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Mandela Echefu on life and fatherhood

Mandela Echefu is a blogger, a creative writer, a  passionate father and family man. He shares his journey on life and fatherhood with Carob magazine. Enjoy...

 

I sit watching in amazement this fire crackling, nappy haired, bundle of life and energy who is my daughter. At 2 years old, she has worn me out by the constant herding and intermittent anxiety attacks I get thanks to her never ending near-misses and countless tea party summons. Today, during my daily recess AKA her nap time, I think on fatherhood, I ponder what it entails and how much it has changed, what is fatherhood in today’s world and more specifically fatherhood as an African.

Before my daughter, I remember always hearing people romanticize having a child, it was supposedly the greatest thing that could happen to a man. I remember looking for that epiphany while holding this brand new, scrunched up, pink lipped creature in my arms, she was all so small. I sought in myself that overwhelming feeling of joy and wonder I had been hearing about but it was really not there.

 

It was not until the third day when she opened her big brown eyes and looked at my face, taking in my features as if to say…hey I recognize that voice, so this is what you look like. It seemed like she looked right into my soul, deep down into where I keep all that is dear and hidden, she went there and firmly weighed anchor claiming that spot forever.


I knew from that moment I was smitten for life. I was at the command of something so tiny, so beautiful, and so fragile.

Two words that intrigue me: “Fragile” and “Fickle”, I think about them a lot, they make up the Irony of African fatherhood. I sometimes wrestle with how life as a whole is immensely fickle: interests change, children grow, and love fades all so subtly, it is said, there is a thin line between love and hate, with great subtlety parent’s relationship with children change that most times we fail to notice. The African man wants a son at all cost, a son is the embodiment of his father, he carries on the family name, and a son is worth seven daughters.

However, when blessed with a daughter a man falls so madly in love that for many, they truly experience love for the first time. I speak for myself in saying that like many African men I know, I was anorexic in my understanding of love, the feeling is an enigma to me, and it was just as difficult to express the totality of love as it was to accept it. There are boundaries set by society, expectations of the limits to interactions and cultural nuances that governed every relationship under the banner of love. Selfless love was not modelled to me, so to my son I taught what I knew which was not much, a baby girl however changes everything. With little gestures they melt your heart, you long for her company, and your heart it tickled by her soft giggle. Hearing her call you daddy is like the first sound of the robin after a long winter, when she hides behind your leg when spoken to by a stranger, you fell 10 feet tall. As a man it is easy to die for your wife or children, we live by honor but you realize that for this little one, you are willing to do the harder thing which is to live for her, you change behaviors and kick habits that have held you hostage. Through her eyes you see the glow in her mother and love maybe once dying or dead is reborn.


The paradigm however is how fickle it all is, the boy child, so desired while in the womb usually ends up dissatisfied with his relationship with his father, the emotion and sensitivity enjoyed by a girl is absent in his relationship with his father. So much is required of him, responsibility is imbued in him without the sensitivity and fondness to help him bare that weight. 

 

Slowly his overwhelming desire for approval wanes (it never disappears) and is replaces by resentment for the man he once thought invincible. Like a slide of hand, the roles are reversed, the son who craves approval can now avoid his father. He can move far away leaving the father lusting for his attention. To the African man, it is always a surprise how fickle power is, power over family, over your clan, over your future. It brings to mind the numerous African leaders who have been in power for decades and seek to stay put at all cost. The African father after calculating the cost of mending the relationship with his son comes to the realization that he is unable to make that change emotionally, he is far too spent, too many years wasted, too many bridges burnt. How did he get this way? Surrounded by many but lonely, conversation abound yet he feels excluded.

 

Again the daughter comes to the rescue, when that son has a daughter he begins to understand, the relation between father and children is a complicated one, it has no manual that comes with the child when they exit the womb. A father cannot give what they don’t have, a son has expectations as does a daughter but the love that comes with the birth of a daughter is an enigma, rapturous and all consuming, any father is lucky to experience it. A daughter teaches a son that love in its purest form is fragile too and must be nurtured, they show him that life is fickle and though unexpressed they too were loved by their father. A daughter causes any man to want to be free of grudge and open to healing. To have a child is a blessing and a gift, to have a daughter is deliverance.