this monkey on my back should be back at the circus already

Driving on an empty road towards the setting sun

Good Afternoon.

This is the class teacher of Form X.

Kindly come to ____________ on

27th Jan 2015 at 9:00am

to discuss

the progress and performance of HRH

 

When I received that text, I had the fleeting thought that perhaps HRH had a just discovered that his dreams were valid and he could now make a career move as a rapper.  And that I was being summoned to discuss his progress in the newly chosen career and debut performance perhaps at an upcoming Easter concert.

A fleeting thought I said. Or fantasy.

The reality, however, is that the class teacher’s summon comes against a backdrop of a chaotic end to an otherwise great Christmas holiday.

It was the time that I also woke up to perhaps the worst realization of my life; that I possibly resent the extension of my past self that my son is turning out to be. And that I, not him, am fully 100% responsible for that result. We had not been on the best terms for the last two weeks of the holiday mainly because of the undone homework. That they had holiday homework in December was an issue for me. But that is a story for another day. Anyway, he had homework of twelve subjects for which he drew up a 6 day completion plan. I trusted that this plan would be followed to the letter. And I left him to his own devices, wisdom, initiative and a working telly.

I trusted.

Then on school opening week, the stuff of 2014 school opening drama began. The stomach runs, irritability, rude behaviour, oversleeping.

Again.

I am told that this is a stereotypical teenage syndrome. I am struggling to believe this generalization. Not all teenagers I grew up with ended up in addiction recovery.  My patience wore very very thin after doing this for now the fifth or sixth time as far as homework went. I was really now feeling justified to be called as bad parent.

My excuses of a fractured past were no longer tenable given the work I have done in therapy, in participating in loads of personal development seminars and workshops, in trudging on the journey of recovery from alcoholism, attending and facilitating parenting classes for the last five years – I am almost ashamed of this admission. And now, being saved blah blah blah does not seem to mean anything. I have all the tools for a healed fractured past. Yet, I was using the same fractured past to take my son hostage.

I blew my top on school opening week and let’s just say it got really messy. I was embarrassed. I apologized. And the only silver lining is that the teachers’ strike offered him an opportunity to finish his homework and I, an opportunity to look good.

I need to accept that my son, though having perhaps 50% of my DNA is not an extension of me and that my past is not and should not be his legacy. Why this is still a struggle for me really baffles me.  I have experienced freedom in several spheres of my life except in the area of complete forgiveness of my past. This unforgiveness severely slows down, fades and compromises those same areas where freedom, power and joy are my self-expression. I now have to look for a way of resolving this conflict that has no victims or losses. Only gains for all concerned. And this may perhaps include using the very same resources that have gotten me up to here in the first place. My son’s future depends on it. His life may well depend on it.

So, what’s missing the presence of which would make a difference? What I see missing is a reality of a bonding between my son and myself.  A missing reality of I accepting HRH as he is and stop taking the guilt trip that several parents notoriously take for not measuring up and not being perfect.

The first step to a new reality and indeed a new narrative in my relationship with my son was initiated at a thought-provoking lecture, ‘Frantz Fanon at 90 and his relevance in today’s world’ by a man I hadn’t heard of until a few days before the lecture; Prof Lewis Gordon. It was at the invitation of the fine African woman in my life who has also sparked an interest in literary works that I dropped when, in forming this fractured past, I had foolishly resolved that taking literature was not a masculine endeavour.

In fact, I see as I write, that I need to stop calling my past a fractured one. It is a history. It is my history. And one thing I heard over and over at the illuminating lecture by Prof. Gordon, one of the freest people I have ever met, is that history needs to be studied if humanity is to be valued and understood. In relating to my past as fractured and my son as an extension of that past, what we will end up having is a flawed relationship at best and a flawed masculinity at worst.

Though I have been resisting having a flawed and dysfunctional relationship with my son, flaw and dysfunction is all I have known. But even what’s more real than that knowledge is the relationship to flaw and dysfunction. It is a relationship I have nurtured and developed with amazing finesse and then I deny I am doing it.  So, when I see it in the stuff I don’t like about my son (I am told he is human, too), I realize it is a relationship I don’t in fact like. Then I take it out on him and I feel bad. Really bad.

