I have four children. Some people who have known me for long think I have only two sons because I used to write about them.
I have four children, but I take care of three. I always make that clear. Not only because I do not want to be considered a deadbeat dad, but because it is true. I often make that clear when a conversation veers towards my marital status.
But you are not married, where did the children come from?
That is a question I get asked a lot. And I list it under stupid ones. I try never to answer it for fear of sounding rude to the inquirer, and many a time, the inquirer is a woman I may like.
That means, those who likely ask are unmarried mothers. You call them single mothers. I don’t like that phrase. You use it to stigmatise them.
Even though I have a few unmarried female friends who are not mothers, I tend to hang out a lot with unmarried mothers, more so those who are present in their children’s’ lives. This is because we can understand each other at a certain wavelength – and also we have one thing in common.
The patriarchy that is said to be responsible for the stigmatisation of unmarried mothers, works against unmarried fathers too, especially for those who have never been in any marriage. But we can wave it away, and move on.
But why do you take care of only three children? People ask. I always answer that freely, in a string of sentences.
I do have a daughter whom I last saw almost 21 years ago. I have been trying to locate her, but I have not been lucky. I want to guess she is with her mother from whom I do not want to snatch her away.
I just want my daughter to know that she has a biological father out here. I want to pay for her education. I do not want any of my children to one day say that they never got an education because their father could not afford. Or disappeared. Or did not care. Or refused.
For those years, I have not just been sitting idle not thinking about her. Or not looking for her. I have been trying.
Several years ago, I bumped into her mother at an event where my cousin was being ordained as a Catholic priest.
She said my daughter was in school. Never mentioned the name of school or the place. I asked her contacts, hoping that if we talked some more, she might yield her ground and give me more details. She declined.
I cannot fault her for that. She was, and is, within her rights to get mad, after all, I have not been in our daughter’s life. I do not know what she has gone through to bring her up. I can only guess but I may be very wrong.
Before that meeting, one of my hundreds of nephews had told me he knew where my daughter was. He comes from the same place as my daughter’s mother. He said my daughter and her mum were in Nairobi. Then, he changed the story a few months later but volunteered to visit their home and give me the correct information.
For close to four years, my nephew fed me different stories on the whereabouts of my daughter. He went to the home, he said, but my daughter and her mother were not there. He could not ask many questions because he was on an undercover mission.
As he was going on these missions, undercover or otherwise, I had so many questions. And I had to answer them.
My daughter, named after my own mother, does not know me. Does she even know my name or if I am alive? She must be knowing, after all, the Muganda family is a big one, and some of my hundreds of cousins and nephews and nieces know the mother, and they may have met, and talked.
She must be knowing, I keep telling myself. Someone must have had the courage to point to her a Muganda on social media: ‘That is a relative of your absentee father.’ Probably, the person pointed out was me: ‘There is your absentee father. Reach out to him.’
The biggest worry has been how old she would be when I finally find her — if I ever do. Or when she finds me. Or when we find each other.
I last saw her when she was a toddler. An infant medically. I could not take her because I was being housed in the city.
Had I decided to go live with her at my father’s home, there would have been no one to help me in taking care of her. My parents were dead and none of us three brothers were married.
Our mother had always hinted that we should get married. Not because they wanted someone to help them. She was wishing for “someone’s daughter to spoil.”
Sadly, by the time she breathed her last, someone’s daughter to be spoiled had not been found. Also, no one was seriously looking for someone’s daughter for his mother to spoil.
I was footloose and fancy free, considering that I had been away from home for eight years since I was 17. I wanted to have fun – catch up with childhood crushes, knock boots, all types of shoes and all that.
In the process of enjoying my freedom, I got a daughter. My first child. And she was named after my mother, who had long died.
By all parenting standards, our parents gave us the best education they could offer and afford. But they were more concerned about the welfare of our sisters.
My dad always said he had seen how uneducated women without their own resources are mistreated, and he would not want his daughters to be on such a path.
It is against this background that I have been worried about my daughter. That is why I just want to make sure she has an education. I want to be responsible for that.
For, how will I explain to anyone that I have a daughter whose education I never paid for? Or who is suffering somewhere with a man who was never home-trained and cannot take care of himself?
Is she in school, and what kind of school is it? Is it the kind of a school my father would have taken my sisters to, and above all, where does she live?
I ask myself all these, but I have no access to anyone who knows where she is. Or what she is going through. My questions beget harder questions.
How has she been brought up? Under what value systems is she growing up and will they converge with mine or my family’s? How will I introduce her to my other kids? Will they cope considering all have different mothers? If we meet when she is a grown up woman, how will we relate?
