The changing face of fatherhood

‘The birth of my daughter changed me’

Tonny Muchui, father of one, and son of Misheck Mwiti

“I always joke that I left campus with two degrees, the second being my precious daughter. I was 20 and in my first semester of my second year when I became a dad. It was around 7pm one Monday in 2012 when I received news that my then girlfriend was pregnant. I was very conflicted. I sought advice from my peers; some advised me to have my girlfriend abort while others suggested I deny the pregnancy. However, a few who were young parents encouraged me to keep the baby.

I eventually left campus in Nairobi and travelled to Mombasa to see my father who pledged his full support. After that conversation, my mind was made up, I would assume full responsibility. As I left, my dad gave me Sh20,000 to start preparations for the child’s birth.

My daughter changed me. I was an overly confident man but her arrival made me scared for the first time.

I was afraid of what the future held and was unsure that I would make a good father.

Despite having supportive parents, I had to step up and provide for my child. I started to do video editing and other online jobs to make an income, aside from attending my classes.  Although it was hectic, seeing my child’s happy face made it all worth it.

Currently, my daughter stays with my parents, a decision we took to allow myself and her mother to finish school and organise ourselves.

I visit her every weekend and we speak every other day on the phone. I have fostered an environment that allows my daughter to ask anything freely. She is very smart and inquisitive. Just the other day she questioned how I was her dad yet I was not married to her mom.

Fatherhood is exciting. I enjoy the small conversations, seeing her doing things she enjoys and achieving significant milestones. I noticed my daughter loves flowers and so we now have a tradition that every Valentine’s Day I give her a bouquet. At our rural home we go around picking some flowers. We also enjoy watching movies and taking long walks together.

I doubt that there is a parent out here that has everything fully figured out. I am learning to allow my daughter to express herself freely, not to force her to become what I want but rather the best version of herself.

In terms of discipline, I am the only one who is in charge. I don’t believe in caning but focus on talking and understanding her thought processes and why she does some things. I talk to her as I would an adult, just in a slightly simpler form.  I also try to co-parent with my daughter’s mom because I understand the importance of a mother in her life.

Since becoming a parent, I have grown closer to my parents and my respect for them has grown tremendously. I can now better appreciate the sacrifices they made for me.

As a young, single dad, do your best but do not compare yourself to others. Befriend other single parents, that way you can get useful tips like where to find cheaper items as well as have a support system.”

‘I may not have given them everything they wanted, but I did my best’

Misheck Mwiti, father of three, who include Tonny Muchui, and son of Paskasio Makathimo

“I was about to turn 30 when I became a dad for the first time. I hadn’t sat down to plan to marry or even have children, it just happened. I dated my girlfriend for two years and after she moved in we soon realised she was pregnant. We then decided to get married.

One afternoon in May of 1992, I was in college pursuing a diploma in Supply Management. I received a telephone call that my two-month-old son, Tonny, was admitted to the hospital. I hung up and left class. At the time I lived and worked in Mombasa. I was very anxious that I might have lost him. By the time I got to hospital I was in tears. That was the moment I realised the joy of fatherhood. It was a very emotional time. Fortunately, Tonny was okay. I experienced such a deep love that I never thought would be possible. Three years later, I was blessed with a daughter.

Whenever I look back, I miss those days because over the years, I lost track of raising babies. When my last born was born in 2009, I struggled to bond with him, unlike my two older children. He came at a time when I had taken early retirement, was trying to set up my business and I was experiencing many transitions in my life.

Fatherhood has been a wonderful experience because my children have not been problematic. I know some parents who have suffered under their children but I must say I have been lucky.

Since their childhood, I have enjoyed every minute and I am proud of the adults they have become.

Now at their age, we openly discuss issues. Tonny becoming a dad drew us closer. He was very anxious and came all the way to Mombasa where I was to break the news. At that point I decided not to shun but to support my son because he was still quite young.

I also decided to take in my granddaughter because she is just about two years younger than my youngest son. She would have someone to grow up with and my son would be able to finish campus without having a big burden.

Today, Tonny is his brother’s father figure. I am proud of how he stepped up to parent both children. I am also very close with my daughter, Linet. We talk every day. We talk about almost everything except her love life. It is forbidden in our culture to discuss that.

My wife and I have never quarreled in front of our children and we ensure we settle all our issues in private, something I learnt from my father.

I may not have given them everything they wanted, but I did my best. I have no regrets. If I were to go back, I would not change a thing.”

‘During our time, we did not spare the rod and I was a strict disciplinarian’

Paskasio Makathimo, father of nine, including son Misheck Mwiti. Grandfather to Tonny Muchui

“When I got my first child in 1963, I was very excited. Back in the day, women did not go to the hospital to deliver but there were some complications during my first son’s birth. I had to look for a vehicle and take my wife to the hospital.

As a new parent, I was worried but once he arrived I was relieved. Afterwards I was blessed with seven daughters and a son.

I was keen to ensure my children valued hard work just as I had learnt from my parents.  Whenever they came from school, I would ensure they assist in household chores.