And in church recently, we were asked to write down whom we could groom as our successors in the various spaces we occupy. My son was not an automatic choice for my home space. I wrote his name because he was the only choice in my home space.

Until now.

I choose to choose again. He is my choice not because he is the only one but because, perhaps thanks to Fanon and Prof Gordon, I choose him to in this leadership development process called parenting because he is the one chosen for me with whom to create a new history. I choose now to bequeath a legacy worth passing on and first off, this means being grateful for my history and for the old Chris. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. That relating to my past as history, rather than a fractured past that should be denied and erased, is a significant step toward an empowered self acceptance. An acceptance of my humanity.

Accepting my humanity will be about taking responsibility, ditching that notorious guilt trip that I am not a perfect parent and recognizing my son’s rights as a child and mine as a parent.

This would translate in a validation of my son’s humanity which I have been stupidly yet unknowingly undermining with statements such as: “I am doing this so you don’t turn out like me.” Yet the way I have been treating him is a sure-fire way of him turning out in exactly the way I have been in the past. History would thus be repeated; neither learned from nor understood.

As I take delight in a breakthrough experience I am having here, I am settling to being a good enough parent in service of peace on earth and more so a different April 2015 holiday history in the making.

In January, February and March.

The monkey on my back has gone back to the circus. The circus has left town.

Circuses can be good fun things with monkeys off our backs.

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 Prison: the cradle of freedom?

the_only_thing_lacking_is_freedom

I recently walked into my first prison experience.

I was on my way to a youth conference speak to a group of teenagers from fourteen schools in Siaya County on the impact of alcohol and drug use and abuse and early engagement in sex.

My host works for an organisation that runs project in several Kenyan prisons including the Kisumu Main GK Prison aka Kodiaga which was to hose my debut prison appearance.

I was sceptical about the prison visit immediately on our arrival from a six hour trip from Nairobi. I felt we first needed to first check into the hotel, take a long shower and a longer nap followed by a briefing session of what I could expect to see, feel, hear, smell and general experience on my first prison visit.

Instead, we drove directly to the prison. And the opportunity cost to the hotel/shower/nap scenario was a hearty lunch at the officers’ mess.  It was still different. It was ON the prison grounds. After lunch I thought we would leave but, no; the project by Faraja Foundation is INSIDE the prison and we were now headed there.

“I wish we went in before lunch rather than after. What if I need the loo? What if my stomach gives way to the nervous tension that I can now feel?”

Behind bars

As we crossed the gates that lead to the prison proper, we had our pockets checked and I was asked to leave my inhaler.

“What is this?”

“Ni dawa ya asthma and I must enter with it.” The earnestness of my statement was even more convincing than I meant it. The tension I felt could easily have led to an asthma attack. Easily.

All four of us accompanied by the prison’s Deputy Commanding Officer and the Liaison Officer, were now in the prison headed to the kitchen.

The kitchen was long huge shed the size of a mini warehouse found in Nairobi’s Industrial Area with huge furnace like pillars stretched along the middle. On them were huge cauldrons that had beans cooking in some while several prisoners sweating profusely – in their black and white striped uniforms introduced in the Prisons Reforms programme by the then Vice President Moody Awori – were stirring ugali using huge cooking sticks with handles larger than the thickness of their arms and heads the size of a man’s head. And to imagine that this happened at least twice a day. Every day. The mind boggles.

Walking through the prison yard, I was struck that these men ALL seemed to look alike with their clean shaven heads and sun scorched dark skins. I also couldn’t help feeling a bit antsy for the ladies and wondering if their safety was indeed guaranteed. They were now enclosed in a compound with 2000 men. In my mind, the worst case scenarios were fast playing out as horror movies. I will leave them there for now.

