I am in contact with my father. We talk and share a lot,” he says.
However, although he has all these valuable attributes, it hasn’t been easy for Mnyogha to find a spouse.
“I think most young men raised up by their mothers grow to be choosy. You find that you are looking for a lady with almost the same characters as your mother. I haven’t been lucky to find one yet.”
NAME: DUNCAN ATANG’A
Occupation: Tax Advisor
When he lost his father at 16 years old, he was at loss on what to do because until his untimely demise, he was the pillar and the family’s breadwinner. He was also the disciplinarian. After his father’s death, one of the greatest lessons that Atang’a had to learn at that young age was how to protect his mother and siblings.
“While my mother was mourning her husband on one hand, she had her in-laws to contend with on the other; because they constantly mistreated her. I had to step up and protect her while still ensuring that I didn’t lag behind in my studies. I was in form three then.
After the dust had settled, I think my mother knew that, at that age, there were some conversations I would have wanted to have with a father figure be-cause she bridged the gap and gave me sex education, deep and better than many young men have received from their fathers,” he reveals.
Besides the sex education, Atang’a who is engaged and set to walk down the aisle in a few months says he was able to pick other valuable lessons that he has inculcated in his love life.
“Seeing her struggle to give us a better life with nothing much but our father’s pension benefits, instilled in me the value of appreciating what I have rather than complain. That lesson has come in handy because I am more grateful to my partner,” he explains.
Through lessons picked from his mother, he is a better friend and a good listener.
“Most of the support we received didn’t even come from our extended family but from my mum’s friends. I also had a great system from my friends and teachers back at school. I might have lost my biological dad but I have had many mentors along the way. This alone has made me a better man and a shoulder to lean on for those in needs.
Being raised by a single mother didn’t affect me in any way. If anything, it has made me better appreciate the roles of both parents in an ideal family set up.” He concludes.