Baby By Me

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An old friend I hadn’t spoken to in over a year texted me at 3:08 am to tell me he was at the hospital. They’d just had a baby. He was a new father! Of course, I wasn’t awake at 3:08 am to read this good news. I read it at 5:37 am. He was online when I read the message, perhaps standing over the nursery bed staring at his new baby, in awe of the miracle of life. I typed a message to him while I sat on the edge of my bed.

A baby?” I typed. “With who?” I deleted that message. It sounded cynical. I sounded like an embittered ex-lover. I needed to sound congratulatory and all but I hadn’t seen or talked to this fellow in over a year so I didn’t have a lot of background. Did he have a baby with the last person he was dating the last time we spoke, or was it someone new? These things are important when you’ve just woken up. 

We don’t talk for a year and you go and get a baby. Typical.” I wrote and pressed send. One tick. Two ticks. He was still online. Almost a minute passed. I’d stopped my life, waiting for him to see the message and send a laughing emoji, maybe say something like, “I need to be supervised.”I checked other messages from insomniac sociopaths, the wretched who are denied sleep. After two minutes I went back to his message, and it was still two grey ticks. He was still online. Maybe he fell asleep with the phone in his hand. Perhaps a nurse confiscated it because he was taking too many unnecessary repetitive photos of the sleeping baby. It’s basically one boring pose of them close-eyed, bruised on the cheeks and forehead, and looking miffed and quite disgusted at this new existence. 

Just as I was about to put away my phone and go to the bathroom to brush my teeth, I saw him typing. So I waited. He typed and typed and then stopped. Then he started typing again. Then he stopped. For Chrissake, I thought, send whatever you have. A message pinged in. It wasn’t even that long to warrant all that typing. 

“Ha-ha. Man, it’s been so long. Things have happened, a lot of things. We should catch up. How have you been?” The message read. All that waiting while naked for this? 

“I’m good.” I typed. “Just the usual; anarchy and pilferage. ” 

I’m the type who doesn’t type a whole block of messages, a thesis on WhatsApp. You could get a heart attack in the middle of writing a long message, just send whatever sentence you have when you have it. I sent strings of messages, each thought in a message, spreading the risk. 

He sent a laughing emoji. 

How heavy was the baby?” I asked. 

2.5kgs.” He said.

“A skinny baby, like you. You aren’t much heavier.” 

He sent two laughing emojis. 

I added some weight, by the way. You should see me now.” He wrote. 

Do you have love handles?” I asked. 

“Two of them.” He said. 

I sent two laughing emojis. Returning the kindness.

Congratulations, how do you feel? New baby and all?”

He didn’t type for a while. Then he started typing and he couldn’t stop. What he sent was a long text describing the events of the past 24 hours, the labour, the baby in distress, the baby coming out just in time, and how God is great. No word on the question I asked which was; how do you feel?. People really answer what they want to answer. 

I went to see the baby at Aga Khan Hospital. His partner was sleeping and she had given strict instructions that whoever woke her up would face a gruesome death. The baby was sleeping as well so we stood over her little cot/nursery and talked in whispers. It was a girl. A tiny little girl with a small face. I have not seen many newborns I can describe as beautiful but this baby was beautiful. Gorgeous even. She had a perfect small nose and a perfect small mouth. Her nostrils were so small I wondered how they could even let air in. She had hair on her scalp, dark and rich. She must have given the mum a lot of heartburn. She was very light, almost pink. And soft-looking, squishy even. Delicate. Yeah, very delicate. 

It was amazing how perfect a baby could come out. The only thing wrong with her, that I saw, and this is me being petty, was that she didn’t have eyebrows. I prayed to God that those would eventually grow because you know how girls are with their eyebrows. Plus I couldn’t just see her at 21, with a tattooed eyebrow looking like a palm reader in a circus.  

Eyebrows are important to girls, I gather. I might have a wide forehead but God made up for that by giving me lovely eyebrows. I know because too many girls have always commented on them by asking, “Do you do your eyebrows?” (Jesus, lady. No! These are au naturel) They say it’s unfair, that God wasted great eyebrows on men. We don’t need them. But we do; there comes a point in a man’s life that he will need to wink. Imagine doing that with no eyebrows. 

The baby’s lips moved. Occasionally her face twitched a bit. Maybe she was dreaming. But what about? She was not much bigger than a toiletry bag.

“Have you smelled her?” I whispered. 