What amazed me was the sense of camaraderie among the prisoners. My main expectation, because I now see I have had several about prison life, was that I would find men downcast in the doom and gloom of the prison confines. The officers pointed out to those who were going to spend the rest of their lives in here and several more who had been jailed to terms of twenty years or more. I found it rather unsettling that these guys  could sufficiently provide an answer to that often asked  job interview question, “where do you see yourself in five years?” with a fair margin of  certainty. I don’t think knowing that with a sense of surety is comforting or creates a sense of despair.

I was taken to the classrooms and here I was introduced to the Standard One student prisoners and in the next class were to those who had recently completed their KCPE papers. It was uncanny that unlike in conventional schools where the physical difference between Standard ones and eights is obvious due to size, here they were all adults. So one couldn’t speak to the primary novices with the higher voice tones we tend to use for younger children.

There were several of those who had stretched their blankets along the walls to create shades they sat under to play board games and generally hangout.

The sleeping quarters was the next stop. Mattresses were strewn along the floor of the huge dormitories. I dread to think what all this looked like before the reforms where mattresses, I heard, were for a select few, and not in particularly good condition.

The prisoners at Kisumu Main GK Prison ranged from those serving life terms to those in remand awaiting resolution of their cases. In the IT Section of the prison, I met a university student studying pharmacy. There were 3 old Personal computers and he was helping install anti-virus software in one of them. He told me he was in remand for a case of stealing. Of all the men in that prison, he seemed the least adjusted.

I declined the offer to visit the women’s prison. This was enough for one day.

Something else that stood out for me was that these guys had everything that I need to live healthy and with integrity. They had spiritual welfare officers, social workers, counsellors and human rights officers attached to them. Call me narrow minded but I couldn’t help wondering what value these added to the life of a man sentenced to 20 years in prison let alone the ones who are in for life. The looks on their faces seemed evidence enough that these reform and renovation projects run by my friend’s Foundation was working wonders.

The tension, and anxiety and generally confusing emotions I felt as I was walked through the prison were palpable. And it really felt that the only thing that differentiated these men and I was that I was dressed differently and I was going to leave after this.

Yet, unlike you and me they cannot go where they want to when they want. I need to get over the idea that being in prison isn’t a denial of one’s humanity.

Youth Conference at Ukwala, Ugunja, Siaya County

The prison experience drastically shifted the perspective of my talk to the teenagers from Siaya County. I didn’t sleep well at all that night and I suspect it wasn’t just the heat of the weather in Kisumu.

I confess I tried to scare the teens into freedom from drugs; perhaps not an effective strategy. I was still raw. I just hope that in 20 years they would be standing at the same space I was to talk about the difference that not getting alcohol and drugs made in their lives. That they would indeed be real mashujaas because of how I had touched their lives. Modesty was not my portion on this day.

Nairobi. Home.

I came back to Nairobi directly to watch an intriguing play; Kaggia by John Sibi Okumu. It chronicles the life of one of the Kapenguria Six, Bildad Kaggia as told by Stacey and Xan, two young film makers in contemporary Kenya who meet to discuss the script for a film of this freedom fighter and nationalist politician.

Kaggia chose to celebrate this hard won freedom through living a simple life.  A simple life that came at a high cost. He believed the meaning of true freedom would only be realised if ALL Kenyans had access to the very freedoms he and his fellow freedom fighters fought for. He declined to enrich himself at the expense of the constituency he served. This was despite being publicly taunted by President Jomo Kenyatta as being a fool ostensibly for choosing to stay poor.

He chose to remain true to his personal conviction that every citizen ought to benefit from the struggle for independence he took part in. Not just a select few. More than that Kaggia was a Revolutionary as described by Lewis Gordon in a talk ‘Frantz Fanon at 90 and his relevance in today’s world’  who  understood that the communal struggle is bigger than the individual and accepted that those who usher in freedom are rarely best suited to lead once freedom is attained. Kaggia was the true revolutionary who was willing to fight for freedom even while knowing that he may not taste the fruits thereof. And he didn’t.

Dying in abject poverty I couldn’t help wonder how different Kaggia’s life was from the men I had met at the Kisumu Prison. He made a conscious decision to live out his freedom guided by the principles and conviction that drove to fight for that freedom in the first place.
Was he foolish to subject his family to a diet that was free of the Matunda ya Uhuru?

