I would make a terrible father. That is the thought that crosses my mind the moment another photo of a former classmate appears on my timeline. It is a strangely familiar picture because I have seen it before. Same script, different cast. The photo of a chick with an arched back and a holding a tummy bigger than usual. Sometimes, there is a man standing behind her holding her shoulder – he stands guard, protecting the delicate chamber of secrets of his own making. I wonder what it would be like to one day be the guy behind the chick. I wonder how she would break the news to me that she is has been diagnosed with morning sickness for the next nine months. When that happens, I try to think up of ways even more how I would break the news to my mother.
You see, when you are a last born like me, you are always the little one that everyone protects without you having the responsibility of protecting anyone else. So really, I have no experience whatsoever in being in charge of another human being. I have never had to take care of anyone else. So when I look at these photos on my timeline, I imagine what kind of a father I would make, and I shake my head in disapproval.
I think my brother would make a better parent. Everywhere we have ever gone to, he is always the one being told, “Take care of your little brother.” Those words were never said to me. Ever. I have always been this precocious being that needs to be looked after, to be watched all the time as if I if I fell, I would break.
“Take care of your brother for me.” Those were the words my mother said to Dee when she took me to Maranda in 2004. My brother was in Form 2 then and I was just joining. Being admitted to Maranda High School came after much deliberation on whether I should go to Maranda or to Chemelil Academy where my sister, Regina, was a head girl in Form 4. Mother Karua was for the idea that I should attend Maranda – then a relevant academic name in Nyanza only, but my dad wanted me to go to Chemelil, quoting better weather and school facilities as the reasons. Plus, since my sister was head girl, she would take care of me. Karua won that debate, though. Maranda it was.
But you can see that I was only going to attend a school one of my siblings was attending because apparently, I could not be trusted to look after myself.
For the first month or so of my stay in Maranda, Dee used to come to my dormitory after dawn preps to make my bed. He was the one who kept my pocket money. He was the one who decided how many teaspoonfuls of sugar I would put in my black tea. He was the one who taught me how to chain a jerrican of pond water to my metallic bed (it still got stolen anyway by the hockey team) and once in a while, he would organize for me top layer from the dining hall.
The point is, I am a spoilt child. I have lived a spoilt life.
That is why when I think about it, I do not feel like I can handle parenthood. These are confusing times to be raising a child. It is very different from the way we were raised. If I am to take a cue from my dad, then the role of a man in a family is to pay the bills, take you for chips and soda after church on Sundays, and look at Math scores at the end of the term. I was never any good at Maths. There was a time in Class 4 when I got 12% in Maths but still became position 12 out of 106. That was because I had a 98% in English, but even then, my father called me to his side of the bed and asked me,
“Now George, think of this. You had 12% in Maths and became number 12. Imagine what position would you be if you had just gotten 30%?”
“Five,” I answered, voice aquiver with fear.
Then he handed me my report card, his point made; not that a 98% in English was something that deserved applause, but that Mathematics was the axis upon which the earth rotated.
Make no mistake, me and my dad were boys. After the report card analysis was done, he would take us to Cosmos – a local in Car Wash area (Kisumu) for nyama choma. And when his mood was elated, he would give me 100 bob to dance to Okatch Biggy music for his entertainment. “Jaraha nyuolo tek,” he would say to his wife. A fun person is not easy to sire indeed.
I was only going to attend a school one of my siblings was attending because apparently, I could not be trusted to look after myself
On the other hand, if I am to take a cue from my mother, then my kid would be in for a very long life. There is always a good cop-bad cop thing going on between parents. In our family, Mother Karua was the bad cop. Woe unto you if you ever broke Karua’s plate. Woe unto you if your ever dropped from position 6 in first term to position 9 in second term. Woe unto you if you ever forgot to wipe her shoes in the morning. And woe unto you ever breathed next to her when she was having a bad day. You were screwed royally.
