There has been concern on the kind of men we are raising as a society, given the negative reports we are receiving from every corner of this great nation. From irresponsible fathers, to criminals, to men lost in drugs and substance abuse, there’s definitely a cause for worry. But where did the rain start beating us? We explore…
Imagine a stranger walking up to you and telling you that from that day, they consider themselves your father, every blessing they have for their children shall be bestowed upon you as well, and nothing you ever do will make them hate you and they accept you as you are.
Spooky, right? This is exactly what happened to John Wills Njoroge. The then freshly graduated high school student was attending a prayer meeting when a stranger walked up to him and told him as much.
Growing up, John was predominantly raised by his mom. She moved out of their home after John’s dad became abusive, leaving John and his siblings behind. A few months later, however, John’s dad picked them up, took them to their maternal home and never came back.
“My dad was my hero. His departure was heartbreaking and at some point I thought I was the problem and blamed myself. This blame was only addressed when I went to high school,” he explains.
One day after becoming errant in high school, John was summoned by the principal and he thought he would be expelled from the school. “The principal told me to go to class because although he was disappointed in me, he considered me his son. To me that was surprising. I knew when one erred, punishment was swift. From then on, we started having weekly meetings and he became a father figure to me,” John narrates.
It was soon after high school that John met his next mentor. The two have been in each other’s lives for close to 15 years now. His mentor not only paid for his university fees and rent, but dowry as well. So life changing was their relationship that John decided to make mentorship his life’s mission. John is one of the founders of Lead Global Impact, a company that focusses on leadership development specifically helping people know their purpose, personal value and their role in Africa.
“I realised that everything my mentors poured into me arose from a need that everyone has: the desire to be loved, accepted and affirmed. It’s healthy for a child to grow up with two parents because a man and a woman are meant to complement each other. A man calls out (provides a vision and road map for his family) while a woman nurtures (multiplies, brings to fruition). As much as single parent families sometimes can’t be avoided, there’s no day a woman will be able to provide the inherent things a man’s presence provides and hence the need for father figures and mentors and the reverse is true for single fathers on both accounts mentioned above,” John emphasises.
According to John, boys from single mother and dysfunctional families have a higher chance of ending up in crime. His organisation has several leadership programmes but two are specifically geared towards men and boys. The Brave Hearts Programme targets boys in schools from the ages of seven to 17. It involves one-on-one and group mentorship in partnership with schools and institutions and cuts across all religions because according to John, the challenge of masculinity is everywhere.
The second programme, Father to Son, was created after realising that even after mentoring young men, they were going back to fathers who had no attitude change. The idea then shifted to focussing on equipping fathers to become mentors to their own sons.
“Women spend a lot of time with their mothers. Men, however, are told you only become a man after certain tasks are accomplished. Men are also taught not to show their emotions, as this is considered weak. The stress levels among men right now are so high and sometimes how they choose to deal with that frustration is what leads to crime,” John says, adding that in single mother families, the lack of a father figure leaves a child with a gap.
In dysfunctional families, while fathers are physically available, their presence is not felt, leaving many sons suffering on how to interpret masculinity such as how to love a woman. In the cases where daughters are involved, often they’ll have trust issues with men.
To help alleviate the gaps, Lead Global impact has various approaches it uses.
For single mothers whose children’s fathers are alive and still interested in being in their children’s lives and present a fairly respectful engagement with the mother, John’s team encourages them to try and work out a co-parenting system. They also discourage women from making negative comments about masculinity.
When it comes to the one-on-one mentorship with the boys and men, several things are emphasised. Men are taught that to receive the care they crave so much, they themselves must learn to show care. They are also taught competence intellectually, emotionally and physically.
“There are needs that men desire to enable them function properly. They include affirmation; men will often ask about their performance because they just want to be told they’ve done a great job. A man needs friends and confidants. A place to blow off steam, receive guidance and support without being shamed. The other is sex. Men also want respect. Respect to a man is what love is to a woman,” he expounds.
In 2018 alone, the team trained around 100 mentors with over 300 boys in all the 47 counties represented. The idea is to equip men for deployment.
“Our approach is to change the narrative one boy at a time,” he concludes. John eventually reconnected with his father and they have an amicable relationship spanning nine years now.