Holidays divides us. Christmas divides us into two groups-those who got lots to spend and those with hungry nights to spend. Father’s Day, which is increasingly becoming popular and commoditized just like Christmas, divides us into two too. Those who have doting fathers and those with yawning gaps where their father’s memories should be. There is no one who is lonelier than a fatherless kid during Father’s Day.
Father’s Day also divides us into those who were brought up in the poster perfect father-mother-child (ren) kind of family. The Mr. and Mrs. Kamau of ‘Hallo Children’ trilogy kind of family. On the other divide, we have those that were brought up in families where the mother was the father and the children took up the mothers surname in school. Kids who when they asked where dad went to, were told that he was run over by an old charcoal lorry that lost its brakes. Kids who were told that their dads went to fight in a foreign war and never came back or packed their briefs and left.
The Gikuyu nation, which prides itself in being somehow a matriarchal society, has its unfair share of children whose dads left and never come back. This has never bothered anybody though since in Gikuyu land, children belong to women. When a daughter of Mumbi marries say a Kamba and divorces, the first question her mom asks her when she comes home is ‘So, you have you left our children to be killed by those wicked people, huh?’ What happens next is that platoon of ruthless brothers, uncles, volunteers and clan layabouts are dispatched to rescue the said children and bring them back to the clan.
This explains why we have so many Gikuyu men using their mother’s names as surnames. Gikuyu men, from politicians to musicians to the village bumpkins, even those that have dads, take great pride in flossing their mothers’ names. Thus we have DK wa Maria(musician) Kamaru wa Wanjiru(musician) Mwangi wa Njambi(poet, or so he thinks) etc etc.
Story has it that in the beginning, from the times of Agu and Agu the pioneers of the Agikuyu, the Gikuyu households were ruled by Mumbi the matriach. All the nine daughters with their husbands (it’s said they were all Kamba, but that’s another long story) and Gikuyu lived under Mumbi’s compound. They served her and suffered under her petticoat tyranny. I hope no feminist comes breathing fire coz of that misogynistic term but hey, it sounds sweet!
Anyhow, in the year 1498 AD, around that time when Vasco da Gama came calling at Malindi, all Gikuyu men decided enough was enough. A strike meeting was called under the ancient mugumo tree in Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga in Muranga’, the cradle of the Agikuyu.The strike leaders were a cantankerous duo called Ndemi and Mathathi.Fellows who could sing ‘solidarity fovever’ better than Sossion.
Nitunogetio ni watho wa atumia,niguo?(We are tired of the tyranny of our women,are we?) Said Ndemi.
Ii niguo!(Yes we are!) The one million men shouted back. The thunder of their voice could be heard all the way to the land of Ukabi(Maasai),Kikuyus perennial enemies.
Nimukwenda wathani wao uthire?(Do you want to end their tyrannical rule?) Asked Mathathi.
Ii nitukwenda!(Yes we want!) The million Gikuyu men roared back.
After day long deliberations that involved consumption of rivers of muratina, it was agreed that all men will put their women in the family way.
‘O mundu wothe athie arute wira wake utuku wa umuthi’, Reiterated Ndemi as the men dispersed.
It’s expected that every man is going to do his honorable duty tonight.Those words by Ndemi echo those of Lord Nelson-the chap who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. All great men speak the same language during revolutionary times.
This came to be known as Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga Declaration of 1498 the year of the porcupine. Since men from that era were serious mohines who shot without missing or wasting arrows, all men got down to their honorable (and pleasurable) duty that night. Even those who had 9 wives like Mwangi wa Gakame my grandfather 22 generations behind me did his duty according to lore passed down by word of mouth.
In nine months’ time, all women in Gikuyuland were heavily pregnant. They could neither defend themselves nor fight back. Then, men staged a bloodless coup and established themselves as the heads of households. They also established their thingiras as centres as power and since then, men have always held sway in Gikuyuland.When you hear a Gikuyu man drunkenly singing ‘1498 was a good year’,you now know why.
Women are like water, they have a very strong collective memory. Water is always rushing to the sea where it came from. Gikuyu women are always trying to reinstate the status quo-600 years down the line. Any Gikuyu household is a battlefield with mama watoto trying to usurp mzees chair and restore the pre-1498 status. When they succeed, they take us fatherhood roles relatively well, since they once headed households and were dads.
Sometime back I had a chat with a friend whom I have known for so many years whose mum is one of those who double up as a dad. He was brought up without his dad. Like all such Gikuyu men, he wears his mom’s name like a badge of honor.Chege wa Mwihaki. His logbooks read such. His title deeds too.