When schools closed, I had them join me in flower farms as early as 6 am. They may not have appreciated it then, but I believe those experiences shaped the adults they are today.

The biggest challenge I experienced raising nine children was finances. I depended on farming but whenever rains failed, I struggled. I would look for odd jobs in flower farms.  Fortunately, I was able to take all my children through secondary school.

During our time, we did not spare the rod and I was a strict disciplinarian. I was driven by my desire to see them prosper beyond the village to become great people in society and they have. My children however did fear me because of it and were not very open with me. However, over the years as they have become adults, our relationship has improved.

Now that all my daughters are married and my other son lives elsewhere, I am particularly close with my eldest son Misheck.

Our homes are close by and we see each other very often. At 84, I am still very strong and independent but he always passes by for a cup of tea and to check up on me.  With each passing day, the roles are starting to reverse and Misheck is becoming more of a father to me than I to him.

I feel blessed to have him and my other children in my life. Aside from my day to day activities which include taking care of my livestock and doing a bit of farming, I always look forward to having my grandchildren and great grandchildren around. I love family gatherings because I get to spend time with them.

Today, things are evolving. New parents must not shout at their children or discipline them as harshly as we did, but be more endearing.”

The polygamous dad

‘I have never had to solve a conflict between my children or my wives’

Takid Master, polygamous man and father of eight

“Becoming a polygamous man was not my plan all along but I found myself in that situation, 18 years ago.

My second wife got pregnant and I had no option but to take her in as a wife. While this happened more than a decade ago, it does not mean that a man should just marry any woman just because she carries his child.

I did that years ago because I loved her and I was ready to take care of her and the children.

I now have eight children; seven boys and one girl.

I always wanted to have many children because of martial arts. You need a team of several people in martial arts and as a trainer, I envisioned having as many children as a martial arts team.

I am also ready to add on a few more children because I believe I can handle the responsibility.

A lot of people ask me when I get time to take care of my children and be a father to them and my response is to always plan your time accordingly.

Moreover, I have the advantage of being self-employed which means I get to plan my own schedule the way I want to.

I do not even plan when to see each family because I just go to whichever house I want to. Both of my families live near each other and that is an advantage for me because I can quickly attend to both of their needs without having to travel long distances.

My priority on the weekends is to spend time with my children because I believe it is important to know how they are faring. While I still see them every day, the weekends are a time to bond with each other better.

I believe a common mistake that most parents make is to leave their children with house helps and nannies and not spend enough time with them and then use work as an excuse.

It is for that reason that I do not have house helps and my wives take care of the children full time and do not work.

I am the sole breadwinner of both of my families. My wives not working is a choice we made as a family and I did not force them to be stay-at-home mothers.

Despite the high cost of living, I have learnt to manage my finances properly and because I consider my job to be well paying, I have been able to adjust based on the current times.

There are very many stereotypes about polygamous families with preferential treatment of one family being one of them but as a father, all my children are treated equally. I do not favour any family and we do most of our activities together.

For example, we go shopping together with my wives and buy items according to their needs. I always buy clothes and other items for my children equally as well. If I buy something for one family, I do the same for the other family. Even my wives visit the salon at the same time to get their hair done.

Parenting has been easy for me because of the discipline that my kids have acquired through martial arts. They are very obedient and I rarely ever have any problems with them.

I have also been very free with them since childhood which means they are free with me and share everything with me and they do not fear me since we are close with each other.

Martial arts has also helped us with some tenets in life. As a family full of well-trained martial arts performers, we have self-control, humility, honesty, perseverance, and a high level of discipline and that is the reason why I have never had to solve a conflict between my children or my wives.

We work together so well and while it may sound too good to be true to others, my family is very harmonious.

Ever since I married my first wife 23 years ago and my second wife five years after that, we have learnt to grow together as one happy family.

Each parent should develop their own parenting style because for me, I do not raise my children like we were raised in the past with so much pressure to excel in studies and with strokes of cane.

My wives and I work together to ensure our children remain on the right path. We do not advocate for caning because I believe a parent only needs to guide their children through word of mouth.

I have given my children all the freedom to explore whatever they want to do. I put much emphasis on talent because I believe it can do so much more for a person.

I have even set a 50-50 rule where my children must excel at least 50 per cent in their studies and 50 per cent in their talents because that balance is very important.

As a parent, I have had highs and lows with one of my lows being when I lost one of my children. I have however had memorable moments with my proudest one being when my children performed on the Churchill Show. They are dancers and performed alongside the FBI dance crew during a New Year’s Eve show. It was fulfilling to see them perform so well on that day.

Another highlight for me is when my children excel in taekwondo competitions and it gives me joy to see them come home with awards.

As a father, I believe in having a moment to sit down with your children and listen to their concerns and just have a talk once in a while because it helps create bonds with your children. In this digital age, it is becoming rare for families to just sit down and have a meal together or just talk because most times people are engrossed on their phones or simply too busy to make time for it despite it being very important.”

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