He turned to look at me with an expression; I’m sorry, what

“When my babies were little, I would smell them all the time,” I said. “Babies smell good. Especially the folds in their neck and arms. You need to stick your nose in those areas while you still can. When they are still helpless.” 

He chuckled. 

We stood there in silence staring at the sleeping newborn. It felt like we were in a church where a miracle had just happened. That’s what it feels like to be around newborns. You feel like you can’t talk loudly, or drag your feet on the floor. Or sneeze. You just stand there and hold your breath, your hat in your hand. 

“What’s her name?” I asked. 

“Nyagothie.” He said. 

I didn’t want to turn and look at him immediately. I let that name hang in the air between us while I fixed my face. I’m very aware that a rose called by any other name would still smell as sweet. I’m aware of these things. But still, I couldn’t help but wonder if there isn’t just a tinge of carelessness in naming a child Nyagothie in 2024. 

“What’s her first name?” I asked hopefully, seeking a silver lining to this cloud. 

He told me. A great name, fancy even. Which made her last name paradoxical, like squeezing lime on honey-glazed pork. 

“I always thought only Wakorinos were named Nyagothie,” I said, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder to show him that I didn’t mean any ill. I’m not being nasty or anything like that. These are things you are allowed to say when you are drinking together, not while standing over someone’s baby. He laughed and said, “Nyagothie was my late mom’s name.” 

We went downstairs to Java for a coffee. It was bustling. Doctors sat in groups opening their mouths to eat poultry and pastries. A nurse with one shoe off sat in a corner reading a book. A very wizened Indian doctor sat alone chewing his food slowly while he stared into space. Wait staff zipped between tables; clearing, placing, smiling, and scribbling on their little notebooks which I suspect also have portraits of stubborn guests’ heads but with horns. The air was filled with the delicious aromas of coffee, pies and curry. 

My friend had grown a stubble. The back of his hands were dry, his knuckles pale and white like he was doing pushups on the floor of a posho mill. His eyes, though, were bright and alert with happiness. “I need all the advice I can get about this thing.” He said of fatherhood. He’s 42 years old now. Yes, a wee late to the party, perhaps. He spent many years saying he wasn’t ready for fatherhood; as if anybody ever is. Nobody is ready. It’s not a muscle you exercise before in readiness. No book prepares you. Forget those books about fatherhood, written by white fathers for their white children growing up on wooden floors.

“You are running out of time,” I told him cryptically, hoping it would confuse him enough to ask, “What do you mean?”

“What do you mean?” He asked. 

“The short answer is; that tomorrow at this time you will remember today and wonder where time went because Nyagothie will be 13 years old and you won’t remember the period between learning to sit and toppling over like a traffic cone and 13. People like to say children grow fast but the truth is they don’t grow that fast, our distractions become more and more urgent when we have them.”

He said something like hmmm. He was leaning back. It must have felt quite daunting for him, a new father at 42. I suspect it’s harder to get babies later in life because you know so much and you are set in your knowledge. At 29 you just know the little you know and it’s so little it’s an advantage. You are innocent and brave and you tumble and fumble through fatherhood making the mistakes you are meant to make. 

He was 12 when his mom died, he told me. He then went to live with his grandmother who healed people with traditional medicine. There was always someone coughing in the middle of their darkened kitchen, someone sniffing something, someone being steamed with boiling leaves and roots. He once saw his grandmother suck blood from the leg of someone suffering from a snake bite. “My uncles were drunkards. They fought constantly over land, and threatened each other with violence,” he said. 

“And your dad?”

“My dad took off before I knew him. I didn’t know any solid male figures. Sometimes I wonder if that will affect how I raise my children.” 

A spoon fell on the floor. Nobody turned to look. If a spoon falls in a restaurant with countless people and nobody turns to look, did the spoon fall?

We ordered; Masala tea for me, and hot dawa for him. We got a bran muffin and cut it right in the middle. 

“How has your experience been?” He asked me. 

I told him I hated waking up in the night when all my babies were little. When the baby woke up and started crying and it was my turn, Mama Tamms would elbow me and I’d pretend to be dead asleep. We’d let the baby cry until one of us felt guilty or sorry and got up. She’d be the guilty one. I didn’t mind changing diapers, though. I liked to hold Tamms or Kim with both legs as I wiped their bum, and sometimes because I’m a child, I’d lift them and they’d dangle like a leg of lamb. I found such things amusing. I didn’t mind the smell of poo when they were a few months old. “But once you introduce soft meals, that shit smells so bad it can make you pass out,” I told him. I hated it when babies cried in that high-pitched tone. Drove me insane. Still does. 

