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How a dad’s presence or absence shapes a child

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Through almost every studied culture, fathers have assumed three primary roles: the protector, the provider, and the disciplinarian.

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From ‘You look beautiful, my daughter’ to early morning prayers, the role of a father transcends mere biological ties. The absence or presence of a father plays a big role in how we turn out as adults.

A father shapes the confidence of his daughter and ensures a child does not grow up with wounds of rejection and hopelessness.

For Victoria Kaka, what she remembers most about her father is how he would religiously drop and pick her up every morning and evening. She never took a school bus.

Her father has also supported her through the different careers she wanted to pursue.

“He has always believed in me. When you have a strong support system, you become a go-getter. Just after high school, I wanted to further my studies abroad, and my dad would accompany me to the cybercafé to apply. Though I did not succeed, in that season, he encouraged me,” says Victoria.

Victoria Kaka

Victoria Kaka says her father has supported her through her career choices.

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Resilience is Victoria’s second ‘omitted’ name, given to her by her dad. She says that even after the failed application, she did not wallow in self-pity but made an application to be admitted to the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

“I remember during my final year when we were doing a project, Dad bought me a research methodology book to guide my group mates and I. We did our project, but the supervisor delayed the results, and we feared not graduating. When my group mates were discouraged and did not have the stamina to go on, I was their rock.”

Victoria remembers when she was young and would share a birthday party with her father.

“We didn’t share a birthday, just a birthday month. But he would postpone his celebration so that we could share a double party and cut the cake together…it was a nice moment,” she says.

Also, since Victoria’s dad was a teacher, he would write schemes when she was doing her holiday homework.

“My dad loves singing, so I grew up learning how to sing. At a tender age, we would have so many moments of singing because this is one of the things he used to instil faith in us. To date, I love music, and even though I haven’t pursued it yet, I’m heavily considering joining a music school.”

Honour parents

One of the dearest lessons engraved in Victoria’s heart that she learned from her dad is the fear of God.

She shares that knowing her identity in Christ has given her a great advantage in relating to others since she cannot be easily influenced.

She adds: “Dad also taught me how to honour my parents. I know I can never go wrong in honouring my parents. Even in the making of my decisions, things I think, and talk about…are in honour of them.”

As it is the expectation of most parents, especially those with children in national schools, exceptional results are desired.

So, when Victoria’s exam results were poor, especially in Form Four, she was stressed out, to say the least.

“On one opening day, Dad asked two teachers to continue encouraging me and helping with revision. At home, during the holidays, when he would wake me up to revise, he would first take me to our family altar to pray with and for me,” she recalls, saying such memories always leave her with a smile on her face.

Like Victoria, Winner Mwende has reaped and is still reaping the joys of having a present dad.

She says that one of her earliest memories with her dad is teaching them (her brother and her) Kamba - their native language, and sharing life lessons through stories.

“I remember him telling off a certain boy who was mannerless and would relieve himself beside the road even after being warned several times. One time, after repeating what he was to stop doing, he heard a voice coming from behind him. It was his waste following him! It seemed to sing, “I will go with you! I will go with you!”

Winner Mwende

Winner Mwende, 21, attributes her life's trajectory to having a present father.

Photo credit: Pool

In her electrical engineering career, Winner attributes her success to her dad’s diligence in supporting her dream, which she says the journey began way back in ensuring she got enrolled in the high school of her dreams.

“My dream school was in Nakuru. He would go there almost three times every week for about two months to ensure I got an opportunity to study at my school of choice. I thank God that his efforts paid off because I joined the school. It became a stepping stone for my career and success in life.”

Among the values that Winner now holds dear are hard work and integrity with minimal or no supervision.

She says these values, which were inculcated in her from a young age, have enabled her to manoeuvre campus with ease.

“I have learned to do the right thing and be at the right place at the right time.”

As her role model, Winner has seen her dad walk the talk and her overall character has been shaped by her dad’s selfless generosity. She shares that he gives cheerfully without expecting anything in return.

“He goes out of his way and supports others by sometimes paying fees for a needy child, donating clothes and food and other times just simply being present when people need him in their time of need. I aspire to be a giver like him in my time,” she confidently says.

Though she is not under her father’s wings, Winner says that the older she becomes, the more she realises that her dad is not an ATM.

“He will not always have money. I have to hustle to get some for myself. Also, he will not always be there to defend me. So I have to defend myself. This has made me realise the sacrifice he made for us when we were younger. It has deepened my admiration for him. However, one thing that has stayed the same to date is his care for us, even though we have become adults and can handle our responsibilities.”

Personal needs

On matters of relationships, Winner admits that through how he has seen him taking care of her mom, her perception of love is based on sacrifices.

“My dad loves sacrificially. I remember he supported my mother by taking her to school to pursue her doctorate in Business Administration and saw her through to the very end. It was not a cheap course, considering my brother and I were also in private schools, but he sacrificed a lot of his personal needs for us. This has taught me that true love is indeed sacrificial.”

For Joan*, she became aware of her father’s absence in Class Two when her parents separated.

“I don’t know whether it was explained, what I know is that we escaped an abusive father and left in the middle of the night with a few friends who had come to help us. Unfortunately, he found out where we lived. It was a bit troublesome.”

As a result of not having her dad present, Joan admits that she aimed to fulfil his presence in every relationship she got herself into.

“Especially in love. I think all the relationships I got into were tragic because I was looking for love that I could have gotten from a male figure. So, any act of kindness and warmth from a man, I picked up as love yet it was not. I overdid it with the guys. I pay fare to visit them, dinners, just to show that I can make you love me. I can pay for it. Honestly, my self-love and value were distorted.”

Additionally, Joan reveals that her view of marriage was skewed until a couple of years ago.

“I hated and despised it. You could not convince me that it was something valuable. There was a lot of bitterness and anger growing up. No respect for any male authority or figure.”

However, it is not all dark for Joan, who now admits that her father’s absence has tapped into her resilience.

“You don’t have someone to fight for you so you put your best foot forward. Now I can sense manipulation from afar.”

Have you dealt with his absence? “Yes! I went for therapy because I needed to know the way forward. One thing the therapist said is, ‘You do not have to let the other person know you have forgiven them because maybe they will feel it or not. Some people do not feel they are wrong. So, it’s up to you to heal and let go because if you keep carrying the grudge it will tear you apart.”

To women whose dads are not present, Joan advises, “It’s okay. It is not the end of the world. There is so much more to this life and marriage is not pathetic. There is hope. Some men are genuine, loving and kind.”