A letter to my father

I have an old picture. It’s of you balancing me on your belly, with my back to the ceiling. I couldn’t have been more than a year old. A steamy cup of tea is on the table with a spoon pierced inside, and the TV is frozen at CNN.

I have a memory. Of me waking you up every night and saying I’m hungry so we can go have tea and bread. I remember how you’d spread one slice with jam and butter on the other. And you’d dip it in tea so I could chew faster and let you go back to bed.

Sixteen, seventeen years later, and I still spread my bread like that.

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This one needs a tip of the hat…#Forthedads

I have read and re-read the following piece, I have thought of an introduction for this lad for a couple days now. I don’t think I can find the right words that will be worth a thimble. We were introduced via E-mail so I’ve not met him, but I sure would like to catch a pint with the man. At first he sent a 300 word post but I thought it wasn’t enough, in a moment you’ll see why. He says he is not a writer but I think he has the smoking gun on it. I don’t think it’s the last time we’re hearing from him. His name is Mwaniki Nyaga. He doesn’t use his English name, if that doesn’t spell great I don’t know what does.

Here he is…

We often think of a mother’s love in colourful, warm and tender terms; but we are reluctant to do the same for fathers. Sadly, many men have been fooled into believing that the love they should have for their families is somewhat of a diminutive resemblance to a mother’s love. Most of what is portrayed on fatherhood is about ‘dead-beat’ fathers who abuse their children and children who courageously survive abandonment.

While you read this, you most probably are still living in this perfect world that hasn’t been fractured by death; a world that is safe and secure and is founded in this deceptive notion that death is a concept. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Truly, it does.

Right around this time of year memories of my time with my father come flooding in. He died as he had lived, with that raw humour you can only get from folks from two decades ago. He bowed out on Father’s Day. The irony has never been lost on us. I was of a curious age then; old enough to chew with my teeth, yet young enough to desire that hot, masticated love; love that did not need to be doctrinated. I remember him teaching me how to do cartwheels by the roadside; feeding baboons bananas in the forest…their snow white fur endings gleaming in the orange haze of the setting sun; how to play somber folk tunes on a fretless acoustic….; those simple DOS commands when I was four years old and wanted to load Prince on Windows 95…; how to revive an aging diskette…wow! How technology has changed these three decades!

It seems only yesterday that I was clad in the miniature plaid three-piece that I’d chosen myself….I guess that’s where my love for turquoise began…sweating profusely as the pink bowtie gripped my young tender neck. On my father’s funeral day, the cathedral stood bare and silent. It’s as if for a moment I was alone. The silence echoing in my young ears. No furniture was to be seen, except for the fixed choir stalls. There were no candles, no crucifixes, no chalices, no flowers. The watery sun that had shone fitfully through rain clouds much of the year cast a weak, cold light into the nave. My sister had held my hand tightly to keep hers from shaking. I could hear her soft child-like sobs. Papa was gone….

My father was not a profoundly religious man. Hence, in his Will he had decreed that no hymns be sang, no pews be set; all was to be bare in the cathedral. His coffin though, was majestic and towering as it laid there, a center-piece that was surrounded by what seemed like an orchard of flowers in my young eyes. Because of the costly extravagance of the box (after all, that was all it was, a piece of thick wood carved artistically), the eerie beauty of the singing, the uniform robes of the pall bearers, and the towering architecture that dwarfed us all, I felt the presence of something holy.

I now live in a place of warm rains, big-windowed lofts, and silent, predatory automobiles.Around this time of year, I feel the Big Sadness coming on, like there’s a shiny and sharp axe blade buried inside my chest. The only way I can keep it at bay is to stay absolutely motionless, clutching pictures of my father and I in the forest, feeding the baboons at twilight.

But I choose not to reel in despair. Running away just dooms one to endless beginnings. I chose to embrace the death of my father. I stopped holding grudges, dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future, because for the longest time I blamed God for taking away papa too early. The birth of my twins; Matilda and Carmen, has given me a chance to match-up to my father’s nurturing skills. Taking them for long walks into the woods, water-coloring on canvas – creating abstract art that seems to have meaning but in truth is just a by-product of us splashing colours every which-way -, reading bedtime stories to them as I watch their heavy eyelids close…

Both the evil and the good suffer. How one comes through suffering is what will make or break you.

A father’s love is sweet because to a child it is another “sweet flavor” of human expression that makes life sweeter and more enjoyable. Happy Father’s Day.

