Kim is turning three in a month’s time. My beautiful, beautiful boy. I’m tempted to say that he takes after his father but you cynical people will not believe me. You will roll your eyes and say, ‘Right! Not with that forehead.” Nobody wants you to thrive in this city anymore. I took him to the barber a fortnight ago and Tamms said, “Papa, why don’t we have his hair shaved into a mohawk?” And I said, “I don’t know, darling, I don’t think mommy will like that,” and she responded, “She will like it.” So I said, “If she hates it, tell her that it was your idea, not mine.” She smirked. We got the barber to give him a mohawk complete with two cuts at the front – something Mheshimiwa Ababu would have done when he was a boy. He looked so beautiful…my son that is, not Ababu. His hair kind of reminded me of Jazzy Jeff. (And off to Google, the young-uns go.)
He was never this beautiful though, Kim. At birth he looked like a hamster, like most newborns do. He had gummy eyes and he never opened his mouth except to yawn or feed. And when he opened his mouth the insides resembled a bird’s mouth; pink and toothless. A small perfect O. I liked to watch him yawn; the single most defenceless act you can observe on an infant. When he turned one and half he started looking like a girl and my heart sank. I already had a girl, I didn’t want my son looking a girl. I wanted him to look like a boy. I used to wonder if he would ever come out of that girl funk. I told God not to play such a cruel prank. I told him, “Lord, don’t be that guy who plays games with features of other people’s sons. It’s not funny.” You don’t want to meet someone while with your son and daughter and they say, “Wow, your girls have really grown.”
I often wonder what he will look like at 14. Maybe he will be very tall like his great grandfather- Jackshon. Maybe he will be sporty like his grandfather Simon. Or maybe he will gravitate towards the arts like his father, Chocolate Man. I picture him towering and pimply, with a cracking voice, blocking my sun to tell me, “Papa, I was wondering if I could borrow 2K to go to this party for my friend.” And I will say, “When you say ‘borrow’ do you mean you will get a part time job in industrial area and pay it back next month?” He will laugh and I will marvel at how he sounds so much like me when he laughs and looks like his mother when he’s annoyed. Of course by this time I will stop being cool. Even the current millennials will not be cool.
I would have stopped being cool about 10 years back. I have always said to myself that there is nothing that he will embark on in his teenage years that I will fight. If he wants a tattoo of a silver Marabou stork on his back I will tell him Go ahead, but know that at 29 you might wish for someone else’s back and there is nothing worse for a man than to wish for someone else’s back. If he wants to pierce his tongue, or listen to grunge or wear clothes I don’t understand (I already don’t understand Kanye’s clothes, so the possibility of that last one seems quite high already) I will smile and ask “Kim, how is it possible to walk in that thing without being mistaken for a beggar from the Old Testament?”
I hope he likes girls and not boys, but should he like boys what am I going to do about that? I will be out of my depth. If he likes girls I’m certain he will be an ass guy because the apple can’t fall too far from the damn tree. And because at that time society will be open enough where your children can introduce you to their girlfriends, I will be treated to a motley parade of girls as he dates. “I like that one with a lovely chin, Kim. She’s cool.” (“Papa, nobody says cool anymore. But, yes, Abbie is lots of fun.”) I will take him to a school where he can pretty much become what he wants to become; an artist, a writer, an engineer, an athlete, hell even a quantity surveyor I will take. Anything he wants to pursue. The only condition I will have is that he will not do drugs and never drop out of school. He will study until masters and do whatever the hell he wants.
Maybe one day when he’s 18 and graduating from high school, Tamms will take a picture of us together, showing him as a grown young man, at the cusp of his life, nursing an appetite for it, standing there against a black background of graduands, taller than me now, hungrier than me, a beast straining against his leash. I will look at that picture, taken by a futuristic iPhone that can also switch on a microwave and dye hair, and marvel at how he’s more like me then than ever before, and I will fear for the path he will embark on as a man, and the joys, pains and demons that lie in wait for him. And I will wonder if he’s ready. But who ever is? He will expect manly answers from me and I will be so deep and wise, he will always sit at my feet and look up at me like I’m messiah. I hope I make him laugh a lot. I hope he tells his friends that he doesn’t know what he would do without me. I will have written a firecracker book and I hope he keeps that book in full view in his campus room, where anyone walking in can see it, especially the girls, so they can ask, “Is that your dad?” And he will act nonchalant and shrug, and they will screech, “Oh my God, how is he in person?” and he will say, “He’s just…I don’t know, my dad?” and they will want to meet me and he will probably take advantage of the one he really likes before she gets to meet me. You know how university is, any leverage is fair game. I hope he’s proud of me. I hope I’m proud of him. I hope he and his sister grow up to be respectful and humble; good people. I hope they go back to SDA, a church I stopped connecting with.
