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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 #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

 

Parenting Could Be A Contact Sport

They felt good eyes upon then
and shrank within – undone;
good parents had good children
and they-a wandering one

The good folk never meant
to act smug or condemn,
but having prodigals
just “wasn’t done” with them.

Remind them gently, Lord,
How You
Have trouble with Your children,
too.

Ruth Bell Graham

Recently Roogz called telling me that his pair of sneakers had reached beyond the point of repair and that he needed a new pair. Urgently.

I took a break from the office and visited a local flea market store to look for a shoe. Shopping for a pre-teen is not just about getting a shoe. And the vendors knows that. Man, am I glad I went without him.

I settled for an ol’ skul, now in, Nike shoe with some psychedelic colours. I was so sure I was on point with this one. I dropped them off where he was staying for the weekend and waited for the INEVITABLE, “thank you, thank you, thank you,dad, I love you, you just seem to know what is right for me and on and on and on.”

Waited  was the operative word. I couldn’t hold on for much longer than 24 hours, now concerned that my very well thought through love care package may not have been delivered to its rightful owner.

“Hi?” blah blah blah

“Did you get the shoes?”

“Yes.”

“Did they fit?”

“Yes.”

Now, getting irritated…

“Did you like them?”

“Yes.”

“And?”

“Nothing.”

That was it. I gave up at that point. Frustrated at the attitude of ingratitude.

Then I got it.

Getting shoes and a lot of other stuff  for my son is my duty. My job. My obligation.

And it should be consistent. Continuous. Constant.

Doing it for any other reason is vainglorious.