You be the judge.

This freedom theme continued when I watched the film Lumumba by Raoul Peck. A courageous man who believed that freedom for the African people should be prescribed by the African themselves. He chose freedom for his people and he got shot by his fellow African.

Perhaps, he reckoned, he was 50 years to early. Yet, years on, the struggle continues.

With the choice of freedom comes responsibility. Responsibility is a choice. As much as I did not have extensive conversations except for perfunctory greetings with the prisoners, there seemed to be a sense of order in that courtyard at Kisumu Main GK Prison.

Does it take going to jail for order to prevail? With the rise of violence against women does it need for that freedom to be taken away from the male assailants for them to be whole again?

Is prison the only hope for the future of men to be one that is bright? Free? Just? Secure?

 

 

 #Parenteen

Khalil Gibran on Children

Initially written and submitted on 10th October 2014 for a short story non-fiction competition

Early 2013, the calls from both my son and his mum started coming in quicker succession than before.

“Please speak to your son, he is getting increasingly unruly. He is growing horns. Speak to your son!”

“What did he do this time?

“You ask him for the details!

“Kwani kulienda aje?” I would ask HRH at our regular meet up on Sunday morning as we went to dad’s church, as he called it.

“Hakuna.”

This exchange was typical, with each one trading accusations and no one willing to offer any information.

“Mum, amekataa kunipea food.”

“Mum amenifungia nje.”

“Kwani I have become his mboch so that he can report my mistakes all the time? Ebu talk to him. He needs to realize I am his mother and he is not going to get anywhere that kind of behaviour.”

I would share my frustration in my Teen parents’ class, usually via long emails. Very often, I would get no replies.

Finally, one parent replied. He reckoned that perhaps the person who needed to effect the change was me. I was slightly resentful because I felt he was making me the scapegoat of a problem that was not really mine. After all, wasn’t I the one in this parenting class? Wasn’t I the bold one who’d taken the road less travelled of present day baby daddies?

A part of his reply read:

“Chris, you probably need to transform from being a Sunday entertainment buddy to being with you son longer. Consider living with him.”

What I heard, though, was proposing proposal to reconcile with his mum. This would be kinda a big issue given that we had now been apart fourteen years.

At some point, his mum wanted to have him stay with me, where I lived in Eastlands, have him commute daily to and from school as a form of punishment for his disrespect towards her. But, travelling to and from Ongata Rongai daily is hardly a commute. It’s more of a road trip.

Roogz’s mother saw Roogz’ actions as DELIBERATELY designed to make her life experience a living hell. On the other hand, whilst appreciating the predicament she was in, I could see the futility of such an action.

I had been a problematic teenager myself and coming to terms with my adolescent past had meant gaining awareness of the impact of my not-so-nice actions towards my mother.

I, nevertheless, initiated Project Hero Dad and promptly called a conference. I was going to be the all important solution-provider.

My tripartite meeting was an anti-climax. No one spoke or thanked me for my visionary action. I saw and felt two people desperately crying out for help, clarity and direction. And rather than join them, I was the one to offer leadership.

It dawned on me that I would be the one to move. To Ongata Rongai.

Shudder!

The prospective move was fraught with doubts, uncertainties and conversations back and forth as his mum and I got our intentions and motives tested and refined and several times, altogether invalidated.

Armed with a resolved past and three years of taking and facilitating parenting classes at Mavuno church, I felt I was more than up to the task of having HRH with me and starting the journey towards a problem free adulthood.

Life then did what it does amidst major turning points. It happened.

HRH’s mum changed her mind about me staying with him when she heard that I would be the one moving house nearer to HRH’s school. He would be sitting his KCPE paper in November 2013. That my script was not driven by a desire to punish his derelictions did not sit well with her and she withdrew her ‘offer’ to have me stay with my son.

I had been demoted at work through a restructured progamme. My salary was significantly reduced and I honestly considered accepting the withdrawal of the ‘offer’ to stay with my son.

