Walking with my children
As parents, today we are walking, sometimes running when we have the energy, so that tomorrow, our children can fly. In doing so, we won’t grow weary because the future of our children is worth walking and running for and even fighting for. As a father, this statement embodies my journey which is why I base this blog on it as I celebrate my birthday. At a general level, it exemplifies how, as humans, we ensure the continuity of civilisation; with each generation building progressively on the foundations of past generations. At a personal level, this has been my guiding compass in raising my children- natural and adopted-for I have got many who see me as a dad. In order for our children to fly tomorrow, we have to walk well: with confidence, purpose, resilience and humility; exemplifying a heart of service to humankind. When we run, we ought not to give up or faint but finish our race because our children are watching and cheering for us. We can accomplish our races by building and making our homes and communities into sanctuaries where dreams are birthed, humility is practised, fears and hopes are shared and holy ambition is encouraged and chiseled. We have to live our humanity daily, showing mercy even to our enemies. Also, we have to walk with our children- whether we are literally walking side by side with them in the park or shepherding them through invisible enduring values. I have realised that the quality of our walk with our children determines whether they will fly at all. If they end up flying, it also determines how high and far they will do so. Yes, we may stumble, but as Whitney Houston sung, we should not crumble. We ought to be the symbol of resilience, stamina, and strength. I have not only exemplified these qualities but have literally flown all around the world and despite my disadvantaged background, have worked hard to compete globally in my work. This sets the bar very high for my children. Since I am walking, running and flying, I want them to venture beyond space and from what eyes can see- in other words, I would like to raise compassionate children who value a big heart over intelligence. Should they be lucky to be intelligent, as they appear to be, they should use their skills and knowledge to make this world a better one.
Today, society is reeling under the heavy curtain of neglect, creation cries and civilisation appears to be in retreat. Adrian Wooldridge puts it aptly: “It took centuries of painstaking effort — sermons, etiquette manuals and stern lectures — to convert us into civilized human beings but everything our forebears worked so hard to achieve is now reversing. A process that took centuries has been undone in just a few decades.” The recent destruction of the ancient Temple of Bel in the historical city of Palmyra in Syria and other important historical sites symbolizes this sudden reversal of the forwards and upwards journey.
Many factors are at play, but I blame the phenomenon of fatherlessness- either society has denigrated the role or fathers or fathers have deliberately abdicated as they chase after the latest shiny stuff. Either way, as fathers, we now generally lack the courage to walk with our children-both metaphorically and literally. I am not an ideal father, for I have messed up big time, but on my birthday today, I want to chat to you about the heart and burden of fatherhood- how, as a feeble, frail, slender man of many weaknesses, I walk with my own children. We do not need much strength to do so but the presence of a sincere heart. However, in all this, I believe my strength is found in my staying power and the ability to overcome adversity and renew myself. In a world that tosses us around from pillar to pole, we have no choice but to be strong for our children. But more importantly, I want to chat about how, through my faith and humanity, I have extended that heart to children who are not my own. In the same way, scripture says, “I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty,” I seek to exemplify Christ.
The quality of your walk with your children determines how high they fly
I recently read a research paper that concluded that modern fitness wearables that count your number of steps are not effective at keeping you fit. Fitness trainers need to look at how healthy people ar, not just by how many steps they’ve taken, but the rate at which they’ve done it.” This also applies to how you walk with your children. You may walk (spend a lot of time with your children) but still have an insecure, avoidant and insecure-resistant attachment instead of a deep emotional bond where both of you rely on the other for emotional stability. In other words, as psychologists suggest, the quality of your walk and strength of your bond is seen through reciprocity: a non-verbal form of communication where an action elicits a response in a two way system, and through interactional synchrony: a form of interaction where two people mirror each other’s emotions and behaviour in synchrony. In my case, whether I am training my son to cross the road, shelling monkey nuts or how to flick a rugby ball, or whether I am with my daughter in Time Square, New York or on a hike along the Mississippi River, up to Minnehaha falls, one thing holds true- I want a healthy relationship with my children in which they feel loved and assured that dad is always there for us but I want it balanced too by giving them space to grow as individuals. Like, in the past two years, my job takes me away from home over long periods of time and this had been disruptive. Although nothing will ever compensate for my absence, I have made sure that when we are together; we walk together and forge a strong bond of love which neither time nor distance can extinguish. Even when people try to sow seeds of distrust in their hearts, they just smile and shrug such ideas off.
