Mantalk: This is what I wish I could ask my father as a grown man

This is what I wish I could ask my father as a grown man. Photo | Photosearch

What you need to know:

Deep down, I want to push my father with words. I want to hear his words. I want to know why he shaved his dreadlocks, and what he thinks about Simple Boy’s music

He is 48, a tall, handsome man with a smile like cocaine powder, and an air that combines an avuncular sagacity with robust wellbeing. He is more svelte than zaftig, balding, and with more than his fair share of grey hair. He is languidly long and lanky, with a strange smile, if awkward. He barely maintains eye contact, except when seething with anger, when his eyes pore into your very soul, searching for weakness. 

Still, the guy has presence. He loves reggae music, Peter Tosh, particularly. He has a deep cut on his left foot, after “manhandling a snake”. The snake, was a slasher. Bloody slasher! His friends call him Petero, but his real real friends call him Tosh. Because — duh — he loves Peter Tosh. He doesn’t shout, and you have to cup your ears to catch his words. He has a short temper. And several children. Eight. I am one of them. For he is my father.

Did I mention he is 48? If you are doing quick Maths (shame on you), that means he had me when he was either 20 or 21. Pretty young. The rest quickly followed in ‘succession planning,’ a father at the height of his sowing powers.  

Coincidentally, this Sunday is Father’s Day. I’m a sucker for fathers. I didn’t grow up enough with my father, as I got shipped across several aunties’ houses, in a curious case of family-arl shuttle diplomacy. My father, at that time, was a bit footloose. I mean, he was 21. At 21 I was getting warning letters for playing loud music in my campus room!

Father’s Day is tricky in this pseudo-masculinity era. It was much easier back in the day, when fathers were all about nyama choma and kanywajis and lowbrow politics. I haven’t talked to my old man in a bit. We have a mutual understanding forged over Sh1500 bob pocket money and salamu from Guka and gazeti on high school visiting days.

Our father-son relationship was/is punctuated by yawning silence. A cavernous silence that perhaps offers some succour amid the gloom — I joke that we should have been a monastery. You probably grew up with a silent father too. Not that mine would not talk. Contrary, when he was a bit tipsy, he’d sit me down and go on and on and on…and on about his past conquests. But I wanted to listen to him when he was sober. When our shy personalities would clash, and the awkward silence would fill the cracks in our conversations. In short, I wanted the person, not the persona.

I do know that how fathers shape childhood outlines itself in adulthood. Take me, for instance: in my interactions with someone’s daughter, when she pisses me off, I retreat into my cocoon and shut her whole gender out. I go silent. My walls of Jericho are built such that not even a trojan horse could sneak in without suffering from acute withdrawal symptoms.

I also know that it takes two to tango. That I could also pick up the phone and call him, and speak. But guys, I’m shy. I can’t even shout at a fly. So, we keep our conversations purely transactional, one word replies that the ma-manzi wa Nairobi have perfected: “Niko poa.” “Asante”. “Nitakupigia.” It’s the ultimate hologram of free speech, but a mirage of frank speech.

So, this Father’s Day, I am reviewing what I could do better as a son. Deep down, I want to push my father with words. I want to hear his words. I want to know why he shaved his dreadlocks, and what he thinks about Simple Boy’s music. And, of the 3,903 football clubs (I googled), in the world — why Arsenal? But I am afraid that I may be too formed, that the bridge may be too big, and the path too narrow. That we may have both grown and become our truer selves. Quietly.  Sometimes I would open my mouth and want to ask him something, but then I’d choke on the words. Probably he did, too.

Tap me before I start oversharing, but I have seen a lot of man-friends with the same father-son dynamic. I don’t know, but maybe Kenyan fathers need to know it is okay to laugh with their children? But this kind of retribution is like drinking poison and waiting for the other guy to die. 

See, when the president raised the concerns about single-parent homes it got me shaken. I imagine then, my 20, okay 21, year-old father, in college. And me there kicking in mother’s womb. I am not a very stubborn child, depending on who you ask, and when you ask. But he, my old man, never absconded his fatherly responsibilities — guy really worked his balls off. Of course, that is akin to praising a fish for swimming but that has been the perpetual lesson I learned: a man takes responsibility. A man is responsibilities.

“It’s your life, nimaishi yangu,” he’d say. I’d detect a tinge of wistfulness. It’s your life. So simple, so profound, so empty. It was his fatherly duty to give us the eyes to see, and the words to speak.

This is to all babas out there, but mostly this is for my baba. He is the straw that stirs the drink. For he is the kind of man who has been through it all: had a job, lost a job, punched a boss for segregation (Atta boy!), had a business, lost the business, fell from giddy highs to dizzying lows, and still put food on the table. Daily. 

Childhood’s highest pleasure is rooted in the illusion that our parents have some idea of what they’re doing. The casts and shards and needles of adulthood prove otherwise. Adulthood is a Ponzi scheme: parents squabble, they throw words at each other, they use kids as collateral, they play reggae music – LOUDLY — at 5.30am. Every day. In other words, they are human.

But, for all his flaws, baba has never claimed to want to dictate my life. He has never told me what to do, or how to be, mostly because, depending on who you ask, and when you ask, I am a ‘very’ not stubborn child. I wish we would talk more, but you win some, you lose some. I choose to honor that, this Father’s Day.

 “It’s your life. Nimaishi yangu,” my father would tell me.

 [email protected] @eddyashioya 

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