My father, the absent taxman, by Magunga Williams


If you ever wonder what kind of a father you are going to be, chances are you might turn out to be like your father. The presence of our fathers loom large in our lives, whether they were there, or were absent, or they were absent even though they were there. From today until June 15th I will be running stories about men and their fathers and men as fathers in a series of pieces that celebrate Father’s Day themed around Johnnie Walker’s campaign #Dadslovewhisky. Why? Because it’s a good time to talk about these things, even though we pride ourselves to be men of few words.


“This is your father’s fault, he did not raise you to be a man.”

That’s my mom, Karua, scolding me at 6am in the morning. Too early if you ask me. As a rule of thumb I do not deal with anyone before 8.00am, not even mom. But that is not what her hackles rise. She needed to use my computer to send an email, but I did not have any Internet bundles. So when I asked her to give me the cash to go buy a bundle, in her head she thought I was charging her for using my computer, or I was subtly telling her to go buy her own computer. Karua does not know what internet bundles are.

Even after she left, it was obvious that I wasn’t going back to sleep. Her words hung around my bedroom like damp air. I never quite understood what she meant by that- that it was my father’s fault that I am not a man.

My dad gave up his ghost just as I was creeping into childhood. That was nine years ago, and to be honest, I am beginning to forget who he was. What he looked like. The living room only has one framed picture of him when he was younger. When he still had it. That was eons before his kidney betrayed his body. I never met that man. The dad I knew used to choke on toothpaste every morning because for some reason the taste of Colgate always made him nauseous. The dad I knew walked with a stick and slight stoop, and loved evening walks with his last born, me. For me, those were the tranquil days, when we walked with my palm desperately trying to clutch onto his index finger.

But even then, he was never quite around. He was a taxman and his job description dictated that he needed to be at the Kenya-Uganda border if we were to eat. So he would only stop by for a weekend to hang out, and when the stars aligned themselves to our fortune, he would stick around for a fortnight. Therefore it is okay to conclude that he was an acquaintance to me.

That is why I cannot get my head around Karua saying that it was my dad’s fault that I am not a man. As if it was my choice that he passed away. When a child grows up without a father, there is an empty space where someone must stand, provide an example of character and confidence. There was nobody to do that for me. My eldest brother was the first coward to hide himself from me, while the other is just two years older, so he was also dealing with the same issues as myself.

So I was not raised to be a man. Life threw adulthood at my feet and asked me to man up. I had to learn for myself what defines a man. I had to be pushed around for a while before I realized that bottling out of a high school bully’s way does not solve anything.

Raising a man lies squarely in the province of a father. He needs someone to teach him how to talk to a lady, how to walk with his chin up, how to shave a beard and when to choose whether to walk away from a fight or hold your ground. A boy needs to hear these things from his old man – that it is embarrassing for a man to cry. Especially in front of other people. But, regardless of how bushy your beard is, or how well you can wear a condom in the dark, a man has to cry sometimes.

Since I had nobody to teach me these things, I discovered manhood by the seat of my pants. Defined it my own way.

However in Karua’s eyes, in my mother’s eyes, I am not yet a man. And it is my father’s fault that I grew up off schedule; because in her wisdom, the hallmark of being a man is explaining to your mother what Internet bundles are at 6.00 am.

Despite his absence, the last thing I do at night before I sleep is send my father love, and with the dawn, I send more. That love reminds me that he still exists somewhere, even if that somewhere is not necessarily right here with me. It’s easier to imagine that he is all around, and not in some distant heaven. That way, I will not have to think about how we once had it great and perfect for a while.

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  1. I understand Magunga Williams perfectly.
    I also feel that the expectations we have of what a man is and what he isn’t have close to no grounds coz in our upbringing we sing the girl child song so loud you’d think boys aren’t children too. There is no manual written on how men should be or what men MUST do. Everything boils down to choice and that’s entirely dependant on one’s upbringing and their experience in life.
    And while we’re so busy trying to liberate women at the expense of trapping men into some definitions,I would think it would only be fair to define women.
    I for one don’t know what they are yet I subscribe to that club…

  2. Life threw adulthood at my feet and asked me to man up. Happens to a lot of us! Great Piece Magunga

  3. Beautiful writing, unfortunately these days ladies are making the decision for the kids to not have fathers.

    1. Not true. Times have changed and most women must work harder than their mothers did – few women can afford to stay home; most must work as soon as they leave school at any level. Consequently, most women simply want more from men and unfortunately, a lot of men don’t want to step up or can’t see the need to. So some women choose to have children, but not husbands; others (and they are the majority) get pregnant, want to be married or in a committed relationship, but the man absconds.