I enjoyed it when their necks were stronger and their heads didn’t wobble on their body like rubber. Getting them off the cot was quite scary. I enjoyed it when they started following things with their eyes. How curious they were of mundane things moving across their line of sight; fingers, bananas, shadows. I loved how they kicked both feet in the air with excitement. How they practised yoga by sucking their toes.

I enjoyed it when they placed everything in their mouth because I relished the stunned look on their faces when I put lemon in their mouth. “You have to find little ways to make them pay for keeping you awake at night.”

I enjoyed watching them sleep. Sometimes they’d sleep for too long and you’d have to go and check if they were still breathing. Place a finger under their nose. A gentle palm on their chest. I enjoyed the period of learning how to walk; bow-legged, arms outstretched, staggering fast from one piece of furniture to the next. I loved when they sat in a basin full of warm water, playing with plastic ducks, splashing water, squealing, scooping, and drinking that water and knowing they were doing something wrong. Babies always know when they are doing something wrong.  

I enjoyed first days in school. All of them. It felt like your first day in school. How scary it was, to leave them in the safe hands of people who could easily have been vegetarians or atheists. Then from there they just grow up very quickly without you noticing. They become people with a favourite colour and opinions and character. And suddenly they are telling you no. And they are spending time alone behind closed doors. And they fall into their silence. Sometimes they hurt you. When they sit in the car and look outside, deep in their thoughts, you try having a conversation, you ask, what’s the highlight of your day today? And they say, “Seeing mom.” And you say, no, in school before seeing your mom. And you realise the love for their mommy is not any different from the love for your mom. They are mommy’s boy. They are two children from the same womb but also so different even though they both want to braid their hair. When they become teenagers, you send them to boarding school for a year and it becomes a problem for the first year and change because they hate it, they want a day school like their friends but you dig in your oars, you assure them that you know what you are doing. That things will get better. And they do. And they get comfortable and admit that they actually like school. High school is manure; every time you see them they are different, and their school skirt gets shorter. They grow tall. They learn to take a cab. They write you emails from school. 

And sometimes when you drop them off at school they hand you a letter. “Papa, read this later,” they say, “not now.” And later, when you have hugged them and told them you love them and that they should work hard, you get in the car and all your insides are trembling, your heart is weak and you are scared of what you will find in the letter. You read the letter with trembling hands and the letter says they are unhappy. That home is tough – that mom doesn’t understand her. And school is tough. Friendships are tough. That her life is so difficult. And it makes you feel so inadequate, so helpless and so you sit in the parking lot for thirty minutes, feeling sad, helpless, and defeated. Because you do everything for her and you don’t know what else to do for her. You thought she was happy. 

So you say fuck it and go back to the main desk and you ask her to be called back out and they say, Sorry, Sir but once the girls go in they can’t come out. But you insist that she just went in, literally ten minutes ago. It’s very important, you plead, it will only be a minute. And she comes back out and you tell her, “I didn’t know you are unhappy, what is it? What can I do? I will do anything for you, you know that, right?” You are holding her hand, but she doesn’t want you to hold her hand because she’s getting emotional and you are desperate. She says, “I don’t want to talk about it, Papa.” You say, “OK OK. I love you.” And she says,  I love you too and you hug her and she walks away and you walk back to the car with a heavy weight in your heart and you sit there and attempt not to shed a tear. 

“That’s what fatherhood has been for me,” I told him. And he sat there stunned and thought, “damn, when did this happen?” and I said looking away, “Over 16 years.”

And then we were quiet because we couldn’t hug. Neither could he reach across the table and hold my hand to reassure me. We are men. We are fathers. 

Happy Father’s Day, Gentlemen. 

***

Grab my BOOK. Or WRITING class. 

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53 Comments
  1. Hey Biko,
    I feel you – When they become teenagers, you send them to boarding school for a year and it becomes a problem for the first year and change because they hate it, they want a day school like their friends but you dig in your oars, you assure them that you know what you are doing. That things will get better. And they do. And they get comfortable and admit that they actually like school. I am here with my daughter who joined boarding school this year. she hates it…..She gets so moody when i drop her . We agreed she calls once a week from school this term she has called once we miss her vibaya sana! Mara she likes the school and doesnt mind the food but going back to school is just hard for her and it doesnt help that Limuru is so damn cold!

