When Alex Otieno, 56, got his first child in 1987, he was excited that it was a baby boy. According to Alex, during those days, having a baby boy was an accomplishment as boys were regarded as pillars of the family.
“People valued boys more as they used to say girls would eventually be married off. Boys were seen as an investment and they were expected to take care of their parents during their sunset years,” Alex opens our conversation.
But Alex is currently a worried man; many boys seem lost. He reckons something needs to be done to help them out. “I am afraid we may have a shortage of responsible men in years to come as a lot of our young men are lost in illicit alcohol and drugs. They have failed to show leadership,” says the father of five.
He remarks that he has been intentionally raising his sons, as he knows all too well the responsibility God bestowed on men. “As a man, you have to be closer to your sons while they are growing up. Let them know what it means to be a man, the roles men are supposed to play and why,” he says.
He notes that most young men are lost because of lack of mentorship from their fathers, uncles and grandfathers. “You can only practice what you have seen, heard or learnt. Most young people nowadays lack role models to help them manoeuver through life. They ultimately find themselves in the quagmire you see them in,” says the father of four boys.
He calls to mind an incident where his first-born son wanted to plait his hair. “In my culture, men are not supposed to plait their hair or put on earrings so I talked to him about it and he abandoned the idea,” he says.
Alex, a polio survivor, observes that fathers need to be careful not to entertain their sons when they are supposed to be mentoring and disciplining them. “As a father you will have failed and lost a whole generation if you keep quiet when you are supposed to talk. Don’t joke with your sons when instilling discipline in them. You don’t have to be friends when raising them. Let them loathe you for insisting they be disciplined. Friendship will come later when they are of age and they will appreciate you for raising them well,” he says.
Alex says that a boy is supposed to start being trained to be a man at the age of nine years old. “At this stage they are already in school and you need to start instilling some manly values in them. They need to know what it means to be a man early enough and the expectations the society has placed on men,” he says.
He remarks that in the past, raising a child was easy as it used to be a communal job. “In traditional African societies, a child belonged to the community and it was easier to raise them up but that’s not the case today,” he says blaming urbanisation for the moral erosion among the youth.
“The problem with us Kenyans is that we have embraced western culture at the expense of our own. That’s why we are losing this generation. Africans have a good culture but most of us don’t follow it,” he notes.
He points out at issues like disciplining a child with a rod as a very good thing but today a parent can sue a teacher for doing it. “That’s a tried and tested method and we all know it works very well, especially for up to around 16 years old, but we have abandoned it,” he says.
Unlike most parents in urban areas who keep on pampering their children even after they are through with education, Alex says he believes a man is supposed to start living on his own after school.
“Immediately after graduation, he is supposed to be independent, look for a job and start living on his own. I can’t pay school fees for more than 20 years and still accommodate him in my house,” he says. He advises young men to also have a sense of responsibility and stop bothering their parents when they reach a certain age. “Raising men is not easy as it requires wisdom and God’s intervention but as a parent you have to play your role,” he concludes.