I like the question and answer website Quora. There are a lot of answers to questions you might have on any topic you might come up with. Like this guy who wanted to know whether his MacBook will weigh heaver if he downloads huge files, . So when I heard a song by Burna Boy, ‘Gbona’ that talked about how water enters a coconut, I went straight to Quora.
I didn’t get a lot of information on the website, and I went to Wikipedia instead, and all they said is that it serves as a suspension for the endosperm, (remember that? ) of the coconut during the nuclear phase of development. In between all that research, about water entering coconut, I thought about my father.
No, he wasn’t a coconut juice handler. He wasn’t too good at being available. He was absent in my life, and I will never know how much I missed out on, how his absence contributed to who I am today and how resourceful he would have been in my search of my answers. About existence, about turning on the wipers in a car, about which scent a man should use, about how to make a girl like you, how to make friends and money, how to keep them.
I am twenty eight years old, and I have no recollection of my father until I was an adult of nineteen. Long after I had formed my own personality, long after I had grown up to resent any reference, or semblance to him. That for the brief period we were in contact, I used him for money. Very unwise in retrospect, but perfectly logical to an angry, vindictive teen who sought answers how a teen knew best but got them, only that they masqueraded as movie ticket money.
I look at my baby pictures differently nowadays. I look at my four year old smile, and ask whether I was genuinely happy or I was putting on a front for my mum. She tells me I asked her why I didn’t have a father as soon as I could put together full sentences, wondered why I didn’t have a father yet all the kids in our little ‘plot’ had one, drunk or philandering as they were. I knew from her answers that it was something she didn’t want to talk about, and so the questions about father were replaced by who the smiling boy in the Blue Band tin was. And what I needed to do to be on a tin as well.
I see a light-skinned boy that grew up angry, having performed a lobotomy on himself to black out any image or thought of him. I see a boy that grew up knowing how to play to the gallery, to act like he was okay even when he wasn’t. I told my friend a few years back that I would never lift a finger to help the man even if all he needed to live was a five shilling coin.
That is a lot of anger.
A lot of it.
Anger that seared all through teenage, white hot. Like a flame thrower eating at a piece of plastic that was my patience. Anger that made me act out. Ask my mother to find the man, that even if she was able to sacrifice, and work extra hard to pay for what she needed to, she didn’t have to if he was alive. All that pent up anger was misplaced, asking why I had to sell ground nuts in school to buy ice cream for girls at Drama Festivals when he could have saved me the hustle. I was angry, bitter, and I felt justified. I didn’t ask to be born, and I was angry that he took off and never sent a dime for my upkeep.
I was bitter that I learnt to ride a bike from my younger brother. He was more nonchalant than I was, better looking, funnier, and girls preferred him to me. Probably why I have a niece and he doesn’t. I didn’t fight until I finished high school, because I was a reserved kid, that I’d let people walk all over me and do nothing about it. When I first fought, I had to take PEP, because of how bloody it was, (someone was insolent to my mum) and looking back, I only recently realized just how angry I was, that there was a lot of pent-up anger I needed to let go of.
I checked a statistic from last year that said that 45% of children in Kenya do not live with both parents, and that fathers are disproportionately more absent. For context, we are almost 50 million people.
That is a lot of angry, sad, depressed kids.
Kids that ask questions that are ignored, or are met with dishonest answers, kids that grow up deprived, of toys, of love, of attention, of hugs, of fees, of compliments. Kids who grow up to be even angrier adults. Adults that if not checked, pass that hurt and anger to innocent children who keep the hurt cycle alive.
My favourite rapper Meek Mill, says in a verse from ‘Left Hollywood’ that growing up they were ..”actin’ silly so hard but we just wanted some love.Mama workin’, daddy dead, I just wanted a hug Why you think we spillin’ Spade when we go to the club”
That all that acting up stemmed from a deprivation of affection. I imagine that the streets of Philadelphia would have less dead bodies if kids got a better upbringing.
From experience, when you grow up deprived, of love, of money, of discipline, of affirmation, it leaves you with a vacuum. A gaping vacuum that means if you don’t check yourself, you’ll spend your entire life filling it at the expense of your emotional, physical, psychological and financial health. Because you grew up with no affection, you either grow up needy, or cold. Because you grew up poor, you end up making money by any means, or aloof to success and the discipline that comes with it. Because you grew up with no discipline, you end up resenting authority or sucking up to it. That unless you confront your past, your future is like CD with a scratch, and that you keep playing the same scene for as long as you’re not dealing with your anger. I grew up with self confidence as strong as a strand of dry spaghetti. I had brittle confidence, and I’ve only gathered it in my late twenties. I second guessed everything because I had nobody to tell me to believe in my self, in my decisions, to make a decision and stand by it, wrong or right, stupid or intelligent.
Then you get to an age where you can no longer pin any failure on your past, on what was availed or kept away from you, that you are now responsible for anything going forward. That good, or bad, you have to take responsibility for your actions. If you’ve grown up questioning your every breath, your every decision, that is scary. I am working on myself though, slowly. Learning to make mistakes and not call myself an idiot for the trivial ones. I am learning to face my fears, to face uncomfortable decisions and make them. I am learning to question decisions, to do what I like,what works for me, not what is socially acceptable. It’s a process I’m enjoying, and I am glad my friends and social media is filtered to ensure I only have people who don’t make me doubt my abilities and call me out on my BS constructively. If you have confidence issues, I suggest strongly you try that.
I hope in the near future to be able to facilitate a mentoring programme for kids who grow up with absent parents. That they’ll be taught to be polite, to be firm in their decisions, to own up to mistakes and apologise, to interrogate and question societal norms. (Thank you Rodrick Ncube for all that you have done, do, and keep doing) I hope that we will have a ripple effect of young people who are honourable, who add to their societies and not take away from them, that we will have young women who feel, and are treated as worthy contributors to a society that avails to human beings, regardless of age, sex, religion, race, sexual orientation, social class, nationality or any divisive social construct, opportunities to be the absolute best they can be.
I hope one day soon, I will have a conversation with my father. Know why he did what he did. Tell him what I feel. Tell him what he deprived me, what he could have stopped, what he could have helped me become, and hopefully after that, (and after therapy, that is very necessary) that the hurt and anger will be gone. That I will no longer imagine him dead to me. That we will go over the small matter of how water gets into coconuts, and that I will be better placed to make sure my kid never has to go to Quora when I’m alive.