Tony Mochama joined the fatherhood world four years ago. He takes a humorous — and surprisingly practical — look at his journey in the hopes that other dads — and moms — could learn from some of the wake-up calls he encountered along the way.
In exactly a month’s time, my baby who likes boasting that ‘mimi niko na jina mingi’ – Chelsea Chechislavia Nzula – will be four.
OMG!!! as the teens shriek in capped texts. I will have been a father for four years! I bet there are many men out there, who also cannot believe that they are dads to real life children – kids who eat and poop and love and laugh – and whom they have to pay school fees and stuff for.
So here are the lessons I have learnt. Feel free to take some home with you.
1. Babies are slippery when wet
I still remember that day in mid-May almost four years ago like it was yesterday. It was a rainy Tuesday and it was in Mater Hospital maternity the delivery wing (why do these places always have to sound like outposts of some postal office)?
And a lady doctor kept yelling ‘push’ and I kept drinking my mineral water (except that the thing in my Dasani/Keringet, I forget, was not water) and even when I held you in my arms at 10:10pm, I still felt like an impostor. Me? A dad?
Never mind – I realised at that moment that I could take a bullet for you! You are probably the only human being I would take a bullet for (though I may take a knife for someone else, jump in front of a train for a third party, cross an ocean, climb a mountain, and so on, for a fourth).
2. Diapers are diabolical
Forget that s*** they tell you, pardon the pun, in the diaper ads about soft and sweet and so on. Diapers are from the devil. And impossible to wrap your mind, or anything else, around.
In the end, I confined my role to simply taking them when soiled straight to the dustbin. And flinging them in there with purpose to look manly.
3. Food is always a la carte
As a father and bread winner to Chelsea, I came to learn that children often don’t give a fig about the bread you win – or the milk or the pawpaw fruit you win or the oranges or the cereal you win.
Heck, in her case, she even weaned herself violently off breast milk at one, preferring to suck her thumb. If kids had their way, they would eat bhajia and sweets every day, all day.
Children take to nutrition in the same ‘graceful’ way a duck takes to driving a fork-lift truck.
4. The joys of toys are in the breaking
As a child, my mom’s ideas of toys for we two boys, was story books. Much as I am grateful for that today, I was determined that Chelsea enjoy a wide range of toys from birth.
Rattles were thrown, play things shared out liberally with estate play-mates and dolls decapitated in a way that made me worry she was going to run off and join ISIS as a jihadi bride (until her mom sensibly pointed out to me that she was two).
Oh well, perhaps these are early signs that my daughter is aiming to be a medical surgeon – and conduct amputations and organ replacement operations.
5. Songs in repeat mode
I had always seen in the softer Western movies that children should be lullabied to sleep with bedtime stories like ‘Cinderella.’
Alas, with Chelsea, it was not to be!
Every time I try to read her a bedtime story like ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ the young lassie, instead of getting lulled to sleep, leaps up on the bed.
And belts out a rendition of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, little star’ or the theme song of the latest Mexican soap opera that her nanny has been watching (and she watches them with a fanaticism that would make Osama proud).
It is enough to make a man want to resort to my late old man, Mr Ontita’s, tactics. He would come to crank out lullabies, especially when tipsy, in ekegusii (o, o, yo, o, o, yo, omwana arare, arare chitoro, chitoro chikomoreria, o yo yo!) ... except that the lullabies sounded more like war songs and were croaked out in a naturally gruff voice made hoarse by whiskey. When Mr Ontita was tired of singing and seeing our alarmed little faces, he would snap – ‘Poys, sleep or I’ll peaty you.’ That worked like a charm.
6. Guess Who’s Smarter Now?
Now that she’s in Nursery Two or something, Chelsea figures she’s a genius and her dad is a dumb old man. Which is why I’ll be continuously tested on my ‘ABCs’ on her alphabetical table hanging on one corner of the living room wall, my counting skills (one to 50) and so on.
It’s enough to drive a dumb old man up the wall.
7. Every Day ... a Sunday
Because Sundays are when we take the tot out to play at bouncing castles and camel riding and so on (after she and her mom have done church, as I thoroughly go through the Sunday newspapers, so help me Lord, lol), Chelsea’s favourite day is Sunday.
Never mind that, last term, they learnt days of the week. Every evening, she’ll ask me hopefully, ‘Tony, tomorrow ni Sunday?’
8. Money for honey
Ahh, Mammon, the god of money, sooner or later catches up with the children. And my little one has come to recognise coins. Five bob is for sweets, ten bob for ‘creeps’ and there are the ‘woije’ eyes as she asks, ‘Tony, gimme twenty boy I go buy bhajia.’ (She ‘unleashes’ her English when she wants to play me because she knows that’s the lingo that softens papa).
9. Her Nanny is a colleague (and ... I am Tony)
Never mind the two decade gap between them, Chelsea sees her nanny as her colleague. It’s always, ‘Miyam (Miriam), twende tuogee, Miyam, tukule breakfast, Miyam, let’s go shop ...’
Chelsea cracked her aunty up the other day when she said, ‘Tony anafanya homework (because I’m ever locked away in my study, writing), Mommy ana cook, alafu, Miyam ananiosha alafu anagombanisha.’
That’s it. The summary of our lives! And I am ‘Tony’ (see, my early attempts to be a cool dad so that, in ten years, she doesn’t slam a door on me in teen angst, or worse, run off to Mesopotamia to be a jihadi bride).
10. Girls will be boys.
For the last one week, Chelsea Chechislavia Nzula has been at her maternal grandma’s place. Reason? She was ‘exiled’ by her Ma (although the official reason is her ‘shosh’ misses her).
Why? Because she and her shosh share blood!
O, why was Chelsea exiled? She was caught sliding down the stairwell banister in dangerous imitation of lads twice her age. I mean, we live six storeys above ‘sea’ level, you see what I mean?
Last lesson learnt being that, as a parent, we will always have our hearts in our mouths where the little ones are concerned.
I am glad that Chelsea returns from her ‘Siberian exile’ tomorrow ... because tomorrow is Sunday.
For today, ‘Tony’ will distract himself from missing Chelsea by watching the team she is named after ... beat one Manchester United.