It was a particularly lazy Sunday afternoon; the sky was bare of clouds and was hence dominated by the seething sun whose commanding presence replaced the cool Nairobi air with uncomfortable heat. These are afternoons best spent indoors and to that effect, I was at my place, hanging out with my close friends doing the usual ‘guy-stuff’. For a preamble, ‘guy stuff’ here encompasses a sporting event be it a real or virtual version of it, couple of beers and small talk mostly about money, sports, politics, the occasional philosophy and outstanding women.
That said, we were blistering away our fingers trying to outdo each other at FIFA 12. You know men and their competitive nature- no one is ever willing to back down and bear the ‘looser’ tag. Indeed, the spurring was intense and fun all until one of the guys received a text I would consider bizarre from his father when things took an unexpected turn. Let me break it down: ‘guy is waiting to play against the winner- his phone vibrates: 1 New Message- he reads the text and bursts out laughing, gamers continue as guy is lost in hysterical guffaws amidst which guy blurts out, “Hey, my dad just told me ‘I love you’,”… silence… even the game is paused!’ We all stared at him in humorous, utter disbelief. After a few of what were mostly satirical exchanges over the same, the moment melted away and the afternoon continued as if nothing important had happened. On later recap however and from my perspective; it was yet another sign of the ever evolving concept of African fatherhood: and perhaps fatherhood in general.
Once upon a time…
Half a century ago and beyond, being an African male was quite a different concept from current trend. A boy born in the jungle had to face many challenges including succumbing to birth related fatalities. Following this was a nurturing stage by his parents mostly the mother and his peers. This preceded teenage whose most defining moment was isolation in the wilderness, engagement in arduous and dangerous conquests and lessons on manhood by respected elders- a stage whose pinnacle was an early morning public, ceremonial amputation of the prepuce in the name of initiation.
Henceforth, the former boy was regarded a man and delegated with the hefty responsibilities of protecting the village and helping to provide. He was once again isolated in his own hut like a Thingira or a Manyatta before he could break away, marry several wives and start his own family. As such, the ideal African man was carved by society into a strong figure, a pillar of testosterone commanding an authoritative aura and a remarkable insensitivity to emotion. Now let us look at his modern descendant.
Born in a closely knit nuclear family sometimes raised by a single mother or female guardian, he is favorably nurtured by the warmth that relationships create. His exposure to the western way of life via mass media starts at an early age as he watches sit-coms, an overwhelming amount of soaps, the five shilling DJ movies and what not. Formal education also plays a role in his life since in its pursuit; he often mingles with the opposite sex, an exposure to more ‘estrogen’ leaving him with a first-hand experience of the ‘softer’ side. When the time comes for him to face the harsh realities of life, he is infrequently left to figure it all out on his own. Rather, he is weaned into it by relatives and friends, supportive mentors and institutions, an avalanche of relevant technologies and other available ‘self help’ material.
While the challenges facing the modern African man aren’t any easier from those of his predecessor, they are distinctively different. The circumstances surrounding him have created a different man: strong in some aspects but yielding to emotion. One who, perhaps, can balance showing love and care with being stern and aggressive about what he wants. In essence, this new breed is the type that can suppress the squirm bubbling within and text their twenty something year old son to proclaim their fatherly love for them and, like in this case, leaving the latter in gags.
Evidently, the Curriculum Vitae of the African father has indeed been updated. The African Man is now in a phase of transition. In addition to protection and provision, he has resigned from his enigmatic ‘macho’ pedestal to the more ‘family-friendly’ position of loving, caring and inspiring his woman and their progeny. Some have fondly termed this process ‘Obamanization’ after the incumbent POTUS whose public display of a pro family man and ideal father figure remains unparalleled.
As for my good friend, he did what most of us guys would have done had we been in his seemingly ‘awkward’ shoes. In response, he coolly asked for an increase in his weekly cash allowance.