Boys and Men

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The soundtrack of my relationship with my father has always been silence. It filled every crack and cranny, sipped in and cemented our interaction like melted cheese. He was always there without being there. We saw him. Felt him. Heard him. Smelled him (his aftershave) but you still felt the silence.

He had this chair. You know most of them had their own chair. The Chair. Their own chair. It was more than a chair, it was a throne. The patriarch’s chair. And you didn’t put your ass in that chair. Not unless you were paying rent that month. Neither did you move it. My dad’s was this sofa-like chair, with a beat-down sunken cushion that perpetually retained the shape of his ass. Revered. It sat in a corner of the living room, next to his bookshelf. A teetotaller, he would spend lots of time slumped in that chair, most weekends, after-work, forehead buried in some African literature, reading about Savimbi or Samora, music streaming from this old gramophone that you also didn’t touch. Neither did you paw his music records: T.P OK Jazz, Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton. Odd music.

End of day, he’d come home, his tea ready by a stool, and he’d set up that baby. It had an arm, which had this pin at the tip. After setting his record in, carefully, with the focus of a surgeon, he would place this pin at the very edge of the record (it was called san) and the living room would suddenly fill up with this scratchy sound, as the pin rotated across the grooves, searching for the opening note. Back then – in the 80’s – we didn’t own a TV, so it was either you sat in the house to listen to Franco or you went out to play. You get a cookie for guessing what we chose.

If you ask me what sound reminds me most of my relationship with my old man, it isn’t the sound of him revving his Peugeot one last time as he parked it in the evening, or him coughing and blowing his nose in the bathroom as he showered, it’s the sound of that pin running the grooves of the san, searching for a sound.

But mostly it’s the silence that bubbled up.

It wasn’t an offensive silence. It wasn’t a disinterested silence. It was just silence. Fatherhood back then wasn’t about friendship. You didn’t tell your father how you felt. You didn’t sit at his feet and tell him about your pubertal girlfriend problems. You navigated your struggles alone. So we hardly conversed. We spoke, yes, but we hardly conversed. And when we conversed he was asking about school. He always asked about school. About grades. Seldom would he look at a math problem, which I sucked at, royally.

I remember my mom taking me to be snipped at the doctor’s in my teenage and her waiting outside the theatre as I “transitioned” into manhood (Oh mom, such an angel). But even after, when I was recovering, he didn’t ask how it went or how it was going. It would have been nice to tell me that the morning hardons would be a killer. But he didn’t know how to talk to us. He didn’t know how to put feelings into words, which was ironic because he has spent all his life buried in books. Buried in words. Words he has never learnt how to use.

Growing up there seemed to be some sort of a protocol: most communications passed through my mom. You want new school uniform? You tell mom, mom tells him (when he is in a good mood, obviously). You hate the school you are in? Tell mom, mom tells him. The pocket money you are getting is a joke? Tell mom, mom laughs it off. But now mom is gone dodo and he is left with kids he doesn’t know how to speak to. He tries. He really tries but he’s out of his depth. Old dogs don’t learn new tricks. He’s lost. So are we. Phone conversations last under a minute. Conversations filled mostly with niceties and the weather and cows. Him: Remember that white and brown calf, well now it’s all grown and recently had a calf? Well we are getting so much milk now. Me: Which brown and white cow? I thought it was a bull? Him: Loud sigh. That’s why you need to come to the village more often. Etc Etc.

In mom’s absence the silence of childhood is back again. Like an amoeba it’s filling again all the spaces, all the crevices mom left in her demise.

Why am I airing this family laundry here? Because it’s not a big deal, and because nothing is ever that serious for one and two because I have realised that now that I have a son, my relationship with my father is going to impact on the relationship I have with my boy. Guys have always asked me, how different is it raising a boy now as compared to raising a girl? The truth? Boys eat more.