My ‘Board of Trustees’ unanimously decreed that moving in with Roogz was a matter of life and death. It had to happen.

Shudder! SHUDDER!

Getting Real

All my parenting class lessons seemed to go out of the window when the move eventually happened in September 2013. Initially, I chose to observe us living together so that we could find our bearings. A life coach pal of mine had informed me that the top three stressors in a person’s life are:

  1. Career Change
  2. Moving house
  3. Death of a loved one

I seemed to be experiencing the first two and perhaps all three, because of the demotion and the fact that I shifting from a house that I had lived in for twenty years, and solo for the last fifteen, and I was moving in with another human being who was dependent on me for his livelihood.

The loved one whose death I experienced was me, me who had lived alone for over a decade. I would need to refill my gas cylinder after only four years.

There was minimal TV which meant little distraction for HRH from his studies. I still kept all the DVDs I had acquired over time, which made for great alternative entertainment. And because I was ‘observing’, I couldn’t make any drastic rules except to stack away the R rated movies and series.

It was awkward discerning what was or wasn’t R rated because – and this sounds weird – I just couldn’t tell whether or not the boy was a boy or a young man.

Keeping it Real

It quickly dawned on HRH and I that this move was not exactly what we had in mind; we were not entering a space of eternal happiness, joy and freedom.

I could sense his great expectations of his Sunday entertainment buddy/dad 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year were rapidly dwindling when I imposed rules, sanctions and discipline.

My romantic excursions of evenings of exchanging war stories, talking about girls and sex, giving sound, wise, profound, deep and meaningful fatherly advice about life also rapidly faded.

He often gave me is-that-even-a-question look when I’d ask if he really really had to eat.

What if we could stretch the gas usage to about two years, half the time it took the last one to run out?

This parenting experience was beginning to look like work. Or worse, like life.

He wouldn’t join me at church, citing exhaustion of being in school all of six days. This did not make sense to me because we used to meet at 8.30 am every Sunday mornings after he’d attended the 7.00am mass.

Distorted Reality

He scored an A- in KCPE. We were spared the agony of looking for a school and he got a place at a national boarding secondary school.

Secondary school brought a new set of issues and frustrations to consider. He wouldn’t do his holiday homework despite the awareness of sure punishment and failure in the opener exam based on the homework.

I talked, ranted, and consulted my peers and other parents. And I lashed out at HRH. And the homework would still not get done.

I was relating to my son in only one way; that of BEING HIS FATHER. That his job description was to make me happy and look good, That when he has refused to accept my very wise – and rather frequent – counsel on the importance of doing his homework, house chores, I would get angry, read him the riot act, and yet the chores and homework would remain undone. I started avoiding him by coming home late so I may not act out on the violent feelings. And when I was at home, I became a grouch.

Despite the drama I was puzzled by the inexplicable sadness and emptiness when school reopened.

Reality Restored

I resolved to work on myself before the next holiday and obtain clarity of my actions and reactions. I figured perhaps, there could be a different way of relating with my son. I could have one of His Royal Highness BEING MY SON. The onus was now on me, rather than on him, to create a great relationship by being myself. He did not have to obedient, hard working or diligent for me to function as his father. I was now inspired to be the source of love in our relationship. I relaxed.

Heck, I also don’t like doing homework and house chores. Completing these, is now in service e of being a great dad.

It is now just over a year since HRH Roogz, my 14 year old son going on 30, and I moved in together, making me a full time parent, a part time entertainment buddy.

More than that, my son is truly a reason for me to go on. There are many ways of activating this relationship.

This adventure is certainly a work in progress, a working process.

It is not true that teens are the reason animals kill their young

 

I, the Interventionist

Intervention Aspects

Recently, I got a phone call from yet another distraught mother whose sixteen year old son is being discharged from his second stint in rehab this coming weekend. She was referred by a mutual acquaintance.

She wanted me to meet with him upon discharge to guide him along the path of recovery. Fair enough.