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  2. Oh Biko 🙁
    Happy Father’s Day.
    My relationship with my old man is so African I didn’t even know today’s Father’s day. Big big sigh.

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  3. Congratulations to your friend. Thanks for all the lessons as a Father. I found it very helpful.

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  4. Aaawww!! Biko. This is so sweet. I think this generation of fathers is doing a really good job. It’s not just about provision but y’all are actually there for your kids. I absolutely love to see it.

    I’m 31 and I’ve told my father I love him only once in my life (he said it first and it was over the phone). And the conversation was hella awkward after that

    Happy Father’s Day Chocolate man and all ye wonderful fathers.
    Dzaddies mkae kando, this is not for you.

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  5. I didn’t have such a relationship with my father but my mum did everything. coming to school even when it’s not visiting day, assuring me she loves me very much. I was sent to boarding school in class one and she made sure I was comfortable. for my kids (girls) they prefer their father to me. they say am tough and discipline alot. they grow so fast

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  6. Woow, that was something you did there. I am jealous… A good kind of jealous though …
    I’d kill to experience even half of this kind of love. But you know we are not always lucky. Sometimes I wonder if he ever thinks about me or if my name ever crosses his mind.
    I have never experienced a father’s love but that’s okay…
    Congratulations to your friend btw, he’s going to be a great Dad.
    Happy Father’s Day to all the present Dads out there!

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  7. I have absolutely enjoyed reading this. Your perspective is on point as always.

    As a father to two kids, fatherhood, I’ve learned, isn’t a destination, it’s a constant journey- which I’m absolutely enjoying. There are days when patience frays at the edges, when bedtime stories turn into wrestling matches, and them crying out loud makes my head spin. But then, a tiny hand reaches for mine and the world melts away. These little people, they’ve shown me a love I never knew existed. I’ve learned the language of bedtime whispers and the power of a silly song. I’ve become a master builder of blanket forts and a dispenser of endless (mostly imaginary) treasures.

    I know they’ll grow, their tiny hands will become strong, and their boundless energy will take them on adventures far beyond my reach- for now, I will simply enjoy these very moments. Being their father, it’s the greatest adventure, the most humbling challenge, and the purest love I’ve ever known. To all present Dads, Happy Fathers Day/Month.

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    1. pened as if from my own heart ,
      Dad of 2 – everyday is a discovery
      i wish i could share vids from yesterday , they literally made me melt by saying memory verses that even for me were long and had big words but they nailed it .
      The joy is unspeakable , we strap in for this ride , to journeys beyond

  8. I have absolutely enjoyed reading this. Your perspective is on point as always.

    As a father to two kids, fatherhood, I’ve learned, isn’t a destination, it’s a constant journey- which I’m absolutely enjoying. There are days when patience frays at the edges, when bedtime stories turn into wrestling matches, and them crying out loud makes my head spin. But then, a tiny hand reaches for mine and the world melts away. These little people, they’ve shown me a love I never knew existed. I’ve learned the language of bedtime whispers and the power of a silly song. I’ve become a master builder of blanket forts and a dispenser of endless (mostly imaginary) treasures.

    I know they’ll grow, their tiny hands will become strong, and their boundless energy will take them on adventures far beyond my reach- for now, I will simply enjoy these very moments. Being their father, it’s the greatest adventure, the most humbling challenge, and the purest love I’ve ever known. To all present Dads, Happy Fathers Day/Month.

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  9. Tears, I wrote my father such a letter more than 20 years ago, kumbe I tortured him like that but it was through the post office, I remember him coming home at night to talk to me about it, he was tipsy, now I understand. It’s hard being a man but it’s a privilege being a father.

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  10. who read this blog while listening to Baby by Me by 50 Cent & Ne-yo (while ignoring their very ugly and baggy suits ) and then felt guilty after realizing the song and the context of this blog are two worlds apart lol

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  11. Happy Father Day. Parenthood is a unique journey. Incomparable. We must walk through and emerge victorious.

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  12. Kudos for being a present father, through the highs and lows. That is most important and a Happy Fathers day to all the present fathers.

    A Happy Father’s day to our Father who art in Heaven, Yahweh..the Creator of everything that has been created.

    To the dead beat dads, scroll on very fast. This ain’t your jam.

