I write this on the eve of an important date: my Dad turns 52 tomorrow. I realise that time is marching on. In a very short while, I’ll be as old as he was when I was born. Can I be even half the Daddy to my family that he’s been to me? Am I even a third of what Daddy was then, now? It scares me. It shakes me to the roots.
Strong? My Daddy was strong. I remember the time an Uncle came to visit and the view of Mummy’s garden was so good that he wanted to sit by the window while having lunch. The only trouble was, the armchairs in the living room had their backs to the view. They had reckoned without my Daddy – he grabbed one by the arms, hoisted it aloft and set it down gently by the window. Uncle breathed, “You must be very strong!” My heart burst with pride. I was probably 16 or 17 at the time. In fact, I remember surreptitiously trying to repeat the feat when everyone had gone. The armchair barely left the ground.
Discipline? We never got a beating we didn’t deserve. Dad would sometimes even take the time to explain exactly why we were being beaten. I remember the time my brother tried to escape a deserved caning by seeking refuge beneath his blankets and hanging on for dear life. Daddy was having none of it. He lifted the sheets and up they came, brother and all, with just one arm. The other arm proceeded to dispense the necessary justice.
But Daddy is soft-hearted too. I remember one time I spilt my breakfast all over the table when he was trying to get everyone ready for school. Off came the belt and to the bedroom we went.
Dad asked “How many times have I told you not to spill your food on the table?”
“A thousand million billion times!”I yelled plaintively.
This exuberant penitence was too much for Daddy. Like the sun from behind the clouds, the stern look was replaced by a smile that grew and grew, and then there escaped from his lips a small chuckle. That was the end of that.
Loving? Where do I start? It used to amaze me just how patient Daddy was. I lived in a world of impatient people. But Daddy was never like that. Time after time he’d just tolerate our noise and rambunctiousness. While he was studying for his Ph.D, we used to run around the house yelling and falling and laughing and playing like we had it to ourselves. Never a word from Daddy, who just sat patiently studying.
Sacrifice? Because of the family situation, Daddy cooked, bathed us, washed the dishes, and even washed our clothes for years and years because Mum had to work, while he was studying, and she was away from home a lot. For a man whose generation largely believed that a man shouldn’t know which door led to the kitchen, this was (and is) amazing. One of my lasting memories is when we’d showered, eaten and were ready for bed, we’d line up in the kitchen and Daddy would be washing dishes after supper and we’d hug him. We would go from youngest to oldest, so I was always last. Daddy would hug us with one arm (actually the best part of an elbow) because his hands would be soapy, and then we’d say:
“Goodnight!” “Goodnight,” Daddy would reply, perhaps tiredly.
“God bless you!” “God bless you!”
“See you tomorrow!” “See you tomorrow!”
We’d rush off to bed and leave Daddy finishing the washing up. Oh, God. When I think how many Daddies never wait to see their kids to bed! How many Daddies are off carousing and making merry when their kiddies crave a bedtime hug! How many Daddies might be off running another family on the side at the same time! How many Daddies just can’t be bothered!
Once we were at our rural home and Daddy showed us the primary school where his education began. He pointed to the school and said “That’s where we went to school. And it wasn’t even built up then like it is now.” Frankly, it still wasn’t built up, period. Then he said “We used to write with our fingers in the dust, to prove that we could write. When the teacher was satisfied we could write, we’d be given a slate.” He writes better than me to this day. This man whose education began by writing in the dust made it to get a scholarship to do a Ph.D in the West… my own achievements pale by comparison.
Daddy spared no energy or expense in making sure his kids got the best education. I remember how he taught me Swahili in the 6-week December holiday between Standards 6 and 7. Everything! We’d been out of the country and couldn’t speak a word of it. I remember in the Standard 6 end of year exam I took my Insha paper to the teacher and said “I don’t know Kiswahili.” “Just sit down and write something,” she said. But I had nothing to write. By the first term of Standard 7 my teachers were asking me, who taught you Kiswahili? I got everything from the basics up to and including ngeli and minyambuliko ya vitenzi in that 6-week time. It wasn’t til secondary school that I used some of the knowledge, but that’s how thoroughly Daddy does things.
And godly. This is the best part, to me. Now, I understand that this world is full of things and its that purport to be Christianity, and they’re not. Kenya is called 80% Christian. Kenya is also one of the most corrupt countries in Africa. That’s not what the kind of Christianity I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kind that Daddy has. It’s the real thing. A lady classmate of mine met him once and said “Your Dad has such godly eyes!” To this day, if anyone says something I don’t understand, or something, it’s home I’ll go to check. And that includes Pastors. I am sure I’ll go home and something will be bothering me and Dad will remember a verse from the book of Haggai (if you can find that book without referring to the table of contents in under 30 seconds…) that just fits the bill. Now that might not mean much to many of you. But it means a lot to me. Sometimes I think of the parenting I’ve received and think that I should be tons better than what I am. To take that thought in the other direction, I’d have been a real disaster, had not God seen it fit to give me the parents that he did.
So Daddy, I love you. Words are a mean vehicle with which to convey how I feel but they are all I have. Thanks, Dad. Truly. And Happy 52nd birthday. May you have many, many, many more.
Your first-born son.