The maternity ward in any hospital is like an active war zone. Newborn babies with their cries are like bullets flying all over the place. Nurses are the rescue crew, doing their best to get those injured to safety. Doctors are the generals, giving instructions and strategies but not getting too involved, unless very necessary. Mothers, they are the bombs, going off involuntarily all over the ward with every response to a contraction.
Occasionally a mother would hobble into the delivery room, assisted by a nurse, some almost on all their fours. Others would be wheeled into theatre. And then there are the men, the fathers, who are like kings and politicians who start wars they will never actually fight in.
They watch from a safe distance, facilitating, providing the supplies and infrastructure needed for the war to end successfully in their favor. A few men have felt brave enough and dared to witness the battle at ground zero. Most of them haven’t come back with good tales to tell. It is said that some even became casualties because they couldn’t handle the heat in the front line. Instead of supporting and becoming heroes, they became a liability to the cause.
Great men know their strength and they play to it. They know which position to play in order to win or lose with minimum damage. One of them is a man whose name I can’t remember but I sat with along the corridor of that maternity ward for about an hour, brought together by the magic of childbirth. We shared our fatherhood struggles and fears intimately like soldiers who met and fought side by side in a war. His wife had just delivered their first son. Shirley had just delivered our second son, Kolya.
He was getting ready to meet his son. His morning had started like any other working day. While making tea in the office he got a call from the wife that labor had started. A few hours later, the baby was out. I commended him for not falling into the pressure of being present in the delivery room.
I had already met Kolya by that time. He had an oxygen mask to stabilize his breathing. He had come out running, not sure to where. If only he knew the world he was being born into, he would have protested to stay in the womb a bit longer. Or maybe he was just the child for this season. We will live to know. I found him fighting the oxygen mask in the nursery, trying to remove it, the discomfort forcing a cry out of his lungs that was louder and shriller, much different from Andrei’s, his older brother. He had certainly announced himself. An hour later, he was stable and ready to meet his mother.
I was more relaxed this time, not like 3 years ago when I stayed in hospital with Shirley for over 24 hours before Andrei was born. I almost had a nervous breakdown. I always think that I should have gone home that night but then I would have missed on an experience of a lifetime. There’s a whole story about that one day that seemed like a week, in the link at the end of this article.
A few days later we took Kolya home and that’s when it dawned on me that I was now responsible for two ninjas. Two little dudes were now under my wings and under my shadow. One came out of the womb sprinting while the other, now 3, is a ball of energy, a dynamite that’s been swung in our direction and doesn’t seem to ever stop. He’s stretched us to all ends of the emotional spectrum, filled our lives with so much laughter and sometimes made us want to lock him out for hours to learn some lessons.
He’s a picky eater, like one of his uncles, prefers no soup in his rice, no meat, not even chicken (betrays the Luhya blood in him) and no sweet stuff. Make a mistake of not discreetly hiding meat in his food and he finds it and you will encounter his indignation. When he holds a glass full or Mursik, he will set it down when it has formed a moustache under his nose. The original Mursik that his grandma occasionally sends to her children and grandchildren in Nairobi. He enjoys that fermented milk with its tangy taste and thick consistency like Kipchoge enjoys running, without sugar, unlike some adults I know.
Seriously though, asking for sugar to put in Mursik in front of a Kale is disrespect of the highest order. It’s an anathema that makes our ancestors turn in their graves when he sees such a pure natural drink being desecrated with sugar. It’s like asking a Luhya if they will eat their kienyeji chicken with rice. Please, respect us, don’t ask for sugar. Even if you buy maziwa lala from the shop, put your sugar in our absence.
Andrei’s love for Mursik makes it easier for me to accept the fact that he hasn’t taken up avocado yet. He has another year or two to do so because it’s difficult to trust people who don’t like avocado. He could have everything going for him and still fail because of being found with people who say, “Avocado is not even that good!” If we ever encounter a post-apocalyptic event and because of limited space they can’t decide the criteria to use to rescue people, they might just use avocado. And then my son will be there arguing that they should consider him since his whole family eats it even if he doesn’t. And they will be like, no it doesn’t work that way. And my son together with his fellow avocado haters will watch the ship sail away to safety. No! I don’t want to be that father who didn’t guide his children well. Eat your avocado son, it will save your life.
