What meeting my father taught me about myself 

Cynthia Gichiri during the interview at Nation Centre, Nairobi.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • All Cynthia wanted and prayed for was to see her father’s face or find his grave to ease her curiosity. 
  • She searched for him for almost 20 years, eventually meeting him face to face and learnt great lessons about love, life, acceptance and rejection.

Nothing ever prepares you for the day you meet your father. Especially if it’s all you have been dreaming of all your life. On January 10, 2019, I met mine for the first time. 

That day was the culmination of a relentless search, personal investigations and inquiries that had begun soon after my beloved mother succumbed to pneumonia over 20 years ago. 

My maternal grandparents had wholeheartedly taken up the role of raising my two siblings and me, albeit with lots of struggle and much-needed sacrifice. This, and constant questions from peers in school and possible suitors and their families later in life, made me wonder about who partnered with my mum to bring me to the earth.

During some of my trips to Narok, Marigat and Laikipia, I met Maasais who were convinced that I was one of them. They could tell by my eyes, smile, height, frame, dental structure and the way I ate meat right to the bone.

I found this hilarious, but somehow, I always felt at home whenever I was in their company, and their language sounded like music to my heart. 

Searching for my father was an uphill task. This was especially true since I took after mum, except for my pointed nose, longer fingernails, pitch black and thick hair; a lighter complexion and my height. 

The only information I got from my relatives was that he was an engineer from the Maasai community and worked with the government when he met my mum. No one remembered his name, but they said he was tall, wore spectacles, and that he came from an influential family. 

The long search

I learnt that mum’s best friend knew everything that transpired, but she was unreachable. My efforts were hitting a dead end. I resorted to seeking refuge and guidance through prayers. Every night, I would ask God to keep my father safe if he was still alive or allow me to see his grave.

My search came to a miraculous halt in December 2018 when I stumbled upon my immunisation card, which had his name on it. I used Google, which helped me piece together all the information I had already gathered.

He was well decorated and respected in his work. I dialled one of the numbers provided by his company. I was relieved that he is alive, but I could never seem to reach him on phone. They wouldn’t give me his mobile number, and he didn’t call me back even after I left my contacts with the secretary.

I shared my ordeal with a friend who is also an engineer, and days later, he sent me my father’s number. We proceeded to talk twice on the phone. At first, he was harsh towards me but became gentler as our conversation progressed.

Cynthia Gichiri during the interview at Nation Centre, Nairobi.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

The climax of it was when he agreed to meet up with me in person. Every part of me was tense, except for my hair.

I hadn’t slept a wink for days, and my heart was beating synchronously with the ticking of the clock in my friend’s living room. The anxiety, flowing in my veins, could only allow me to mutter a God--help--me as my morning prayer, and that was sufficient to keep my belly full for that material day.

The meeting was set to take place at 4 pm, and we had agreed to meet at one of the restaurants at Sarit Centre. My host and trusted friend advised that we leave the house two hours earlier to beat the traffic since it was the back-to-school season.

Soon, she was leading me into a cool Super Metro bus that was playing one of Tekno’s songs, titled Go.

“Another man’s food is another man’s poison…’’ I kept wondering if the lyrics were speaking to my situation, as the bus cruised slowly along the busy Waiyaki Way.

No expectations, no demands

We found a small hotel where we snacked and strategised. I would meet my father at the restaurant on the ground floor while my friend would wait for me at a different one upstairs. Each of us had enough money for food, drinks and our transport back home. She had carried a pair of flat shoes in her bag that she would use in case I needed help.

We also had code names to use in case of any eventuality during the meeting. With her loving eyes, she confirmed that I was dressed to make a good impression.

“Remember, no expectations and no demands,” she quipped as we left for Sarit Centre.

Like detectives, we scanned the venue for the nearest exit and a vantage point from where I could spot my father with ease. I was not sure I would recognise him, since the only picture I had seen online seemed to have been taken ages ago.

I guess we were both too nervous to describe how we were dressed. He called to say he would be late as he was stuck in traffic. 

Cynthia Gichiri during the interview at Nation Centre, Nairobi.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

I chose a couch that overlooked the entrance of the restaurant and put on my glasses, to ensure that my eyes caught every detail.

Then began the wait.

It was worse than waiting for the impending rapture I have heard about in church all my life. Everyone around me was happy, noisy, and laughing the evening away. I could feel the hairs at the nape of my neck stand at attention every time a man would walk in. 

“I should probably play some Candy Crush to keep myself busy,” I thought to myself as I stared blankly at my phone.

No sooner had this thought crossed my mind than I spotted someone standing at the door. He was very tall, well-built and wore glasses. Our eyes met, and I knew it was him. I guess this is what they mean when they say blood is thicker than water.