With all this pride and hope for my son’s future, I sometimes wonder how then, a man would wake up one day and realise that they were raising someone else’s child. When one afternoon they sit in their car alone and they open an envelope with DNA results shattering everything they know; that their daughter or son isn’t theirs. Has never been. That in his son’s veins flow the blood of another man. That his nails and hair and teeth aren’t from him. He will go back to his office and look at the framed pictures of his kids, really stare at them hard, and wonder how the hell he didn’t see that the children looked nothing like him. Maybe he will weep. Maybe he will be enraged. Maybe he will be numb. Maybe he will close his office at 3pm and go for a long drive along the Southern bypass.
You guys know Sophie Gitonga, right? Mama Pendo. She writes about food here sometimes, when she’s feeling ‘inspired’. Her day job is as a DNA scientist. She does paternity tests on the daily. I asked her what creates that spark of doubt in men to question that the kids they are raising aren’t theirs. I mean if you are, say, jango, and you are married to a jango and you notice that whenever you go to a buffet your child always skips rice and chapos, chicken curry, fish fillet, traditional veggies and makes a beeline straight for the warus and you think, “Ala, is there some Kikuyu in this my child?”
Does that spark a paternity conversation?
Or if you have a forehead like mine and you sire three children and none come out with your distinct forehead, is that enough reason to have some doubt? Do you know how when God gives some people a big forehead or a big head and you people look at them and say, “Aki God can be so unfair!” Well, unbeknownst to the rest, that is a good thing because folks like us might not need a paternity test. Our foreheads are paternity tests. Can all the fathers with big heads seated back there say, “Amen!”?
Sophie told me that what sparks the paternity test conversation is something so random like your wife or ex-wife or girlfriend shouting at you during a confrontation that the children are not even yours. Or the child at birth coming out looking like Amitabh Bachchan while your clan comes from deep within the Tugen Hills. Or you overhearing your grandmother say, “Those feet are not from this family.” So you spend nights going to your child’s bedroom while they are asleep and staring at their feet, and whispering in the darkness, “Whose feet are these?”
Men have sneaked her, Sophie, into their homes while their wives stepped out, and there she has taken saliva swabs from sleeping children. Men have sent her toothbrushes, strands of hair, pieces of nails, pieces of baby clothing all sealed in envelopes. If cops ever pulled Sophie over, mistaking her car for one that had been reported stolen, they would find all sorts of human parts in it. Some voodoo shit, they will conclude. They will ask her, “Madam, wewe ni Mkenya ama unatoka Tanga?”
When the results are in, there is overwhelming relief for those who suspected the babies weren’t theirs, but deep shock for those who thought the babies were in fact theirs. Sometimes she breaks the news while they sit in parking lots. You spend 22K and wait for 10 days to seek the truth and once it’s there in your face, once it comes into your space, you are shell shocked beyond belief.
Some men chuckle and stare at nothing for the longest time, with only their nostrils indicating any sign of life. Some order for more coffee. Some change the topic and talk about other things like they didn’t just receive devastating news. Some stare at the pictures of their children on their phones like they are a new species and sigh. Some stare at the results and ask cynically, “What if you made a mistake?” “I never make mistakes.” Sophie says softly, shattering what little hope they are still clinging to. Some don’t say anything. They simply mumble a barely audible “thanks” and leave and for days afterwards, Sophie listens out for a domestic homicide being reported in the media. They never cry. Some men ask what happens now that he already named his son, rather, the son he thought was his, after his father? Or a daughter after his mom? What happens now when he has put the name of the most important person in his life on another’s man’s child?
And what happens after that? Do you leave? Do you stay? Do you stop loving those kids? What happens if you have known they were yours for 13 years? Do you ask who the real father is? Do you ask why? Even though why is the most inadequate question ever?
Do you even want to know who the father of the kid you are raising is? Where is he? How did you meet him? Does he know? He knows?! The hell? Does he send money? His feet are large, right? Like little Cindy’s. I always knew those feet were odd, it’s the way the small toes disappeared. Our little toes don’t disappear.
But most importantly, whether you stay or leave, will your child get to know you aren’t the real father? Do they have to know? You could be seated there, reading this article and thinking, ‘Oh, God, people go through shit?’ But what if your father isn’t your father? You are 32 years old and you find out that your father suddenly isn’t your father? Will you want to see your real father? Even if his Adam’s apple is the size of a stress ball?