I always convince myself that I will manage. I had been through almost similar scenarios before. The first time I was young and the second time, my other children were younger.
I saw my dad for the first time when I was eight. He had not abandoned his family. He had gone to the United States to study when I was a few months old. My elder sisters and brother had seen him. We were in the village but he spoke to our mothers frequently because we had a phone.
We were comfortable. One happy family. Never missed a meal, never sent home from school because of lack of fees.
Some of our elder siblings were in boarding schools. Our two mothers worked hard – and punishment for us came in double. They were like sisters, and we were all their children. From them, we learnt that families live or stick together.
But it had not been like that for my kids and I. My other daughter met her brothers when she was 10. We had agreed with the mother that I would take her in when she turned 10. When she did, I took over and took charge. I started by moving her to what I considered a better school. I chose the school myself and paid all bills, just as I had been doing with my sons whom I started parenting from birth.
That was the second time this father not being physically present scenario was presenting itself in my life.
That is why I always ask myself, how good a parent will I be to my daughter whom I have not met. How will our relationship be? Save for her mother, I have never meaningfully interacted with her uncles or aunts. Thus, I cannot guess what kind of a person she is.
Around four years ago, I had a brief encounter with her uncle. I did not know him but he knows me. He was with a friend and was disinterested in any conversation with me. He declined to give me his phone number and gave me very scanty information concerning my daughter. He said her mother is married in, as Luhyia women say, Western and my daughter is with her.
Some progress, I might say, but again more questions. I told my mother’s cousin about it and she said traditionally, a father would take cows to the child’s maternal grandparents, more like paying bride price, as part of the negotiations whether to be given his child.
She said she would accompany me, but realised that I like such ceremonies when someone else is doing them. She then said, like other people had told me before, that my daughter will one day look for me.
Biggest problem has been her looking for me. I should be the one looking for her. Her looking for me means I have no interest in finding her, and being in her life.
Dumping children is not a trait of our larger Muganda family. While growing up, I never saw a child who would be considered destitute or a helpless orphan in the Muganda homestead. Muganda family members used to take care, and still do, of their brothers’ and even sisters’ children.
Is my daughter in such a place? Is the stepfather treating her like his own child? What can she be missing that I can otherwise provide?
But one of the biggest worries is how I will explain to her why I have not been in her life.
How will we cope and tolerate one another? What goes through the mind of a child who cannot meet the father or does not know where he is?
At times, I console myself that it is just fine, drawing from own experience. I first saw my father when I was eight, and in under 10 years, we were separated again, for eight years. I went to finish my high schooling in India and then joined college.
There was no social media, so FaceTime and Facebook and all these video call technologies were out of the question. Tracing someone who was lost, or unavailable, was next to impossible, unlike now when one can be traced through their social media footprints.
Probably my daughter has been trying to trace me. But on which platform? I have accounts on many platforms, as part of parenting, and for academic and work purposes too.
Facebook is better for tracing someone because it has a face, so to write, unlike Twitter where I spend more time. I am insignificant on Instagram and I rarely go on that Facebook.
I log in to Facebook after months, find a few friend requests, some pending for almost a year, accept them, and log out.
At times, I find a few messages on Messenger, mostly Hi, how have you been, and I respond, then log out to return months later.
Often, I do not know the people whose friend requests I accept. It depends on my mood. I can pick the first ten or only two. As for messages, I respond to all.
Around two years ago, I accepted several friend requests and then logged out of Facebook for months, going back to Twitter to ask Kenyans what they are always outraged about.
Could that be my coping mechanism? This idea of always triggering people in 280 characters to get enraged — and laughing behind the keyboard?
Facebook is a different experience altogether. It is like parenting. Those who have made it their stomping ground enjoy being there. Those with a short attention span cannot stand the long posts and the rants. Or the killing of logic like it happens on all social media platforms where Kenyans are having a discussion.
On June 2 this year, I logged in to Facebook and responded to a message that had been sent on February 25. Like many messages, it was just a greeting, and I responded, as I do in most cases, with a simple Hi, how are you.
I could not remember when I had accepted the sender’s friend request, but it must have been one of those that had been pending for several months, or a year before getting accepted.
I logged off and went back four weeks later, on June 30, and found two messages from the same sender. One had been sent on June 3, and it was Wow, I am good, and you?
The second one was sent the previous day, June 29. It had a small explanation, and telephone number, which I called immediately.
To my few friends I have not met for the past two months, and those who used to listen to my 2m Podcast, sorry, our children come first. Even when we have not been in their lives. I have been on paternity leave.
On June 30, my daughter and I found each other. We met. I have four children. Now I take care of all of them.