I told you, quite a long time ago now, of a time when I had a drink on all the fathers of the world. That was in 2009 and I was on a short teaching assignment at the University of Bayreuth in Germany.
I picked up my daily necessities from the local grocery store and then, as I was checking out, the kindly matron at the counter pulled down a bottle of excellent Rhine wine and handed it to me. “This,” she said, “is your Father’s Day present.” Pleasure and surprise competed in my mind with the pride I felt on being identified and recognised, especially by a lady, as an obvious father.
I had not even remembered that I had gone shopping on the eve of Father’s Day, as it is today. But there I was, being honoured the Deutsche way nearly 36 years after I had first become a father at Kampala’s historic Nsambya Hospital.
So, now that Father’s Day, the third Sunday in June, is here again, how are we going to celebrate it this year? I know we will watch the World Cup matches in Russia. That is inevitable. But that is not quite the kind of celebration I am thinking of. Neither am I seeking to plunge into the deep, philosophical meditations of what it means to be a father.
Rather, what I have in mind are the simple experiences of fatherhood and how we enjoy them, endure them or evade them. Indeed, this brings me to the three kinds of father that came to my mind as I mused about these male parental creatures with whom each and all of us have something to do.
After all, even if we are not fathers ourselves, we are the daughters or sons of fathers. We may also be the wives, partners or victims of the fathers of our children. We should all, thus, be interested in the way the fathers go about their fathering and how their styles affect all of us. As I said above, I am thinking particularly about three types of fathers.
There are those who enjoy, those who endure and those who evade fatherhood. We shall label them the “fleeting, feckless floater”, the “dour drudging donkey” and the “firm, friendly fun”. Let us have a quick look at them and then see if we can decide which kind of father we are or we want to be, or to have.
The fleeting, feckless floater is just that. I was going to call him a really ugly name, but I remembered that we must remain within the boundaries of decency. This kind of character has no real intention of being a father in the first place. He is an inveterate egotist whose only aim in life is to gratify himself. He never stops to think if and how his actions and adventures will affect those around him.
If he should get a woman with child – as he probably will in his selfish pleasure pursuits – his first response is to deny responsibility. The second is to run. The third is to ignore, that is, behave as if he has nothing to do with the human life that he has caused to come into this world.
That is the woman’s business, from pregnancy to eternity, and it has “nothing to do with him”. Unfortunately, the number of such beastly feckless, floating “fathers” seems to be growing in our societies.
Is it any wonder that our cities and villages are inundated with single mothers and “fatherless children”, while the men responsible are floating around, sowing their wild oats and spreading their malicious damage? There is a species of spider, I hear, in which the female literally eats up the male immediately after mating. The type of men we are talking about here sometimes makes me wish there were such women among us and the feckless floaters would fall into their clutches. Their numbers would at least be reduced.
But let us to talk about the dour, drudging donkeys. These are the fathers who endure fatherhood. They are usually quiet, serious and sober-living men. They are hardworking and always anxious to do the right thing. When fatherhood comes their way, usually in a family relationship, they accept it with equanimity and they try their best to make a good job of it.
But that is just the problem. Such fathers seem to take their children, indeed their family, just as a job. Their one consuming preoccupation is to “provide” for their families. They are so busy working for the welfare of their children that in the end they have “no time” for their children. They are so frequently jumping on and off planes, SGR trains and taxis, clinching deals here and negotiating others there, that they leave their children entirely to the care of their mothers, nannies and television sets.
I have a soft spot for such fathers, and indeed, I wish I could have done as well for my children, materially, as some of these guys do. But their problem is that they never get to “enjoy” their children or have their children enjoy them. Children are, first and foremost, human beings and the highest treasure any human being can share with another is a healthy relationship.
The opportunity to interact intimately with your children, play with them, chat with them, laugh with them, cry and even quarrel with them sometimes, is what makes fatherhood a truly uplifting and edifying experience. You do not spoil your children, but you make them feel absolutely free and at ease with you. That is the “firm, friendly fun” kind of father I tried to be, and enjoyed being.
Trying to share with my children whatever little I had and whatever little I did, made it, and still makes it, a uniquely joyful sentiment to be a father. The best part of it is that my children are, without a doubt, my best friends.
Happy Father’s Day to all fathers, and to our Muslim relatives, Eid Mubarak!
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and Literature. [email protected]