But here is the distinction. Although Kim brings out the steel in me, Tamms makes me very vulnerable to the point I almost feel unworthy to be keeping a beard. As in when she is moody in the morning, and she doesn’t talk to me in the car as I drop her to school it bloody affects my moods. I seem obsessed with her happiness. There is a time she kind of dropped Kim, and Kim being a mama’s boy, screamed like his eyes had been gorged out (roll eyes) and I shouted at her, “WILL YOU PLEASE FOCUS WHEN YOU ARE CARRYING YOUR DAMNED BROTHER?” It just came out. And she shrunk and tears came to her eyes because I never ever shout at her and before she could break into a cry (she hardly ever cries) I told her, “Go to your room and read a book!” And then the missus gave me that look of “Come on, it was an accident,” and I went back to watching TV acting like I didn’t care but then it made me feel so bloody lousy, and guilty and I thought if she ever gets pregnant at 18 it will be because I shouted at her. So later, like an hour, I went to her room with intentions of making up by trying to be funny and shit. But before I said anything she said, “I’m sorry I dropped Kim” and my insides melted.

So you see what Tamms just makes me soft and vulnerable and mushy because she is so fragile and delicate and I treat her like fine china. She is my girl.

With Kim it’s different. I realised I’m treating him like a man even though he doesn’t even have teeth yet. I think it’s because I don’t want to raise a weak man. Weakness comes from lack of confidence. Lack of confidence comes from wrong socialisation. I have standards I wish of him that will determine how well I have done with him.

First, it would be nice if Kim didn’t like boys. I’m just saying. I know in another 15years time, mind-sets would have changed completely and my feelings on gayism would be out-dated and degenerated. But as a father I would prefer if he liked girls. Even though the thought of Tamms bringing home a boy fills my heart with sulphuric acid, the thought of some hot thing with an ass on it coming to ask for him would fill me with pride. I’d nod inward and say, “Here we have good taste.” I know, it’s not fair at all.

I don’t care if he pierces his nipples at teenage. Or gets a Dinka tribal tattoo on his ass. He can do whatever he wants with his body as long as he is respectful and humble. I would love if he was backed up against the wall that the one person he would think of calling to get him out of that jam would be me. I want him to tell his mates, that my old man, is that guy who puts shit in perspective. To respect me. When I die I want him to feel completely lost for a long time, to feel this large quarry open up in his life and know that no one will ever fill it. Not even his mother.

But I’m in danger of raising a weak man because my dig is an all-woman digs. They run that joint. I just pay rent and stay in my corner. But I see the way they handle that boy. The way they fuss over him. The way they femalise him. (Just made up that word). The way they call him weak names like “Chuchu”. Blimey! Chuchu sounds like a manicurist! Then of all the toys he has, he has grown very fond of this pink toy that looks girlie. It disturbed me a bit. OK, a lot. So I went and bought him this cool toy called Monkey Rattle (you are welcome Baby Shop), which he held once and threw away.

He cries too much. Maybe it’s a stage but it has to stop. So for instance now he is trying to walk and when he falls, not ati a bad fall that can potentially break his neck, and starts crying you should see ALL the females in the house falling all over themselves to reach him. It’s disgusting. And kids are crafty, they will fall down and then look around to see if you have seen and when you react with shock they will start bawling like they just sprained an ankle. The other day when he fell crying and every skirt was rushing to get him up I hollered loudly, like Shaka Zulu, spear blocking the path of the marauding women, “No!” I bellowed, “Let him be! Let him be a man and get up!” They all froze.

So he cried lying on his belly on the carpet, waiting for help, which was not coming. You should have seen Tamms she was near tears. Hehe. The Missus was looking like she was about to slap me. The maid stared helplessly from the doorway. So Kim cried. And cried. I told him, “get up baba, come up!” Finally, mumbling baby obscenities, he got up and sat on his diapered ass sniffing back the last tears. I looked at the audience with self righteousness and went back to watching TV sure that King Zulu’s wisdom had been adequately impacted on the females for generations to come.

I’ve watched my Landlady’s son – Paul – grow up from a boy into a teenage in the past six years I have lived there. I’ve seen his limbs elongate, seen him grow lanky, his voice break, his dressing change. Sometimes I run into him as he waits for his school bus outside the gate as I go for my run. (He attends Saints.) We share quick hallos, him in his deep pubescent voice. I have also seen how his dad relates to him. I noticed that when he comes back from work, he hands him the keys and he reverses this car into this garage like space. And I admire that because it shows trust, that his dad treats him almost like a man. And I’m always tempted to ask him what he likes about his father when I run into him those very early mornings but he’s a teenager and you never quite know what mood they are in.

