When I wrote about this story, I said that my mentee’s girlfriend was called Nincy. Eddy told me that she took offense at me misspelling her name; she’s not Nincy but Nincie. They sound the same but they aren’t the same. So Eddy must have had a hard time convincing her, “He isn’t a malicious person, I swear. Just old.” And that might be the problem; I’m not used to posh names. I’m used to names like Janet, Lucy, Linda, Olivia, Ruth, Maureen…such like names. Names you can’t possibly misspell even if you really wanted to.
I’m sorry, Nincie, for butchering your name, for lowering its value. How I have sinned. Please, pardon me.
I normally write this blog on Sundays but last Sunday was Father’s Day and I figured you guys would have loved nothing better than for me to put my feet up and exhale. Like a holiday. So I took a break. Thank you very much.
However, I asked our resident cool kid, Eddy Ashioya, to fill in for me. I asked him to write a letter to his father.
So, here goes, Eddy Ashioya…
I know this will come as a surprise because of all your children, I am the most emotionally aloof. It’s funny because, in a sense, I have grown up to be just like you – only taller, handsomer and with more hair. Despite your protests, the only day I’m shaving is on my wedding day. But I don’t see that happening, the shaving, not the wedding. Remember what you told me once? If you have to change for someone, then you can’t be anyone. So yeah, I think whoever I marry will have to accept me and my shaggy hair.
I’d like to tell you that I am writing this with a heavy heart. Unlike my brother, who supports Man City (kids these days, huh?), I inherited your love for Arsenal. We have just suffered our second loss. Everyone is laughing at me. Should I switch teams? I really like winning and Arsenal is going to send me to an early grave. When Jesus said die for what you love, this is not what He meant. That is not a good epitaph.
You’d be happy to note that I am listening to 2Pac, the original gangster. He is rapping about mama. Ironical right? Writing a letter to baba while listening to mama? That sort of explains our relationships. To get to you, I always had to use an intermediary; Mama. God bless that woman. The amount of money you wired to my pocket through her. I am no different than those ‘tuma kwa hii number’ Kamiti cons. Okay you get the point.
I have never told you I am proud of you. I have never been one to brag to other boys about how strong my dad is, or how cool my dad is, or remember that time my dad speared a living lion? I have always wanted our relationship to be private, to cherish the little moments that turned memories I have with you, to have something to call my own.
On your last Facebook picture – which reminds me, how did we become friends on Facebook again? – I saw you have started spotting white hair. I blame this on my seven siblings, who I know can be a pain in the ass. Kwanza Johnnie. Anyway. I feel bad because I feel like I have missed out on your best years. Like my siblings got the best of you, they are reaping the rewards of your trial-and-error parenting tricks on me.
Remember that time you beat me with a belt? Imagine since then I have not worn a belt again. Yes, nowadays I wear made-to-measure. Some people fear snakes. Others fear cockroaches. Me? Belts.
In a sense, I wanted you to teach me how to ride a bike. I taught myself. I wanted you to teach me things like how to fix a sink, drive a car, drive a woman crazy…
My siblings will enjoy that sacrifice, having unfettered access to you, 24/7. The older you’ve grown, the gentler you’ve become, a firm hand with a gentle touch. Sometimes I get really jealous having to split your love eight ways. That’s why I am going to have only three children because my heart has four compartments, and one of those compartments is for my wife. Haha. Just kidding. It’s for Arsenal, and my wife.
I don’t know how you feel about Father’s Day knowing your disdain for manufactured sentiments of emotionally inept anniversaries. I wrestle with the obligation of calling you up, just because society deems it appropriate.
I have always been phobic about Father’s Day, because I don’t know how to relate. We are friendly but are not really friends. I think I have written about you only once, in a composition class by Tr Jerusha entitled ‘My Father.’ Trust me, you don’t want to know what was in there. But it was funny. What I do remember is ending the composition with, ‘…out of all the rest, my father is the best.’ Little white lies?
I could remind you how you used to come to my school with a gazeti in your hands, and hellos in your wallet, but that would be meh. That is the Husbandry School of Kenya guide to being a father. I could count the number of times we’ve had a conversation with you, baba. Every time I would land in Kakamega and my siblings would jump on me, begging me to tell them stories of how I have been surviving in Nairobi, alone. You could say I have come home. But that is not how I felt.
You are a closed man baba, and asking you to open up is akin to asking the Queen for her bra size. But I have always drawn up excuses for you. Maybe you believe in ‘doing-as-I-do-not-as-I-say’ but sometimes I really want you to just talk. To feel the warmth and wisdom of a crackling Luhya voice, to be assured that everything is fine.
You see, I am an introvert, just like you, emotionally self-quarantined and really a loner. Ours, baba, has been a functional relationship. I volunteered information on a need-to-know basis. This is a transactional world anyway – and our relationship is like a bank account. Check in. Check out.
