Cheers to foster dads

Father and daughter

It takes a special person to raise a child, but I especially honour those fathers that raise children that they did not sire.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Without Mzee’s regular advice, I would not be anyone’s wife material today.
  • I lived in my grandmother’s house next door, but Mzee set the standards in terms of discipline and fatherly concern.

Mzee is how we refer to him, my maternal uncle, the father who raised us - my siblings and I - when we lost our mother very early in life.

Mzee had his young family but did not hesitate to get all the four of us into his fold. Additional four mouths to feed, clothe, shelter, educate. His wife, my aunt, or Mathey as we call her is the most graceful woman I know. She embraced us as her very own. It is only now that I realise how much of a sacrifice this took. 

We make a big deal about mothers, understandably. Who else can put up with feeling as if they are growing an alien in their tummy? Then go through mind-numbing pain to bring us to this world and still manage to love us unconditionally, sacrificially?

Fathers’ Day is coming up on Sunday and I realise without Mzee’s regular advice, I would not be anyone’s wife material today. Our fathers may not make such grand and dramatic public demonstrations of their contribution to our being on the planet, but they are the unsung heroes in our lives. 

I lived in my grandmother’s house next door, but Mzee set the standards in terms of discipline and fatherly concern. It was clear that boys were not to be tolerated until we were 40! At least that is how it felt.

Crystal clear message 

We, the girls were only to get entangled with men when we were done with our college schooling and were fully employed. Then we were to bring home an honourable young man for the introductions. This message was crystal clear because it was repeated over time in subtle ways. Mzee did not beat or shout at us, but his voice and look were enough to get you to the straight and narrow path.

When I was at the university, I manned his laundry business in Isiolo. Mzee was particularly stern with the army guys that frequented the laundry. They were notoriously famous with the women and girls, but I do not recall a moment I was able to exchange even a glance with one, leave alone a word.

Once, I managed to sneak out for a late afternoon date with Ahmed, my agemate then at 19 who was also joining college in a few months. We were extremely nervous. Ahmed had arranged a romantic ice cream treat. It was my first time to taste ice cream and I remember rushing to warm it up because that date could not go past the hour.

I truly think Mzee had hired secret service agents because no sooner had I snuck back home than he showed up, very upset. Word had already got to him. I was whisked away to my grandmother’s for the next three weeks before campus resumed.

Present father 

“We are not welcoming any babies in this home unless they are visiting.” 

That was Mzee’s stern warning about early pregnancy. His children- my cousins - and we got the message. We all only got babies once were fully grown and earning our incomes. Now, he is more than happy to welcome our babies. It is because of Mzee that I did not grow up with father issues.

He was my present father in word and deed. I might have had an emotional wound from the relationship with my stepfather, but Mzee demonstrated what father love entails. He is still the father I run to when my world is not going right, the first I share with my good news. 

It is because of Mzee and Mathey that I know a person can truly love a child as deep as they love their biological one. Do you know how we know that we are loved? They have never made us feel indebted or reminded us of how much of a sacrifice it took to raise us. I realise that we consider them as our parents because we are as thankless as children can be towards their parents! We show up unannounced, empty-handed and are received with hugs and warm meals.

My siblings and I continue to experience a father’s love and commitment, something we would never have known. I still do not know how they did it, other than it took a lot of love and sacrifice. It takes a special person to raise a child, but I especially honour those fathers that raise children that they did not sire. In extension, I salute their wives who support them in that decision.

Karimi is a wife who believes in marriage. [email protected]

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