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 commercialized 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 on 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 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 their mother’s surname in school. Kids who  were told that their dad was run over by an old charcoal lorry that had lost its brakes. Or that their dads went to fight in a foreign war and never came back.

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 a platoon of ruthless brothers, machete wielding 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. Sons of Mumbi, from politicians to musicians to  village bumpkins-even those that have dads-take great pride in flossing their mothers’ names. Thus we have Ka Wanjiku(politician) Kamaru wa Wanjiru(musician) Mwangi wa Njambi(poet, or so he thinks) etc etc.

Legend has it that in the beginning, from the times of Agu and Agu the pioneers of the Agikuyu people, the Gikuyu society was ruled by Mumbi the matriarch. All the nine daughters with their husbands and Gikuyu himself 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 an ancient mugumo tree  in Muranga’, the cradle of the Agikuyu.The strike leaders were a cantankerous duo called Ndemi and Mathathi.Fellows who could sing ‘solidarity forever’ better than Sossion.

We are tired of the tyranny of our women,arent we? Ndemi asked the crowd,punching the air with his fist.

Yes we are! The one million men shouted back,their voices roaring like a distant thunder.

Do you want to end their tyrannical rule? Asked Mathathi.

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.

It’s expected that every man is going to do his honourable duty tonight.Ndemi added.

Those words by Ndemi echo those of Lord Nelson-the brave who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815 at Waterloo. All great men speak the same language during revolutionary times.

This decree to be known as ‘Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga Declaration’ of 1498 the year of he revolution. Since men from that era were tough 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 great great great grandfather 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. 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 throne and restore the pre-1498 status. When they succeed, they take us fatherhood roles relatively well, since they once headed households and were dads.

So much for history.Sometime back I had a chat with a friend whom I have known for so many years. His mum is one of those who double up as a dad since 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 with the 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.He would also 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,his eyes getting glazed. Tokyo trousers were big back then-only kids with serious dads could afford such.

He always had the most well trimmed  moustache I ever seen, 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 doesn’t have 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.

A father is a father, I say after a long uncomfortable silence.

So, are you going to buy him a bottle of wine or something this Father’s Day? I ask Chege.

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 Catholic 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 of a Catholic so my imaginary mass ends there. Back to Chege.

So, when he is in good mood, does he give you wine?  I ask.

Sure he does.

Church wine?

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 ‘development-wise’. Maybe it’s coded in all the waru and cabbages we eat-someone needs to research on that.

Did you finish that house in 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 300k which helped me with the roofing. Chege 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 heroic figure who fixes his bicycle’s chains when it comes of. And brings him chipo mwitu and throws him in the air as they play.  ‘Father’ is no longer an abstraction, but a real man.All men got a small man in them that calls out for daddy, a father figure. So much for my rudimentary psychoanalysis though.

Hey, you don’t feel guilty roofing your house with church money, our money?

Chege takes a long thought.Then a smile plays on his lips. I am sure a bombshell is coming.

With your Murang’a men stinginess, when is the last time you  tithed?

We laugh long and hard, like two hyenas cackling away in the Maasai Maara.Chege’s phones flashes.

Mum, kata simu nikupigie. He says in the softest voice he can muster.He then excuses himself and comes back 30 minutes later.

Though Gikuyu 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,where will you tell your kids where their grandpa is? I pose to Chege.

Awkward silence.

Will you tell them that their grandpa went off to fight in Gulf War and never came back?

I push on,hesitantly.

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.

Luckily,Chege’s father fatherhood  can be gauged by the quality of the man he brought-despite being away from him due to social dictates.

My father is a Father.Chege signs of as we dig into the tumbukiza we had ordered for lunch.

  1. Handwork is From mothers while the stinginess aspect is obtained from the fathers.I got this today….mmmh somehow true

  2. I must say that title is catching. At first, I wondered what else “your” father could be. Definitely not a porcupine….1948 mwaka wa njeege.

    But you spun it well. Without losing the focus of the fatherhood. And I agree it is getting really hyped; father’s day.

    You forgot one category of the divides created by the hyped father’s day: those who were brought up by the mothers without an allowance of asking about their dad. The ones who got the ass whopped for asking.

    1. When the next Fathers Days comes around,we can do a story of such children.Children who go by very negative nomeclature in all societies like ‘bastard,’,’mwana haramu’, ‘mtoto wa malaya’ etc.
      Thanks for your comments.

  3. Reminds me of one time we attended a function in mum’s village. When introductions came, we introduced ourselves with mum’s name as she was the one known in that area. It didn’t go well with dad and that taught me that my fathers pride is us using his name everywhere we go.

  4. I, Wairiuko wa Nyambura, am also a son of a woman. Ati “Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga Declaration of 1498 the year of the porcupine…Gikuyu man drunkenly singing ‘1498 was a good year’.” Weuwee! Man, this part is humorous. 😂.

    The way you have vividly phrased the Ndemi v Mathathi dialogue is as if you were writing the minutes during the meeting.

  5. Reading this on Father’s Day brings the message home kabisa.
    And yes, being a Dad is reflected in the children.
    Well written, the humor is up there, and everyone is wondering why I’m laughing alone.
    Happy Father’s Day, I celebrate you not only today but every single day.

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