Guest: The army man’s man #Forthedads

I want you to picture a man wearing loafers, a tall man with light skin; he wears geeky spectacles and has hair on his chin. That might as well be Mike Laria folks. On Thursday I hit up this chap to set his teeth on a fathers’ day piece. To say asante to the dads as we get to Father’s day on the weekend. I’ve thrown in a couple of mentions in the past and now he’s here with us. He hauled in his copy a few minutes to midnight on Friday. He wrote a tall one about the man with the beret, he had about a thousand typos but he has a deadly story. I plan on knocking him out and nipping his goatee because I get jealous. Here he is:

I have a bad memory. Nay, I have a terrible memory. I forget names, I forget dates and birthdays, I forget what people were wearing, I forget where I placed my keys, generally I’m forgetful. Therefore it should come as no surprise that my first memory is when I was about four years old.

My dad was taking me to school in our (his) car. A gray Toyota corolla 90. KAH 485V. (This car was later stolen by the way and if you’re the culprit responsible for this heinous act I’ll have you know, that you stole a national treasure in my eyes. I hope you enjoyed it because that is a car that deserves to be enjoyed by whoever drove it. Other than that I wish you a painful death.) Now, I had formed a bad habit of crying my lungs out every time I was dropped at school and screaming something along the lines of, “Mum usiniache!!!” Of course I was told this by my mother and therefore there’s no way to find out how true this is.

Anyway on this day, my dad decided he would be the one to drop me. He would drop me off on the way to work, so he had on his army combat clothes complete with the hat thingy, in scouts we used to call it a beret. So we pulled up to the school like bosses. Now I want you to imagine a man in the army who just happens to be six foot tall holding your hand and walking you to class. I want you to imagine the faces of the other kids when they see you, the weird kid who always cries for his mommy. I honestly think that this is still the single proudest moment of my entire life. I walked with my chest out and my head held high. I didn’t know this at the time but I would be the reigning champion of the “my dad can beat your dad” arguments.

When we reached the classroom, he crouched so we could see eye to eye and told me to have a good day. Then he gave me a high five, stood up and walked away. I stood there, at the front of the classroom taking in the moment; I studied the faces of my classmates. I looked at the faces of the guys who used to make fun of me for being the cry baby; I savored their looks of utter shock. I was no longer the mummy’s boy; I was now a warrior’s son.

Of course on the next day, my mom took me to school and I was back to being the woos.
The important thing however, is that that was the moment that I realized that my father was a man I could be proud of, that by just being there he gave me courage to face my fears and most importantly, that he made my peers jealous of me.

I have countless fond memories of my father, memories that we keep making every day. I remember him letting me sit on his lap as he drove the Toyota corolla 90 so that I could steer. (Hang your head in shame thief) I remember him letting me wear his beret, hehe, and his flying gear on my head and shout “May day!!” Like I had seen in the movies. I remember him teaching me to piss while standing because apparently my mother didn’t find it important to mention to her son that boys don’t pee while sitting on the toilet. I remember him taking me to get a haircut and imparting upon me the wise words that every man should pass on to his son that the barber shop is a sacred place and the barbers are like priests. You do not disturb him with idle chatter as he works on his canvas. (In this case my very unproportional head) you simply tell him what you want as you walk in and pay him as you walk out. And of course, the sacred rule, if the spirit doesn’t sting, it’s probably water and you should never set foot in that place again because if they are capable of breaking the sanctity of the spirit, even murder is not beyond them.

With the years I have come to think of my father every time I see some inanimate objects like newspapers, every time I watch Aljazeera, every time I smell Nivea men aftershave, every time I drive past Mucheke’s which happens to be a pub tucked safely away in the collar of Kahawa Sukari where the old man spends many an evening on the tiles.

Do not get me wrong, the man is no angel, he has his flaws. Biggest of which is pointing out my flaws. He just loves to correct me, which really gets on my nerves. But I prefer our verbal our arguments to our physical ones when I was younger. Remember earlier when said I’m forgetful? Yeah, this used to cost me dearly when I was younger. I used to lose all my sweaters within a week of them being bought. What can I say? Thug life. One day, my dad got tired of it and decided to teach me a valuable ka lesson. He sent me to fetch a stick, which might I just say, (insert Trevor Noah voice), is just damn heartless. Then he worked on me mercilessly, let’s just say my sitting posture has never been the same. But my sweater-losing escapades ended there, so much for thug life.