You know the way people these days say ati parents should not beat their children? Ati they call it abuse? Well, Karua was not the kind to call you to her bedroom to talk about shit. Nope. She would not ask you to go sit in the corner and think about your life or even give you ati sijui time outs. When it was your time to fry, you would know it.
“GEOOOOORRRGE!” She’d call you into the bedroom after the house help snitched about you lending out her Snakes in the Eagles Shadow cassette to your friend without her consent. You walk into her room and find freshly pruned Jacaranda tree branches. At this point, it is useless to even defend yourself. “Nind piny!” She bellows. You lie down on the cold cement floor, clenching your buttocks. She does not stop until all the branches break. And wet jacaranda branches do not break easily. They just secrete some white juices that make your skin itch long after the beating is done.
“Do you know how much cassettes cost? Eh? Who told you? Who taught you to disrespect the house help? Didn’t she tell you not to give it out? Eh? Answer me?” Every question is rhetoric and accompanied by four to five lashes of the cane, licking your deviant manners into shape. Oh! And you better answer.
“Mama yoooo. Aaai mummy. Sitarudia. Please. Ng’won na. Asayi mama. Forgive me. We just wanted to learn Kung Fu. Wai! Wai! Wai! Waaaai! Ok achak kendo mama. Aki sikudanganyi. And…and…aki woi…and…si we exchanged tapes and he gave me that Nigerian movie called The Price.” It is amazing how a child can cry in three different language; switching from Englinsh to Swahili to Dholuo (like Khaligraph) – trying to find the right one to plead with his mother, and failing so miserably. These cries never helped. If anything, they embarrassed you in front of your neighbours because the following day, the talk of the estate would be kids making fun of the way you cried while being whipped.
When the canes broke, you were sent to your room with insults only a creative African mother can come up with; something to do with a dog with ashy buttocks. How she came up with such insults was beyond us: “Gwok piere tar. Oyuja wapona!” Then later on in the night, Karua would call you to put for her that Nigerian movie that you got from your neighbor.
That was discipline meted out in true Karua fashion back then when the world was still in black and white. Such moments were frequent. But every time you went through this, it is like her guilty conscience would deny her sleep until she took you out for chips or fish at Lwang’ni Hotel by the lake. Soon everyone would forget about that incident, until the next one.
So when I see my friends become parents, I wonder what kind of parents they would be. I think about what kind of father I would be. I know I will want to be there when each one of them is born. I would nick-name the first one, Red not just because it is my favorite colour, but because that is what he (fingers crossed for a boy) will look like when he first comes out of his mother. I know I will want him to be a goon like his father – an unstoppable ball of determination and confidence rolling down a hill, but I would slap the taste out of his mouth if he ever talked back to his mother. I would like him to be confident without being rude. I would like him to run into my arms at the end of the day, even when my hands are empty. I think about his early life and I see him at the dining table, eating his breakfast – tea and bread smeared with BlueBand and maybe sausages. Sometimes he will be half-awake, tired of attending school because he does not see the point. Other times, he is nervous because there is a girl who makes him feel strange things. Most of the time, he will be raring to be off to school. I prefer dropping him at school as opposed to a school bus – but then I figure he will grow tired of my presence all the time.
I imagine he will talk to me about these things, because that is what kids who eat bread with BlueBand do, no? They talk to their fathers about things that they are unable to wrap their little heads around. They are curious. They are inquisitive. They ask things like “Why can’t I see my eyes?” or (pointing at my kitambi) “What is inside there?” or “What does a broken heart look like?” or “Why do you need money to buy stuff?”
I have no idea how to be a father. All I know is that I want to grow a great kid who I will pay 100 bob to dance with me – just the way I danced rhumba with my father. I secretly applaud my age mates who are fathers already. Sometimes I call them out for a drink and then feel kidogo jealous when they open their wallets to show me pictures of their kids. I listen to them drone all the time about being fathers and I wonder how.
I guess we will just have to wait and find out.
P.S: But really who can answer Red about that broken hearts thing? What do they look like?