Most of our fathers raised us remotely. That was their way. The times then dictated that. I think now things are different. We need to talk to these boys. Make them our pals without them thinking they can smoke before us. They should be able to tell us what they can’t tell their mothers. They should be able to see us as allies. And as the men they want to be. Sons should be able to say, “If only I was half the man my father is…”

You have to pass through a dungeon to get there, I guess. Because I interview many big-shots who are over 50, I find myself asking them about fatherhood and I realise that nobody really has a template to raise boys. Men just do the best they deem right because at the end of it all, it will be so hard to see how your son turned out – badly or well – and pretend that it isn’t a reflection of who you are.

Here is what I love about Kim. When his diaper is being changed, (I can count you the number of times I have changed his diaper, less than five. I hear chaps out there have really taken this diaper-changing thing seriously.) he normally has this thing where he immediately reaches out and grabs his jewels. Like he’s shooting a musical video in the Bronx. Like he is so blessed he just can’t believe it. I find it extremely hilarious.  But it fills me with pride because that’s something that we guys do when we just chilling at home, you reach out absentmindedly and slip your hands in your peejays. Nothing says “guy” more than that.

This is to all men out there raising boys. Salut.

 

[Photo credit:tljax]

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102 Comments
  1. I feel like my pal Claude (thé one you wrote about) wrote this piece… Salut to all good dads out there! A good read indeed

  2. Salut Biko! Great piece as always. I have the same worries about my son and for the sake of our sanity, I pray that these lads will turn out right. I believe they’ll do just fine..

  3. True, there doesn’t seem to be a manual for fathers raising sons. i however watched my cousin grow and there was this amazing connection between him and his dad…..even now that he is is Uni the bond is still as strong.But again, his dad had an awesome thing with his dad, so i guess it runs in their veins 🙂

    Great read as always.

    1. Exactly what i thought when i read that part…then i laughed a little till i remembered i am supposed to be looking all serious and stuff koz niko kwa ofisi..

  4. Another great article Biko. True, most of us grew up with “absent” dads whose main job was to pay rent and fees.

  5. I have been been raised by my mother who has filled the ‘dad’ position remarkably well.I have always wondered how my life would be if i had a male figure around and i guess now i know.great read as always.
    Yours truly

  6. Its been a while since I popped in here to gurgle a post.
    I totally relate with this post. There are so many parallels between the way you related with your father, and the way some of us still relate with ours…..Awkward/nonexistent phonecalls. No talking about feelings. Man! its so officious, and old school. And so out of place in 2014.

    Lakini kim just had to crack things up
    “Here is what I love about Kim. When his diaper is being changed, (I can count you the number of times I have changed his diaper, less than five. I hear chaps out there have really taken this diaper-changing thing seriously.) he normally has this thing where he immediately reaches out and grabs his jewels. Like he’s shooting a musical video in the Bronx. Like he is so blessed he just can’t believe it. I find it extremely hilarious. But it fills me with pride because that’s something that we guys do when we just chilling at home, you reach out absentmindedly and slip your hands in your peejays. Nothing says “guy” more than that.”
    lol

  7. Here is what I love about Kim. When his diaper is being changed, (I can count you the number of times I have changed his diaper, less than five. I hear chaps out there have really taken this diaper-changing thing seriously.) he normally has this thing where he immediately reaches out and grabs his jewels. Like he’s shooting a musical video in the Bronx. Like he is so blessed he just can’t believe it. I find it extremely hilarious. But it fills me with pride because that’s something that we guys do when we just chilling at home, you reach out absentmindedly and slip your hands in your peejays. Nothing says “guy” more than that….You Nailed it Home Biko,i Can Relate

  8. ” I looked at the audience with self righteousness and went back to watching TV sure that King Zulu’s wisdom had been adequately impacted on the females for generations to come.”

    Fatherhood is as much a blessing as motherhood!

  9. Wish the little guys came with a manual.Salute to all the dads out there who are just trying to raise their sons right.

  10. Deep! I want him to tell his mates, that my old man, is that guy who puts shit in perspective. To respect me. When I die I want him to feel completely lost for a long time, to feel this large quarry open up in his life and know that no one will ever fill it. Not even his mother. May this happen when Kim grows up.