All in all I love my dad. He’s the coolest guy ever and I wouldn’t trade him for anyone in the world. (What does that saying even mean? Is not trading your dad for anything an achievement? Should not wanting to trade your dad be celebrated?) Anyway bottom line, he’s the best. Hats off to all the dads in the world, alive or late. Let’s celebrate the dads this month.

His blog: mikelaria7.wordpress.com

BM, the pillar #Forthedads

The Mazda Demio, good car, small car, petite. It’s the kind of engine that wants you to milk it although it doesn’t make any noise. It broods inside, in isolation. It’s that guy in class that is always quiet, always watching everything from the corner of the room, taking it all in, quietly plotting the next move because he has moves; he has some huge ability that no one else can muster. Every class had this guy right? Ama it’s just me? When you have your hands on the wheel it reels you in to where it wants you, it begs you to floor it, it wants the thrill and it makes you want it just as badly. It’s needy. You should see it along Mombasa road at five in the morning, wading through traffic, sliding in between trucks, swerving to the side roads of Mlolongo, beautiful. A Vitz can also do that but not like a Mazda my friend, you always want to look at a Mazda’s ass when it passes by. By the way, this has nothing to do with cars; like I’ve said here before, they don’t really pay me enough for this shit. But it will all tie up, I promise.

I’m writing this in it, this car. It’s where I get my thoughts in order, its comfortable; it still has that new car smell. The only problem is its stereo system; no modification can be done to it as it’s too close to the AC thingamajigs, radio cassettes anyone? I remember my first road accident was in it, I was a seventeen year old lad who had just learnt the trade with a fedora hat on his head. It was a hit and run, I was the hitter obviously. I scratched the back of the side mirror against a bus while overtaking so I ran, without giving a hoot, hehe, see what I did there? A red scar was cut right across the mirror cover, like it was bleeding. There was no way I could hide that. I thought of how the news would be received back home, I would be disowned. I would be sent away to Githiga village where I would be a herdsman, a herdsman with a hat. I was scared and screwed. But you’re reading this so yes, I wasn’t shipped off.

The owner of the car is my father -known to many as just BM- is currently in Malindi for meetings or something like that. He’s been travelling a lot lately and I really don’t like it, I’m not used to it. Thing is, I’ve always been close to this man, for as long as I can remember. The first time I ever took a swig of beer we were on the same couch, watching football. I sat there as he told me how to drink, when to do it, how never to overdo it. He told me never to imbibe to induce confidence to do anything, even to approach a bird, I chekad at that one. I know we’re almost losing the righteous parenting guys now.

My father has a beard, it’s getting white. He runs this machine across it every other day. I see him with the machine and I walk out the room, I feel small when he takes care of his beard in my presence. He tells us stories, me and my sister. Stories of his past and they get to me. BM was a teacher once, he taught Kiswahili and CRE in high school. Believe me; I’m still trying to get over that one.  He went back to school and did journalism then worked in Murang’a, which is where I see myself going, journalism, not Murang’a. And then he became a communications consultant. There’s so much history to this man but this post is already gaining some height.

There were sad days, slow days, morbid days. Days when BM was out of work yet he had been the pillar that holds the family. Slowly he started losing weight, the digs became silent, even the corridors became darker, a halo that pulled in your heart and swallowed it. The usual banter and laughter wasn’t going around the dinner table anymore, but a man doesn’t show that he is disturbed, you wouldn’t know that things weren’t right, he still smiled from the corners of the mouth in that way that he does, and he prayed in isolation, everyone prayed, that things would eventually get better.

And then God smiled at him, He extended his hand and shook BM’s. I was in the car with him when the call from UN came through.

Now he’s in Malindi, last week he was in Naivasha and the previous one he was in Maralal doing a story. It’s never the same when he leaves but it’s still better than a couple of months ago. He always says he’s left me the house to protect, he passes down the spear that week and I, Muthaka, honors the spear, I take care of the Mazda that sits in the compound. I keep it warm. I’m still working the pecking order to get a place in the big leagues with this man, where I can handle real shit, but I can’t become half the man he is, I don’t even have a beard…yet. (I really have to stop this beard thing now) Then there is mom, the foundation of the pillar.

Father’s day is looming friends; I know I said three weeks but let’s take time to celebrate fathers everywhere. Get a father a card, put a good watch on his wrist, buy a hat for a father. Fuel his tank, drive down to Ole Polos and choma a nyama, get him his favourite bottle or get him something for his beard, do something for a father. I hope BM doesn’t get any ideas.

P.S There will be a series of posts here under the same hashtag, we’ll have guests here and there as they share stories of fathers everywhere, this is for the dads.