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  13. Biko are you separated? Did you ever write about it and I missed it? I am just curious why you learned about Tamms unhappiness in school if you live under the same one roof! Don’t mind me. Misery loves company.
    Happy fathers day. She will be fine. You did good to insist to see her after the letter. It sent a strong message. “You are cared for” more than saying I love you!

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  14. At first, I laughed so hard that I started to think that we surely should be sending you a litu mpesa for this amusement… smell babies? What???

    Then it got real… because I relate so much on the matter of a sad child for whom you are willing to do anything but can’t…

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  15. My dad recently signed off an sms as ‘your loving dad’. I don’t know whether this is the same as ‘I love you’ but it is the closest we have come to openly expressing emotions . It really felt good.
    All the best to the new dad and you are doing well for Tamms and Kim

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  16. Yeah… the stuff we men never vocalise. Fatherhood is scary and fulfilling and all thoe things in between. ‘…a tinge of carelessness…’ Hehehe.

  17. Nice piece
    Happy fathers month to all present and intentional dads

    Biko please write more and more positive stories like this

  18. It’s always father’s day for those who try. No one is perfect but it’s a blessing to take the opportunity to try. Happy Fathers day to all who try.

  19. Parenthood is tough. Tougher to those performing both parental roles.
    Happy father’s day in advance.

  20. its quite amazing journey. I envy how children. sleep from evening to about 21;00hr. Waking up full of energy to go on with their activities as Usual; Walking, running and doing all manner of things till past mid night.

    The boy would cry because he is sleepy, and look forward to sitting on my arms, and resting his head on my chest. minutes would pass before falling asleep. The older like touching my fingers, i don’t know what she feels. Moving her hands off mine would anger her so much. These moments are priceless.

    Saturdays has always been my favourite day. I stay home with the two amazing human beings taking care of them. On this day, their mom is always not around to cut short our interactions, till later in the day. Once she step in the house, and seeing our kids sleeping her face beam with a smile. Joking she would says” i see you had all the freedom.”

    Keenly looking around i would spot most of the things out of their usual place.

    Happy fathers days to you too.

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  21. Biko, you truly poured out your heart at the tail end. I felt something heavy on my neck almost forgetting about the fun part about Nyagothie and Akorinos…Beautiful piece as always.

  22. You had me at “Perhaps a nurse confiscated it because he was taking too many unnecessary repetitive photos of the sleeping baby”. On matters Fatherhood nobody is ever ready. It’s neither a muscle you exercise before in readiness nor is it a book that prepares you for this journey. The trick is to give it your best shot whilst at it.
    Happy Father’s Day to all dads, save of course for the infamous deadbeat dads, reading this.

  23. When I was in high school, during an academic clinic, my dad came to see me instead of my mom and I bawled the whole day (not exaggerated). He looked so frustrated coz I had refused to tell him what was actually wrong but I kept crying and wouldn’t stop. Keeping in mind that all my life we were the best of buds. Turns out I was mad he only came to see me with a newspaper in hand but then the next year my mom came for the clinic and again I couldn’t stop crying and I wouldn’t tell her what was wrong. This time I had the food but my dad was gone and I kept seeing other happy girls with their living fathers and I couldn’t take it.

    I felt like sharing that. Happy father’s day guys. Love the fathers in your life a bit tighter.

  24. I thank God Fatherhood has been the best experience. I’m glad I don’t have to go through this with my 16 year old daughter. Sometimes I feel like she’s too happy and too normal for her age lol. I cant say I have experienced any teenage problems with her. She even told me she doesn’t need a phone till she’s done with High school. She loves boarding school. We talk about everything and she knows nothing is out of bounds. Sometimes I talk to her about stuff that she goes “come on dad, we can’t talk about thay.” But i insist that we MUST. And we do. I tell her i made her and she shouldn’t feel that any topic is too big or out of bounds to talk about. I insist that she doesn’t leave for school if there’s something bothering her and that we haven’t talked about.

  25. Every day, i worry that I have quite a dark sense of humor. I laughed at that name thoroughly. My kids accuse me of always laughing at their teacher’s name but I just can’t help it. Maybe there is help for the likes of me. I am sure I have my tribe out there……

    Fathers have stepped up of late and I like it. My old man was also team newspaper and annoying questions like ” what did you get in maths and the 3 sciences? They are the ultimate determinants of going to university” Now I kind of know he probably just had no stories to give me.

    Happy Father’s Day.

  26. Ati Fathers Day? That day never existed while growing up! Anyway hats off to all of us fathers doing the best we can for our families