The Authoritarian Parent
I have learnt that there are several parenting styles. The first dad I interacted with was very authoritarian. It was his way or no way. He made the rules on even when and what you could laugh about, or play with, or who you could interact with. He once told me and my brother, if we ever found him doing a headstand in the middle of the living room, then we could laugh. The imagination of him doing a headstand was hilarious, and we laughed. And the consequences came. Long lectures, as we used to call them. Every time he would call a family meeting we would say, its lecture time. However as time passed, especially after his retirement in the late 90s, there was transformation to an authoritative parent. Things could be discussed. Mistakes could me made, consequences administered according to age. By then it was just me in the house. Everybody else was either in high school or college or working.
The dedicated Father
One thing that my dad dedicated himself to achieve was an education for all his children. He was blessed with many of us. There was a time probably he had 6 children in school, three in primary boarding and 2 in high school. But he managed. I know what civil service drivers earn. Its nothing to sustain such numbers. Whichever school his children went to, he established a good rapport with the school management. He talked to them. Personally, I was sent home only once, and it’s because I wanted to go home like everyone else. I remember working very hard to convince my teachers to let me go home. He encouraged everyone to work hard in school. His primary school motto was, let your marks get you the school you want to attend. If you want a national school get national school marks. If you want a village school get village school marks. But even when we messed up, like he always rose to the occasion, looking for alternative schools, making sure you got an education. The farthest you wanted to go, he was willing to support.
He dedicated his parenting also to protecting his girls from abuse. I remember in 1997 or thereabouts, there is a guy who decided to verbally abuse my sister daily as she went to work in a local primary school she was teaching. When my father heard about it, he sought audience with this guy. We do not know what exactly transpired, but the abuse stopped. He did the same for another one of my sisters as well. In a vulnerable space, dad stood up for you. He stood up for my brother as well. There was a time he was being subjected to ultimatums due to some mistake he had made. The ultimatum included him not going to college. My father would not hear any of this. He offered to shoulder the consequence, but the son needed to go to school. That aspect was not going to be negotiated.
The Disciplinarian Father
My father was a tough disciplinarian. He never physically disciplined me, ever, but some of my siblings were. The one thing that guaranteed a disciplining was messing up in school, or you doing something or being involved with anything that would mess your schooling. For the men it was drugs. For the ladies it was boys. Get your education first, who says everything else cannot come after you get your education. That was his style. And he was authoritarian in that. That doesn’t mean we all followed that. But he tried to make sure we did.
The Caring Father
I can give many examples of how he showed he cared but I will just give three. In my rural home, we source our water mainly from wells. My father had made a makeshift pulley system as the one in the illustration. While I was rolling to bring the 20 litre can with water up, the handle slipped and I was hit on the head. I let out a scream, and he together with my mum came to investigate. By then the area above my right eye was so swollen. The rope had cut and the water can was in the well. There was no external bleeding. The area could not even be rubbed because of the swelling. He hurriedly got ready and I was rushed to hospital. It was not a bad injury but the worried look on his face told a lot. Now I can picture his imagination, if the injury was just an inch lower, I would be one eyed. But we thank God that did not happen. The next occasion was after we had traveled to University of Nairobi to change courses after our exam results were out. We left early in the morning. Arrived back home at around 10pm. It is about 30 minutes walk from the main road to our home. As we were walking, I stepped on something and tripped. His hand reached out so quickly and held my hand. I did not fall. From that time on, he held my hand all the way home. The third occasion, we went to visit when my first born was about 9 months and he caught a very bad flu. For the period my boy was unwell, he checked on us every night when the baby cried to make sure everything was okay.
The visionary Father
My father was visionary. He envisioned many achievements for his children. When one of brothers once pestered him how he wanted to go with him to Nairobi where he used to work, he was told, you will one day grow up to work and live in Nairobi, and you will board planes and travel the world. You will see beyond Nairobi. He envisioned success for his children, not failure. And he celebrated his children’s milestones. Some achievements surprised him, some he anticipated. What he never anticipated is failure. Any kind of failure that would cause pain. And while he was perceptive, if his intuition told him that there was a path you should not follow, he told you, he warned you, he manipulated you out of the decision, but if you were hell bent on doing it he would support you anyway.
The parent who showed up
My father showed up for his children. Is it a graduation, he will come. Is it a koito, he will plan. He would execute. Its just that many times his authoritarian side got in the way and the events would be his way. He celebrated the moments. There was a way he would smile and do a thumbs-up and say weee! in celebration. He cried with you. He walked with you in tough times. He assisted in the best way he could. And he never, deliberately embarrassed you. If he was to speak in your event, he was the parent you sat up to listen, not the parent you hid your face under the chair.
There are many things my father was and was not, so for this post I end here. I am just challenged on who I should become everyday as a parent. Do I have parental minimums? What are my non-negotiables? How do I stand up for my children? While parenting does not come with a manual, he did his best. I read a book titled affirmation crisis recently. It details how a father’s presence or absence, both emotionally and physically, can impact a child. And all I can say is, he did his best. If he knew a better way, he would still have done it the better way.