“It is you! Hahaha!” he bellowed and came half walking half running towards me. 

Meeting my dad

There was a sudden graveyard silence in the restaurant as the handsome son of Kajiado made his way to my table. He was laughing and talking at the same time, and I was shocked and transfixed at the end of the table, amazed at how my late mum had such good taste.

“I see a lot of myself in you! You look exactly like my niece!” he said with a big smile on his face.

I extended my hand to greet him, but he grabbed me into a tight embrace and gave me a peck on my cheeks. 

It was nothing like I had imagined. All I wanted and prayed for was to see my father’s face or find his grave to ease my curiosity.

However, on this day, God allowed me to see him seated across from me, smiling and laughing for about 10 minutes. 

“When did you start wearing glasses? Are you also short-sighted like me?” he asked. 

“Yes, I am. Thank you so much for agreeing to meet me,” I replied. 

“From the bottom of my heart, I want you to understand that I didn’t know. I was young and had just started my career. I also didn’t know your mum passed away. I wish she persisted in looking for me,” he said as the smile on his face faded into a sad look. 

I felt sorry for him, my mum and myself. 

At that moment, I felt too powerless to blame him. I instantly forgot all my life’s pain to focus on this one man who brought me to earth and gave me his long fingernails nails, dark hair, eyebrows, and complexion.

I handed him my immunisation card. He studied it like a book; taking note of my low birth weight, and the fact that I had caught measles at seven months.

There was a moment of silence between us and a lot of sadness in his eyes.

He asked about my life, career, and why I did not look for him earlier. He asked about my late mum and why she chose to travel to Germany during the winter, as she had contracted pneumonia while there.

Forgive and forget

I told him she was looking for a better life for my siblings and me. There was more sadness in his face, but he brightened up the moment the waiter placed his cappuccino on the table.

“So, do you carry that tag I see journalists hanging on their necks? Do you interview people like you did with me?” he asked, this time with a bright smile on his face. 

We both laughed as I handed him my press card and he held on to it for the remaining part of our ‘date’. There were intermittent moments of silence, of staring at each other and of reflection in between our conversations.

He talked about his life, work, and parents and briefly about his daughter. He even showed me photos of his sisters and niece who live abroad and then came the topic on my being single until now.

There was also some advice on how to handle the situation we were in, but I felt like he did not understand where I was coming from. The child in me wanted to tell him how I wished he was there to help with my high school and university education.

From the look of things, there was no prospect for the future because I was either time-barred by law or the circumstances of life. I also remembered my friend’s words that there were to be no expectations and no demands.

We promised to always keep in touch.

We finished our meeting, and it was time for my friend to come out of hiding.

“Gosh! Mnafanana!” she exclaimed excitedly at how much we resembled each other.

He offered to drop us home, but we thought it would be a bother given the construction that was on-going at Kangemi. 

Cynthia Gichiri during the interview at Nation Centre, Nairobi.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

“Alright, then get an Uber,” he said as he handed me a wad of crisp one thousand-shilling notes.

While waiting for the cab to arrive, he handed me back my press card and encouraged me to stay strong in life. He waited until our taxi arrived. As we were on our way out, I turned back and saw him standing there, looking at us.

I couldn’t cry, but there was a deep sadness in my heart. I had just met my other parent, and I did not know whether I was seeing him for the last time, too. There was silence in the car on our way home as Sauti Sol’s Nerea played in the background.

Maybe I wasn’t the daughter he wanted, or perhaps he wasn’t the father I needed. Only God knows.

Although he did not verbally deny being my father, he sounded economical with his words about his absence in my life.

I would later learn that his relationship with mum ended as soon as I was conceived. I have faced rejection in many aspects, but his was the first, the biggest and the most painful. But I had to forgive; 499 times each day, according to the Good Book.

For a year, I allowed myself to be weak, alone, depressed and in deep mourning. In my solitude, I learned to have deep and private conversations with my maker and myself.

“After I rise above this nothing else will put me down,” I said every morning.

During this period, I lost my job and received countless rejection emails whenever I would apply for an opportunity. But I thought about how far I have come in life and career without mum and most importantly, without my father.

I could now face rejection with a smile and move on to the next opportunity. I was finally able to boldly and gracefully manage my expectations and disappointments. I also learned to be quick to forgive and forget, and to be thankful for my daily encounters with people.

Finally, I was eager to see what lies ahead in life only this time, with more confidence and love for myself. 

I was happy and grateful for my grandparents and siblings. I was still their pride and joy. And in years to come, I will tell my children that my father was the most handsome man I have ever seen.