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Fatherhood: You just keep fumbling in darkness, finding your rhythm

Saturday June 22 2019


To all dads out there struggling through this but striving to be better, happy belated Father’s Day. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK 

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Every end of term, parents are expected to sit down with their children’s class teacher to discuss their performance. One time my daughter’s teacher was complaining that she hardly participates in class. That she never raises her hand even though she knows the answer. That she’s very quiet and reserved, smart but distracted and somewhat careless. He asked me, “What do you think you can do to help her come out more? Maybe you can speak to her?” I said, “We do nothing. We let her be.” Because I was exactly like her in school. I was as quiet as a pond. Completely distracted. Double lessons completely tired me. In the second lesson I could hear nothing but my rumbling fantastical thoughts. I never got into trouble or truancy, kept my nose clean all throughout primary and high school. So I recognise my genes in her. We are leopards. We don’t make noise. We stand in the shadow. My grandfather was the quiet one. I took after him and my daughter takes it from me.

If my daughter is chalk, my five-year-old son is cheese. Whenever I’ve picked him from class and we are walking together through corridors, he’s always high fiving kids, and they are waving at him and shouting, “Bye, Leeroy! Bye baba Leeroy!” He’s talkative and buoyant and happy, always smiling, and he throws this sunny persona at people; and people responds to him. Whenever I run into a female friend, he’s always hurling into them for a hug. (He particularly likes big boned women; I have noticed). He’s so full of love and he gives it furiously but also expects it back. He’s also very sensitive, easily hurt, his emotions always on his sleeve. He gets most of these genes from his mother, this sunny and smiley disposition. His mother takes that from her late father, a man who had lots of love, who never judged anyone, and who was very curious. Genetics is a mad thing.

Last Sunday was Father's Day. Fatherhood is a complex thing riddled with questions, errors, trials and disappointments; and you have to understand all these genes and personalities. It starts with being terrified because nobody sends you home with a handbook on how to be a father. You just keep fumbling in darkness, finding your rhythm. Part of it is informed by learning from other fathers, from listening to other fathers and learning, from reading. Mostly you unconsciously make decisions based on how your own father made decisions or the direct opposite of him and even still you are never quite confident that you are nailing it. You are affronted by insecurity daily; are you spending enough time with them, what if you are completely unable to school them in university because you lost your legs and two teeth; will you live long enough to see them into adulthood? And what if they turn out badly — like sell drugs and molest animals — because of decisions you made? What do they think of you? Are they proud of you as a father or do you embarrass them with your tight striped shirts? Are you a good father?

But then at some point you start running into gems of wisdom; and you start forming your own template of what your role is and what your limitations are therein. You realise that children are like planting a seedling. You dig a nice hole in the ground in a fertile place and you deposit your seed. (Oh no). You then look up and tell God, Lord, I leave this in your hands but He protests, he says, “No, you won’t. Take responsibility.” He doesn’t send rain but He shows you where water is, so you water your seedlings daily. After nine months there is crowning. A little sprouting. A small tree emerges and you are excited you jump up and down and tell everyone that now you have your own small plant. You keep watering it. Keeping an eye on this tree. It grows stronger. A goat comes and tries to eat its leaves and you throw a rock at it. It runs over the fence. At some point you can’t do much for the plant but let it grow. No goat can eat it, unless an elephant sits on it. You just have to leave it to grow into the kind of tree it wants to be. And you can’t even expect it to grow like other tree.

But it’s all worth it. There are chaps who want to wait to be financially stable to get children. Don’t. Get a child now. Tonight. It’s all worth it. To all dads out there struggling through this but striving to be better, happy belated Father’s Day.