Cultivate shared values and common interests
Being 6 foot 4, I have a natural love for basketball but I realize that my son has a keen interest in football. We had to make painful compromises. I had to brush up my football skills in order for us to have mutual interests. Lately, I polished my rugby skills and have just begun taking him through basic drills. If we are not playing football or rugby, we are cycling together and my daughter joins us. Time alone with my son as we pursue common interests has also given me an opportunity to shape him into a young man that he was born to be. Similarly, time alone with my daughter across Canada and the U.S. changed the way she sees life. They know, ‘Dad must love us to do all this cool stuff with us’ and this motivates them to listen to my stories of the charity work that I do in Africa. In the same way I used to with my daughter when she was younger, I always explain to son why we should be kind-hearted, how to be respectful in school, patient and polite with the elderly especially on the roads, listen to the teachers, being helpful in the school grounds, God-fearing and being hard working and focussed. These days, he shares stories from the school grounds and I share on the latest developments in technology. We are getting stronger and closer together as our interests mingle and collide. We both like to go out early Saturday morning to the farmers’ market to buy fruit and vegetables. I am trying to raise him very well because I know he is the future, and I do so by reinforcing and modelling the values and behaviour I want to see in him. My daughter is at a different stage in her life where she needs her space coupled with the assurance that dad is there when I need a hug or to bounce an idea with him.
The role of the elder sibling
I have also realised that if you raise your first child so well, she will help you raise the younger ones. My daughter recently started her 6th form majoring in Biology, Psychology, and Economics at a North London school. Since I studied a Master’s of Science with a psychology major at a university up the road from where she goes to school, I have been taking a particular interest in her psychology modules. When she is taking a recess from studying, I take a peek at her notes and refresh my rusty knowledge but more importantly, I use what I learn to improve my relationship with my 9-year-old son and also with her. It usually holds true that an older sibling helps in raising the younger ones especially if there is 7-year gap as is the case between my children, but in our case, by giving me knowledge; my daughter is playing that role in another indirect way through reverse mentoring. My daughter is an ultra- humble but ambitious girl. When I took her to Toronto and Minnesota two years ago, she vowed to pass and attend Toronto University. She passed very well and last week when we went for a walk in central London she told me her plans to attend the University College of London. Although my children often have their moments of sibling rivalry, the sister has become such a good role model to the baby brother. They compete in a healthy way, as the younger one sees the sister doing well in school, he doesn’t want to be outdone, and so he comes home relating to us how good he is in school. One thing that impresses me is that at 9 years of age, my son wears his sister’s trainers as his feet are growing big and big daily. In other words, he is literally walking in her big shoes, although earlier today I overheard the sister saying, “Who permitted you to wear my shoes”? My children have their moments but all in all, they are impressive. I don’t remember the last time I shouted at them, I do not remember having to heavy lift them out of bed to go to school; I don’t remember them wetting their beds. There has never been a day when they skipped school without a valid reason. God bless them.
Heart of a father
At the beginning of 2018, as I was praying for direction, I felt God impressing on my heart that I would be a father to many children. To that, I said what! Well, a couple of years back; I had started education support schemes in Zimbabwe for the undeserved. I would tell my children to question their privileged position and learn to give to the schemes. I would emphasize that by helping other children and being merciful, they were sowing seeds of karma. One day, other people will show mercy to them when they travel to different countries too. I remind them how some three years ago, we had nothing but managed to purchase our own beautiful home and how we should always show gratitude.
Now, whenever I am going on a trip to Africa, my son is keen on finding something to give to children in Africa because he sees them as family. Over this past year, many children have adopted me as a father, something which gives me so much joy. Being called dad used to fill me with discomfort but now it is a role that I play with gladness. It is through helping and welcoming hands that we can also help these children to one day fly on their own.
A call to all men
Men, please let’s be intentional and deliberate in loving. Let’s have hearts of fathers. Let’s raise these children so well such that the values we reinforced in them will carry on when we are dead and gone. Your own children may have been lucky to have you, but among them are swathes of youths who, like the cavemen, are peering back contemplating to jump back into the caves. When we encourage them, we will ensure that the pull of the bright future and not the appeal of the dead and gone past pull them. Let us be encouraged by the words of John Farnham, the Australian singer in his song, “You’re The Voice”
We have the chance; to turn the pages over
We can write what we want to write
We’re all someone’s daughter
We’re all someone’s son
How long can we look at each other
You’re the voice, try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear
This time, we know we call can stand together
With the power to be powerful
Believing, we can make it better
What others are saying
As I was about to conclude this blog, I received a note from a friend I had known since law school, and she said, “You are a good and honourable example of what a parent is supposed to be not only to your children but to the children and youth you inspire. I know it can be tiring but please continue with the good honest work that you’re doing changing lives. You are not labouring in vain. I tell you, you will inspire a generation.”
This echoes what Munashe Benhura, one of the top former Zengeza High students wrote to me, “I still remember you from various meetings were you offered life-changing motivational speeches that left my own tremendous change .really appreciate the work that you did and still do.”
And finally, a former student from Seke 1 High, Leonard Nyere, recently wrote to me, “I am planning to start to wrote a 50-page motivational book and I was wondering if I could include your legacy and personal achievement in it as personal testimonies?”