My daughter turned two last week. She is simply the most exciting kid I know. So bubbly, so full of life. She brought sunshine into my life, literally.
She has learnt how to hug, and when I get home, she runs as soon as the clanks open to receive me with open arms. Of course, she wants the phone and she has learnt that a smile and a hug is all the magic she needs to get dad to part with that device.
Even if the day was terrible - maybe I didn’t have lunch, got insulted online for something I wrote or a matatu conductor ‘forgot’ to give me my change - she has a way of putting a smile on my face. Because there is nothing in the world more genuine than the smile of a child. Your child.
Three years ago, I had mixed feelings about fatherhood, leaning more towards living eternally as a bachelor with all its proclaimed glories. Yet, there was that natural desire to hold my child in my hands.
Things happened very fast and before I could say “Norah!”, she was in my hands. For two brief months, I learnt the intricacies of holding the dainty thing that happily didn’t cry all the time. For 10 months, I was out of the country for my post-graduate studies, leaving the mother to eke it on her own.
I have spent a year with my daughter, trying to understand how they grow, how they learn and what makes them happy. Her foolishness, her tantrums, her reckless speeding in the house without breaks and her climbing onto dangerous things and falling, often hurting herself, always offer a larger metaphor for life. Here are a few things fatherhood has taught me:
1. Kids give you a sense of being
Sounds like a rotten cliché. But as a young bachelor, I had no specific purpose in life and used to wander about recklessly like a headless rodent. But with her around, I know I must be home at a specific time.
If not for anything, her hug is the warmest and most genuine thing I can receive from a woman of any age. Days are coming that even that is not guaranteed. But I know I must feed her, protect her, provide for her, and I have my work cut out for the rest of my life.
2. You have something larger than you to take care of
Through the self-absorption of the 20s, it is easy to forget that we are nothing in this world but the legacy we leave behind. And leaving behind a family that will miss you as a father is one of life’s better achievements.
Jeff Nyamboga, a friend in Rotterdam, Netherlands, told me once that when a man is in his 30s, it is about the children - better to toil for them to afford them a better life than our parents did.
3. Women are worth all the respect in the world
I was in the labour ward when she arrived. Giving birth is a traumatising experience and a lot can happen, including death. What I saw was life-changing. It is only fair that as men, we support women unconditionally as they battle various life demons.
We should be as supportive as possible in the formative months when sleep is the first causality. Lend a hand, through life and forever.
4. Children are a source of happiness
Kids are annoying. Kids can be a handful. They will break your phone. Will break the remote, the TV and the table. But, that is a reminder that we should be overly attached to material stuff.
Beyond their annoyance, once a kid smiles your way, once they laugh at your attempts to humour them, there is a bond, a connection that only God can explain. It is indeed a privilege to be a parent, not sure why some people take the responsibility lightly.
Children raised by two parents, who are physically and emotionally available and who lead by example have the highest likelihood of turning up right, and that is a prayer for myself, and all young fathers.
5. It is important to learn how to change a diaper
A time will come when the wife is away and the house help may take leave without notice, and it may be your turn. Learn.
Happy Father’s Day to all the cool fathers out there. Be there for your children until death separates you.