I have few solemn memories of us, baba. I remember us, hurdled together, you crying, me watching, as we lay your mother, and my grandmother to rest. I remember seeing a tear stroll down your face, and I was overtaken by a rush of emotions. You were still a mother’s boy. I also remember you taking me to hospital after I broke my leg, resulting in my try-hard Vince McMahon walk.
I also remember you leaving. You liked leaving. You were always too footloose. I never had enough time with you. I have never spent a full day with you. Maybe that is why I carry a passport picture of you in my wallet, just to keep you close. So close, yet so far.
Maybe distance keeps us close. Maybe if we spent too much time together, the hero image of you in my mind will be slowly diluted. I would have to face up to the fact that you are just a man, a man with weaknesses, fallible and prone to error. But I still want you to be my superman.
I feel robbed of a relationship with you. Maybe not so much as a father figure but more of a friend. I can’t keep blaming you for my mistakes, I can’t keep looking for a father in everyone I meet, I can try and make it work with you. I can. I can…but will I?
Sometimes I envy your relationship between you and your father. How he calls you ‘Petero’, and how you still look down when he is talking to you. Did I tell you I look down too when people are talking to me? In a way I want to reflect you, maybe I’ll feel a little closer. Maybe if I act like you more, I can be you. What is it those celebrities say? Fake him till you become him?
You are at the edge of your early forties now. I don’t know what midlife crisis will look for you. The other day I called you, during Father’s Day, and I could hear in the far off, that tinge of pride in your crackling laughter, your deep bass voice muffled by overwhelming shyness. This was our own language.
Maybe on this Father’s Day, I ought to have said what I should have said a long time ago: I am proud of you.
When you are tipsy, you turn from Uncle Mutahi to Otieno Kajwang’. You are so full of life. I would see you open up, and I would turn down the news bulletin – because what else is there – and hear you recount tales of your youth, conquests of the past. It felt special for me to be in your presence, near my father, drinking from the pool of slightly inebriated, but profound wisdom, allowing me to enter your life.
I often don’t know how to behave around you. Sometimes our eyes would meet in that awkward gaze, as you watch me prepare to go back to Nairobi, not knowing how to say our goodbyes. Sometimes, you would reach out to shake my hand 2020 BC (Before COVID), when I really needed a hug. When you did, I would always pull away. I didn’t know what you were to me, and more importantly, what I was to you.
One of the things I have learnt from you are principles. You refused a job offer. You built your home alone, with your own hands. You still support Arsenal, despite years of heartache. I admire the fact that you are proud of what you have, that you make an honest shilling and that you keep your children close. My sisters are lucky to have you. A father who is in shape? I mean. They better not bring someone who doesn’t work out…because that relationship won’t work out…(dad joke level 1?)
You’ve never pressured me to be a white-collar kind of guy, although someone mentioned to me that you don’t even know what I do in Nairobi. Is it true, baba? You don’t know what your firstborn son is doing in the concrete jungle? Call me. But before you do, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I confess that I met another man. His name is Biko. You two look alike, but he has more facial follicles. He doesn’t know this, but I look up to him as a father too. It’s an added responsibility, but he let me in, knowing I was needy. He’s obviously good with words and also emotionally shy, but when I know he has taken time to read my work, I feel proud. It’s like a pat on my back, from you, through him. You have no reason to be jealous because he’s pops but you are baba. If you can have eight children, I, at least, deserve two fathers…He’s going to teach me how to drink whisky one day. I think it’s time. I have washed my hands, now I’m ready to dine with the men.
To be honest, it’s not all that bad, baba. Because every time you read my posts on Facebook and respond with the laughing emoji – your silent reactions online would tell me what your words wouldn’t tell me offline. There’s pain there that I understand. A longing for more. That is something we share.
Baba, it’s been a struggle between the man I expected you to be and the man you are. Reconciling the two is no easy feat, as just like when I was 10 when every little boy believes that his father is the best out of all the rest. Asking you to be the man I envisioned when I hardly know the man you are is like inviting the Pope to a strip club.
When I look at you, I see so much of myself—your desire to be alone, and your need to generate.
As you grow older, nay, mature-r, I am slowly piecing the picture of a familiar stranger. I understand why things are the way they are. Why our relationship is not unique, but special. As I grow up, and meet at the crossroad of responsibilities harassing me, on the cusp of being my own man, I know why it is important to always know that although you may never say it, you’ll always be there for me. I understood, a long time back, that people don’t always have to understand our relationship. It’s tough love.
I’m learning to properly mourn my childhood so that I may make the most of my adulthood. And don’t worry about it. I forgive you for you were on a free trial version of fatherhood.
Baba, maybe you’ll get to read this letter. I hope you do. You’ve always encouraged us to face a book rather than Facebook. Ha-ha. Maybe this is the only way I can pour out my heart without facing you. Or maybe the reason I am afraid of facing you is because I am afraid I am turning into you.