Ronald Chepkwony was only 16 years old when his dad died. He narrates the story of being a privileged child, being bankrupted by disease and leading a non-privileged, grief-stricken adulthood.
He starts by telling us about his childhood, a distant father, who did not show any emotion and did not teach any life-skills. Still, the pain of losing his father and the material and social losses that followed was a major struggle.
Be a man
In typical Kenyan tradition, people came to comfort the grieving family, and the grieving boy. He says they told him to “Be a man, to Be strong, to BE the head of the family…” but nobody ever illustrated how to be these things. What does it mean? To be strong, a man, head of the family?? would having money be enough? was it enough to marry? when you become a father, are you a man then?
He wondered. And kept wondering until he married. He found no answers there either, so he continued to wonder, until he got a baby. He panicked. He speaks honestly about his internal thoughts and self-doubts – will I be:
- strong as a man should be?
- a good father?
- able to provide?
Friendly people advised him again. “Just work hard, and provide.”
When he realized that he was struggling financially, emotionally, socially etc; he did what ‘typical strong men do’. He told no one.
What is a man?
- effort. A man is defined by his effort.
- kujikaza. A man should be strong.
After a while, he realized he needed to ask other men how they handled the struggles he was going through. Friends, older wiser men, clergymen, agemates etc had no clue.
He shares that he thinks men live in bravado. Like their fathers. They talk big, they silence their fears, they wear masks in front of their loved ones – even their wives.
The best advice was when his mates advised him to go speak to his wife. And he found out that she understood him. That she had been waiting for him to speak up.
Do you relate?