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  11. Every time i read a post about your dad, it reminds me of my dad. He was a present but absent dad.
    *****
    All the best as you raise Kim.
    He will be soo proud of you when he grows up

  12. . . . awesome article right there. I’m in my mid twenties and late next year i’m getting into my late twenties . . . so of late i’ve been asking myself why i speak to my father but i’ve never had a conversation with him . . . this article just answered many of the questions that i had . . . talk of childhood similarities . . . #bigUp #BikoZulu

  13. I am raising a man too,my little brother left in my care by my mother when he was just two years old,he is thirteen now.I realized along time ago that how easy my sister and I could ‘femalise’ then end up with a wuss and a sissy so we are tough on him.He has learned to stand up for himself,to express himself and even though he has dyslexia,you can bet on my mama’s grave that will never be a reason he becomes a loser. He will work hard,like we are teaching him,he will always be respectful,kind,honest and have integrity.You can be sure his ass wont be on dead beat Kenya,because If I fail to do anything right with my own life,I will do right by his!

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  14. This one resonates with me. Growing up in the ’80s with a dad who was an army officer…and who in his unassuming but stern manner expected us to follow all his orders and question none….this article hits too close to home.

  15. Good read. I’m sure it would even be a better read if I was a man. But I appreciate what you’re saying here. And I relate to the ‘silent’ dad. That was classic 80’s cliche dad behavior. (+ the tea by ‘his’ chair + the peugeot) *Sigh

  16. Hehe I totally relate to this post..
    Especially the two paragraphs towards the end..

    Good stuff Baba Kim (By the way how is it Kim? Is that your old man’s name?) Just asking

  17. As always….a fresh piece to enlighten the day!
    The man I call father was cut from the same cloth as yours…very economical with words. Why do they always go ham on domesticated animals and the weather when you call?
    smh

  18. Great read Biko. Raising boys is an awesome and rewarding job. Best feeling is when they brag about you to their pals! Something to look forward to!

  19. Good read as always. But it is worth noting that not all Dads were the present-but-absent kind. In my family, my dad actually encouraged us to have conversations with him. Initially it was hard to fathom what he was up to and actually talk to him because all around us, adults would talk at us, instead of having a conversation with us kids. But he encouraged us to have more than just ” how was school”-type talks with him. Both my parents were teachers and they worked hard at leaving the teacher at school and just being a friend and a parent when the came home.

    I am a parent to twins; boy and gal, and it is interesting to see how my childhood relationships with my parents influence my own relations with my kids. My dad and I can have these long conversations about anything and nothing. They range from political chit-chat, to philosophical discussions about life. We talk about where he was when I was born, when each of my siblings were born, how excited he was to hold us kids.And I tell him how terrified I was when my kids were born. How uncertain I am of what I am doing; and he says ” Look at you and your brothers/sisters, we didn’t know what we were doing with you either. But you turned out ok, didn’t you?”.

    We talk, A LOT!!

    I wish everyone had a dad like mine. Overtime I have realized just how special he is. Not too many of his breed around; especially amongst his age mates. I know my kids will do ok. It’s going to be quite a ride raising a boy and a girl of the same age; there is no manual for this.

    Biko, thanks for sharing. It’s good to know that there are other fathers out there going thru the same things I am. And thanks for letting me write on your wall.

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    1. Thanks folks, for sharing. I was raised by my grandparents. My Gramps who is now a hundred years old, is still my best pal, and one of my best drinking buddies! We talk about everything, and we just love each other, never mind the 60 year age difference. Pray I can do right by my son.

  20. Salute to my old Man and to all Dads’. They raised us right and we didn’t disappoint. I’m sure Kim will turn out great too. Great read Biko 🙂

  21. When I die I want him to feel completely lost for a long time, to feel this large quarry open up in his life and know that no one will ever fill it. Not even his mother….

    Yes, when you are a great dad, it feels exactly like that. And ohh the conversation part with your old man esp about your pubertal girlfriend could be awkward as they come, while you missed it, I got it but I never for a moment liked it….

  22. The music on the gramophone .. You just nailed it . My dads’ 18th anniversary is coming up and working on a piece from a girls’ point of view . This is the only piece from your collection that I have gone seriously teary . Exactly what has been shared by one of my boys ….

