To be a father is to be available

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By Christopher Maina

Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscar win has been the biggest news since last month, not only here in Kenya, but also worldwide. It was a first for an indigenous African, let alone for a Kenyan. I first watched Lupita in the TV drama, Shuga, and immediately fell in love with her character; her acting was out of this world. The Oscar for Best Supporting Actress was, according to me, a worthwhile crowning. But this article is not about Lupita; it is about her parents and the role they played in bringing up a star. Lupita is who she is today because of the nurturing she got from her parents. At the moment I am thinking about her father, as this is ‘Men only’ column.

I recently spoke to a friend, a teacher, who shared with me some of her experiences with children in the different schools she has taught. When it came to discipline, she said the common thread in all schools was that children of single mothers often had the biggest discipline issues. Her conclusion was that no matter how the society today tries to make single-parenthood appear normal; the fact is that children who have been brought up by both parents generally do better in life. Obviously there are exceptions to this observation.

In his book Meditations, Marcus Aurelius narrates the different things he learnt from different people starting with his grandfather to teachers and gods. He says of his father: “In my father I observed his meekness; his constancy without wavering in those things, which after due examination and deliberation he had determined. How free from vanity he carried himself in matter of honour and dignity… his laboriousness and assiduity….”

Lupita’s father, Anyang Nyong’o, is an academician of note. He understands the rigours of academia and the ‘no-pain-no-gain’ truism of success. It requires constancy, sacrifice and many hours of labour to make it in academia. This is what young Lupita must have picked from her father early on. Although acting appeared like her natural inclination from childhood, she learnt that it would take nothing but hard work and continuous learning to be a world-class success.

But she also needed resources to pursue her dream. Many Kenyan children fail to reach their full potential because the man supposed to be their father is never in the vicinity. He was a hit-and-run lover, an absentee father or an irresponsible man who absconded from his duty to his family, leaving the wife to be both mother and father to her children.

I do not know why but so many men are reducing themselves to mere spectators in the upbringing of children they have fathered? Why are men increasingly failing to live up to their nature to provide both sustenance and guidance to their families? This is the reason I said this column is more about Lupita’s father. It is a call to fellow brothers to be men enough and take charge of their children’s destiny.

How does an able man feel when a child he fathered is taken to a children’s home or is forced to appeal for school fees assistance on national television because you abandoned him or her? Does it make one a hero when a mother is forced to lie to her children that their father died years ago only because you are never there for them?

Kenya has many Lupitas but it will take concerted efforts of both parents to nurture their children to become world-class successes. The little assistance we offer with homework is no small feat cumulatively. Spare a day or two in a week and just be a present father. . And by present I don’t mean you being in the house reading the newspaper while your children are out playing or you being in the bedroom resting as they watch television.

Being present means availing yourself and participating in what your children are doing. This will keep you away from the boys and you might miss an English Premier League match or two, but it is the sacrifices we make as fathers that form all the Lupitas, and all other world-beaters, in our midst.

Dr Phil, an American television personality, author, psychologist, and the host of the television show Dr. Phil, says that family is serious business and thus it requires serious members. Bringing up dependable, self-propelling and ambitious, respectful human beings is even a more serious business. You cannot leave it to the mother alone and expect the best from your children. Be there. Do your part. And when your daughter or son stands on the world stage, you won’t be ashamed to join the worshipping masses giving a standing ovation to your child. Just strive and be a good and available dad and we will all be glad you did when we celebrate your Lupita.

Published on April 2014

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