Kolya who is now doing complimentary feeding, looks less choosy when it comes to food. We are not sure yet but our hopes for avocado and chicken are with him. He also looks livelier than Andrei, which kinda scares me considering the things am seeing with Andrei at three.
Those are the two little men we are responsible for, to mould them into men who will respect everyone, who will love their wives, who will want to visit their parents when they are adults, who will do the right thing even when no one is watching, who will love God and lead purposeful lives.
A few months to his third birthday, we finally joined a parenting class as our desire is to be intentional about how we raise our kids. We also wanted to understand how other parents have dealt with terrible (now renamed terrific) twos.
We thought the class was going to be about the kids but it ended up being about us, the parents. Children are just a mini version of their parents; we model their characters by the way we behave, talk and relate to each other. If you want to know the most common words used in a home, listen to what the kids are saying.
All parents have weaknesses they don’t like to acknowledge, failures they haven’t recovered from, habits that they can’t seem to shake off and baggage they haven’t put down. You know the worst thing for a parent is to see those shortcomings in their own children. It’s like being standstill but watching your reflection move in the mirror, screaming to it to stop doing the things it does but it just continues doing them, ignoring you like you don’t exist.
I want my children to be polite, disciplined, respectful, loving, obedient, generous but if there’s nothing that I do in my life to model all that then it won’t come out. What they see is what they – and I – get.
It never occurred to me so clearly that I have a problem putting down a gadget when I saw the tantrums that my son throws when we take a gadget from him. He doesn’t understand why I have to use it and he can’t. Of course, I can discipline him but then I will have to do it so many times that it will be counterproductive. I need to do other meaningful activities than being on the phone and he will too.
I want my boys to know that their father reads books, writes, finishes what he starts, cooks, prays, has faith in God, loves people, exercises, gives back to the community, lives purposefully but now I know that if I don’t intentionally do these things, I am eating into their future potential. These are goals that I have set for myself but with children, they have found an even deeper meaning.
And there are no guarantees. You could do everything right and they still end up wrong. I remember reading a story where five kids were raised in the same environment, four went on to pursue great careers, have loving families and serve God and one ended up in drugs. But you do the right thing anyway, because your job as a parent – and this is from the class – is to prepare your children for adulthood and eternity.
It is John Lennox who said that we bring children into this world knowing that very well that they might depart from everything we have taught them and even worse, reject us. Similarly, God created us knowing that we could sin and reject him as a father and He still did it. Why? Well, it is because choice (free will) is the only framework within which true love can exist.
We risk to know and experience unique love by bringing children into this world. God, being the author of love himself, couldn’t force us into loving him, because that wouldn’t be love, and so he gave us the free will so that we can freely choose him. But that also meant we could reject him. Without free will we wouldn’t be humans.
Prof. Lennox was responding to a question on God’s foreknowledge concerning our sinful nature and its consequences.
As a father you keep doing what you think is good for your children, understanding that some of the things you are doing now are seeds that will only bear fruit in teenagehood and adulthood. It’s a slow process that doesn’t seem to demand urgency, but is very important. Those dinners with family don’t seem urgent now, praying together doesn’t seem urgent, playing with the kids doesn’t seem urgent, reading with the kids doesn’t seem urgent. But they are extremely important.
Because we can’t measure the outcome of these activities in a few days or a week, or a month, those activities slip down in priority. We do what’s pressing, what’s more urgent and we forget those activities that add dividends to the future of our kids.
One of the earliest memories of my dad is him putting my elder brother and I on the back of his bicycle and riding with us. I even remember the routes he would take. Others are him taking us to the ASK show in Kitale, drinking too much soda and getting home so late. That was the early 90s and those memories laid a foundation for our relationship that is still strong up to now.
And now, as a father myself, I see that the common thing about those experiences is my father’s presence.
You can read the story of Andrei’s birth here from Shirley’s perspective.
And from my perspective.