  23. Great writing as always boss. So easy to relate to this, seems like most of us went through the same present-absent quagmire with our old men… But this was a killer…

    Here is what I love about Kim. When his diaper is being changed, (I can count you the number of times I have changed his diaper, less than five. I hear chaps out there have really taken this diaper-changing thing seriously.) he normally has this thing where he immediately reaches out and grabs his jewels. Like he’s shooting a musical video in the Bronx. Like he is so blessed he just can’t believe it. I find it extremely hilarious. But it fills me with pride because that’s something that we guys do when we just chilling at home, you reach out absentmindedly and slip your hands in your peejays. Nothing says “guy” more than that.

  24. Great stuff Biko!! Keep it up.

    Am raising two of them and i usually wonder what i am communicating even when i am not talking.

  25. “The other day when he fell crying and every skirt was rushing to get him up I hollered loudly, like Shaka Zulu, spear blocking the path of the marauding women, “No!” I bellowed, “Let him be! Let him be a man and get up!” They all froze.”….hahahahah

  26. “Finally, mumbling baby obscenities, he got up and sat on his diapered ass sniffing back the last tears. I looked at the audience with self righteousness and went back to watching TV sure that King Zulu’s wisdom had been adequately impacted on the females for generations to come.”

    “He normally has this thing where he immediately reaches out and grabs his jewels. Like he’s shooting a musical video in the Bronx. Like he is so blessed he just can’t believe it.”

    *tears*

    Biko, we need these words immortalised in a book asap…

  27. This is to all men out there raising boys. Salut

    Wuod Baba, I will claim this cheers for myself as well – a single Mom raising a gentleman whom I pray turns out to be all the best things his father refuses to be and all the love his grandfather doesn’t know how to express.

    Excellent read. Here’s to our boys.

  28. Re-reading this on a Friday, whiskey on white rocks (occupational hazards of an ad agency). Somehow it reads different. I am not sure whether its the golden liquid or the emotional truth that I missed the first time.

    My dad was absent, he worked so far away from home, so I cannot relate with all this. He raised us remotely. We noticed his presence when he came visiting on a weekend, but for the rest of the month, the weekly brown envelopes (containing brown notes) that I accompanied karua to pick from Akamba was the sign that I had a dad.

    I am sure you are doing great; that Tamms and Kim are having a better experience that mine.

    I am scared of having kids.

  29. Amen. I am privileged to be a father raising a son. My God give me the will and power to raise him the best way I can. Salute

  30. You paint such an amazing picture of fatherhood, Biko. And don’t worry about the crying. My little bro used to cry a lot also. But you should see him now, the way he walks his 5-year-old ass around like he’s the man of the house.

    Then there’s this:
    “First, it would be nice if Kim didn’t like boys.”
    Left me in stitches.

  31. I can totally totally relate to his post…a dad we didnt relate too and now raising a man who looks up to me. And yes.,..that attention thing i learnt at 14 months…these days he falls and raises his fine ass aloooone.

  32. Biko: another excellent piece! I have a brother raising two boys 11 and 9, and my does he treat them like men! The young one told me my hair looks good, I said thanks, then said his Dad told him girls like it when a man says their hair shoes or clothes look good! They play ball, ride bikes, watch movies and discuss life. It’s a personal choice as my father was a real absent present dictator. So all the best as you raise both a man and a friend!

  33. Hahaa……omertà Biko, you are too funny. You make me get so impatient to get my own kids! And grabbing the “jewels”, Hahaa……so true! It is so instinctive I can’t help it….but not in public of course!
    Good piece mate.

  34. It is a killer but in the sweetest of ways. Over the past year and a half ( pregnancy thru birth – et’ al) I have learnt a few things.

    1.King size bed is over rated. Boss, for 6 months I survived on 6 inches of mattress space when my wife was pregnant. The rest of the 1.5km of bed-space was all hers, no questions asked.

    2. Everyman needs an alarm clock that simply says ” Hunny my water broke”. Those 4 words will wake you up in a flash. You go from sleepy to fully functional in 2 seconds flat.