“I don’t even remember that Mwihaki is my mom’s name.’’ Chege tells me.
He says with that confidence of a son of a woman. Sons of women tend to be overconfident, almost self-conceited. See, you can’t be brought up by a woman who doubles up as your mom and dad and sometimes granddad and be a wimp. It’s against tribal rules.
As we chat along, he remembers his dad as a man who used to visit home often with Jack and Jill toys for him and bring along The Seed and Beyond Magazine all which were published by the Catholic Church.
He bought me my first pair of Tokyo trousers, Chege intones, all carried away. Tokyo trousers were big back then-only kids with serious dads could afford such.
He had this beautiful moustache, he adds. Men distill great events into a single sentence. If a man describes his dad in such a way, he had a good relationship with him. He is exempt from daddy issues.
You see, my father is Father. A padre if you like.
I take time to absorb that, mindful of my body language lest it betrays me that am shocked or judgmental about it all. This is a moment that can make or break our friendship which started in high school where we first met, bloomed in campus where we shared a room and matured in life when we came of age. I was taking liberal sciences and he was taking Botany and Zoology but we always had a meeting point.
Anyway, a father is a father, I muse.
So, are you going to buy him a bottle of wine or something this Father’s Day? I ask him.
You don’t give my father wine, he gives out wine. To thousands, every Sunday. He ends with a chuckle. I chuckle too-the ice has been broken.
So I imagine Chege’s dad celebrating Holy Eucharist on Father’s day in some remote parish in Marsabit. He dons a well-trimmed moustache just like Chege’s, though his is speckled with silver. Or a well-tended goatee. You know how old men grow beard to proclaim manhood that is already fled? He lifts the silver orb before the congregation and intones in English with a Latin twang:
Deliver us, Oh Lord, from all evils past, present and to come: and by the intercession of Virgin Mary…
He purifies the paten and breaks bread.
Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on me.
Amen. The Congregation answers back
I am not much a Catholic so my imaginary mass ends there. So back to Chege.
So, when he is in good mood, does he give you wine? I ask.
Sure he does.
No.Grape wine. We laugh again.Chege always had this pithy one-liners since our college days.
By and by, like all Gikuyu men, we drift off to matters plots and development and all that. Any conversation between Gikuyu men is incomplete without exchanging notes on how each is faring ‘developmentwise’.Maybe it’s coded in all the waru and cabbages we eat-someone needs to research on that.
Did you finish that house at Kamulu? Last time you told me you were plastering. I pose.
Oh, that one? I kinda got stuck. But my dad came in and threw in some 200k which helped me with the roofing. He says.
I like the way he has used the word ‘dad’. Not father, with all the social ambiguities it may carry. Just dad. He is now like a small boy looking up to that brooding figure who fixes his bicycle’s chains when it comes of and brings him chipo mwitu and throws him in the air when they play. Father is no longer an abstraction, but real man.All men got a small man in them that calls out for daddy, a father figure. So much for my rudimentary psychoanalysis.
Hey, you don’t feel guilty roofing your house with church money, our money?
Chege takes a long thought, a smile playing on his lips. Am sure a bombshell is coming.
With your Murang’a men stinginess, when is the last time you did tithe?
We talk a long laugh, like two hyenas cackling away in the Maasai Maara.Chege’s phones flashes.
Mum, kata simu nikupigie. He says in the softest voice. Mum, kindly disconnect I will call you now. He then excuses himself and comes back 30 minutes later.
Though Kikuyu men are mummy’s boy through and through, fatherhood has its place. We get our hardworking genes from our moms. There is special helix in their DNA for handwork. However, the stinginess comes from our dads. They have double helix in their genes that codes for being stingy.
So will you tell your kid that their grandpa went off to fight in Gulf War and never came back?
I ask, abit hesitant.
They already know him. My father is a proud granddad.
You see fatherhood is getting redefined daily. For Chege’s dad, fatherhood cannot be measured by the kids romping in his compound, since socially, that’s not allowed. But that doesn’t make him less of a father.
For the younger generation, fatherhood isn’t about the CCs one packs in his blue Subaru. Or the number of slay queens who have watched your bedsitter’s ceiling all night. Fatherhood cannot be measured with a tape around a mans biceps.
Fatherhood can be measured by the quality of a smile of a woman in a man’s life. Fatherhood can be measured by the way his children remember him. Ultimately, by what he defined manhood to them.
Fatherhood is a verb.