By Sylvia Wakhisi And Terry Mwenda
Today marks Father’s Day, a day celebrated in many countries across the world on the third Sunday of June, to honour fathers and celebrate fatherhood.
It also celebrates the contribution that fathers and father figures make in their children’s lives.
Most children look up to their father as their hero. And it was with the aim of honouring the great man that we call “Dad” that ‘Father’s Day’ came into being. It provides us with an occasion to say ‘thank you’ in ways that make these men feel special.
Admittedly, fatherhood has changed as society evolves. Some of the roles that are seen as ‘normal’ today, say cooking a meal for the family, would have raised more than a few eyebrows a few decades ago.
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In the same way, some of the challenges that fathers are facing are different from those their own fathers faced.
We spoke to three fathers about their unique challenges, what fatherhood means to them and how they intend to spend this special day.
Martin Muchemi: Living positively
Martin is married to Asunta Wagura, the executive director of Kenwa (Kenya Network of Women with Aids) and they have five children. He and his wife are both HIV-positive, but they are determined not to allow this fact to interfere with their resolve to bring out the best in their children.
“My children mean a lot to me; they are my life. I strive to be the best father to them,” the 37-year-old says.
Since he is involved in the running of another organisation started by his wife in South Sudan, he is sometimes away from home for a while. He says that during these periods, he misses the children sorely, and they miss him, too.
Whenever he is at home, he strives to ensure that he spends quality time with all of them. The five range in age from 23 years to eight weeks.
“When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is check on them and ensure that they are fine. I sometimes take six-year-old Joshua to school and assist him with his homework when he comes home in the evening. I also love playing computer games with him.
“Israel, the third born, is three years old and loves taking short walks, so whenever I’m free at home, we stroll around the estate, enjoying the scenery,” he says.
Martin’s HIV status is the greatest challenge he faces as a father.
“There are moments when I face some rejection because I’m HIV-positive. But as a father who has lived with HIV for almost 12 years, I know that I have a greater obligation that keeps me going — my children,” he says.
“I want to raise them well and ensure they have a bright future. My advice to other fathers is that if you are not HIV positive, strive to take care of yourself for the sake of your family. If you are living positively with HIV, ensure that you adhere to your medication schedule so that you can live longer to see your children grow up.”
Martin intends to spend Father’s Day at home with his family engaging in fun-filled activities.
George Ojwang: Going it alone
When George’s wife, Claris, slipped into a coma after giving birth to their second born, he was optimistic that she would get better.
Even as he visited her at the Intensive Care Unit every day, he dreamt of the day he would take her home to their sons, Haroun James (four years old) and Henry Jude (one and a half).
But it was not to be. Claris passed away on December 6, last year, after being in a coma for ten months.
George threw himself into the role of father-and-mother, doing everything he could to help his children bear the loss.
“I doubled my efforts to become a good parent. I cut down on a lot of things so that I could spend as much time with my sons as possible. When I’m not at the office, I’m at home with the children; I always try to be home before they sleep,” he says.
Saturdays are a ‘no-go zone’ for non-family members. It is a special day when the ‘boys’ bond.
That is not to say that the road is smooth all the way. The family is still grieving. And looking after two small boys can be exhausting.
For instance, Henry often does not fall asleep without much coaxing, and even then, this happens late into the night, including on week nights when George has to leave early for the office.
The greatest challenge is when Haroun James asks where his mother is.
“I explain things to him at his level. I tell him things that make sense to him but do not make sense to me,” George admits.
But there are plenty of high points, too. Like when Haroun shares what he has learnt in school, or when Henry shows off his new vocabulary. These moments, George says, can brighten the dullest of days.
This family plans to go to church today then have lunch together.
Martin Muiruri Waweru: Fostering the right attitude
Martin’s dream is to adopt more than 40 children. You read right; 40!
He and his wife, Robai Musilidi Muiruri, are born-again Christians and describe themselves as having been “adopted into the family of God”.
“If God has accepted us and adopted us, who are we not to do the same,” Martin poses. “It is our Christian duty to share the love that we have received and ensure that nobody is neglected.”
As he looks forward to the actualisation of his dream, the 39-year-old is the foster father to his niece, Hazzel Khalenya. The little girl’s biological father is Robai’s brother.
Hazzel first came to live with her aunt and uncle when she was six months old. Her parents were going through a rough patch and it was agreed that Martin and Robai would provide a more stable environment for her.
One memory stands out from those early days. Martin had been left at home with the baby, who had not had a bowel movement for a few days, when ‘the floodgates opened’. He chuckles as he recalls his novice efforts to clean up the mess.
Hazzel is now a bubbly four-year-old who is obviously in love with ‘Daddy’, as she calls Martin.
One would wonder, is it not complicated, seeing as the child has two sets of parents? Martin says “no”. Hazzel acknowledges all four of them, for instance, referring to her mothers as ‘Mum Kate’ and ‘Mum Robai’.
Kate Ayuma, her biological mother, visits now and then, and even spends some weekends with her daughter.
Martin insists that they are taking care of Hazzel as her parents stabilise, then they can take her to live with them if they so wish.
“Fatherhood is about making sacrifices. It makes you grow in ways you didn’t know and realise that everything happens by God’s grace,” Martin says. “Everyone deserves a good start in life, and that is what we want to give Hazzel and our future children.”
The high point of fatherhood, in his opinion, is seeing a child happy, contentedly going about her day because she trusts you to be there for her.
The greatest challenge is making sure that the little one gets all that she needs, no matter how bad things are. Martin says he would rather have bread and water for supper so that his child can have a delicious wholesome meal.
He plans to spend Father’s Day at church then spending time with his family.