    3. Sleeping for 2 hrs straight is a luxury one can do without.The last 5 months I have been up every hour of every night for at least 5 minutes each time. The human body has an amazing capacity to adapt and adjust.

    4. That story of diaper changes…… wacha tu. I won’t go into that.

    5. Having the right partner in life makes a big difference.

    6. As much as I try I always find myself dotting over baby-girl more than baby-boy. I will jump out of bed if she yawns in her crib but I will let him cry his heart out to “toughen him up”. I feel you about that raising a softie thing…. I want him to be her protector. I want him to grow up strong minded and willed for his sister and his mother.

    7. I want them to look up to me. I want him to treat women as I treat his mother. And I want her to expect nothing less from any man she meets in life.

    My lessons continue, but I have learnt a few things along the way. And those Parental Guidance books? B.S!!
    I call them ” Sh**-that-worked-for-me-and-might-work-for-you-too” books.

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    1. The first 2 points happened for me just the same way in late 2010. I tell you they have a way of hogging the bed and making you feel guilty. Hiyo ya water broke ilifanya nijue I am not fat. Just full of responsive potential.

  35. Nice post just make sure that when it comes time for Kim to get the snip you do not ‘femalise’ the ‘transition’ to manhood

  36. “He didn’t know how to put feelings into words, which was ironic because he has spent all his life buried in books. Buried in words. Words he has never learnt how to use.”

    I learn’t posthumous, (through his friends) that he was so proud and confident that I would pass my O-level exams.

  37. Well ,well, well “he normally has this thing where he immediately reaches out and grabs his jewels. Like he’s shooting a musical video in the Bronx. Like he is so blessed he just can’t believe it”

  38. The way they call him weak names like “Chuchu”. Blimey! Chuchu sounds like a manicurist! This almost got my ribs raptured.Biko,we can’t help it when handling the boys.It’s just like you and Tamms.

  39. when Kim gets to 2 years, he’ll start getting angry and then the two-bulls-in-a-pen effect will start to manifest… managing the subtle competition is the real test of fatherhood.

  40. “…and then the missus gave me that look of “Come on, it was an accident,” and I went back to watching TV acting like I didn’t care but then it made me feel so bloody lousy, and guilty and I thought if she ever gets pregnant at 18 it will be because I shouted at her. ” #StoryOfOurLives #FathersWithDaughters

  41. I have noticed my little girl is starting to see me as a god in the house. Maybe it is the way they compete for my attention with the lioness.

    I am thinking of siring a boy for company pretty soon. I also feel I just pay rent and live in a corner.

    Ati boys eat alot. That killed it. I am cracking up at 2.30am

  42. As a father of two boys (9 and 4) I can relate. But now it’s that stage where they fart and burp, rush to share with their dad and disgusts the wifey. Small victories.

  43. Ati mumbling baby obscenities…..biko you are sick! Good work man. You never disappoint……..except when missus wants to slap you 🙂

  44. Nostalgic! Grew up in the village and a dad who was a teacher. Is like you told my story. To my daughters, they fill home with love. To my son….he will have to grow to be a man!

  45. Deep stuff Biko. And I agree…These present absent relationships parent have with their kids…They don’t work..something goes wrong and the parents say suff like. ..”my Ciru?! No. She could never do such a thing.” Well that’s that’s what happens when you’re not raising your kids. You buy them toys and gadgets to make up for the lack of a worthwhile relationship. They become these strangers you don’t know. And you wonder what happened. Talk to your kids. Starting now when they’re months old. Only then will he learn to be the man you want him to be. Or that quality lady you want to refer to as my girl….I’m a teenager by the way, take it from me, we wish we could talk to our parents….nice read Biko:)

  46. Men, i love i love this read. I am raising boys..uhmm, well..Meanwhile, i am still receiving kisses from them, before they reach that age where greeting mum stops at Hi.

  47. I can totally relate to that part of being raised by a dad so silent, the only answer you were allowed to say was Yes… I am still waiting for my turn if I would be blessed with a family of my own and have a Tamms and Kim of my own.. Bracing for it duly. Thanks Biko.

  48. he normally has this thing where
    he immediately reaches out and grabs his
    jewels. ……i have seen this in my son and was really worried thought he had an infection or something… so its normal!!! Thanks biko