However, I suggested that I meet with her and her husband, before the said discharge, to set a foundation of family support and chart a recovery plan for all concerned. Again fair enough. In fact, she acknowledged that it sounded like a really novel idea. She would call me to set the appointment after consulting her husband.

She called back a couple of days later to set the appointment and I then informed her that I charge for the service. Her reaction to the fact that I charge for consultation and how much I would charge them was familiar. She was shocked that I even charge for the service

My reaction was different.

This time.

I kept quiet. I listened to her rant about my charging to help people. I was silently fighting an inner urge to tear down the picture she was painting of how bad I looked with every word she spoke. I was so tempted to offer a free service, let alone a discounted one.

Like I have done several times before.

I was tempted to feel guilty about charging a fee for the message of hope, possibility and freedom around addictions that I do that I spread through my work.

As I have done several times before.

She later communicated via a text message that upon consultation with her husband they would not be able to continue working with me.  I sent a polite acknowledgement thanking her for considering working with me and wished them all the best with their son. I really meant it.

She neither asked for a discount or a free service. I chose not to offer these of my own volition. Not this time anyway. I have done that several times as I set up my referral and interventions business. Mainly out of the distorted belief that what I offer is not a professional service. Yet from the number of enquiries and referrals I receive I am convinced it is a much needed service.

I have now come to believe that her reaction and indeed similar initial reactions from several family members that I have met in the past year of setting up the interventions agency,  is really an indictment of addiction rather than what I have to offer.

What I offer is borne primarily, and perhaps unsurprisingly so, of personal experience. When I commenced my recovery journey over 16 years ago, my family was not involved mainly due to the particular path I took and the lack of information at the time. It was a path mainly focused on the problem person (me) and the rapid results it brought about bred more of suspicion from my family members, both immediate and extended, rather than relief or even a sense of approval which I so desired at the time. I really couldn’t understand why this reaction was emanating from people who were often embittered, resentful and wary of my frequent drunken behaviour.

I often regretted my family’s reaction to my sobriety and the loneliness it generated. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that a band of strangers were to become closer to me than my relatives who had borne the brunt of my alcoholism. And those same relatives, I felt, should have been the first to celebrate my recovery, now that I was not stealing from them, insulting them or being a downright nuisance whether drunk, craving a drink or hung over from a drunken binge.

I believed that it was in fact good for them now that I wasn’t drinking. By taking responsibility for my recovery, wasn’t I also doing them a favour?

Reality hit me, I think, when I was in my tenth year of sobriety. I started being invited to family gatherings. Family would now want me to talk to a friend or wonder if they could give my number to so-and-so whose sibling had a drinking problem.

It then dawned on me.

My sense of regret was a trap. It was a racket I could hold on to that would keep me feeling sorry for myself for the minimal family support I received earlier in my recovery journey.

Or it could be an opportunity for others to avoid the same route. An opportunity to earn a living as a professional in an area that was strictly borne of experience, pain and loneliness. An opportunity that could pay the rent, mitigate my teenage son’s insatiable need to be relevant or buy flowers for the woman in my life.

I also saw that with time, it gave me great joy to witness real results of families walking in freedom and relief with the addict or alcoholic in their life. Relief because of information provided that the addict was not bewitched, belligerent or plain stupid. Relief from new understanding that addiction was a disease like any other. Freedom to create new possibilities of responsibility, harmony and wellbeing.

That is why as a professional interventionist, I have chosen to hone my skills for this specific group of people as my primary clients: the families and significant others of alcoholics and addicts.

Families and significant others are often not aware of the impact they have on the addict’s life and are often dismissed as being enablers. What they hear when, for instance, the addict is being admitted into a treatment centre is that they are to ‘blame’ for the addict’s circumstance. The fact is they are not to blame just as much as the addict himself is NOT to blame for his addiction. The family and significant others of the addict are, however, affected just as much as the addict because they are all in one system in which the addiction thrives.

So, yes, to some extent I was disappointed when the distraught parent halted our engagement.  More than that, however, I understand the action where they perhaps wondered why they have to pay for me to see them when clearly they weren’t problem person.

I really do wish them and their son well. The age of miracles is still with us.