On Tuesday, I walked into Café Javas at Oasis mall carrying my 10 month-old son in a baby carrier and ordered for a fruit platter. The gentleman who was attending to me promptly brought the salads and Shoroora and I proceeded to munch at it. All seemed well with the world until a few minutes later when, having had his fill and been overtaken by a bout of sleepiness, the young man started crying, scratching his eyes and generally doing everything else but sleep.
Side note: I don’t, for the life of me, understand why babies do this. They want to sleep. They are put in the most conducive position to sleep. They are sung to the sweetest of songs. Everything is lined up. But no, they must fight and scream and throw tantrums until….well until they sleep! The end.
Shoroora kept screaming for about five minutes and I kept patiently waiting for him to finally come to the reasonable conclusion that it would be in everyone’s best interests if he just slept. At some point, I got that sixth sense feeling of someone looking at us. I looked up. Four waitresses, each positioned in different parts of the café, were looking at us. They had the kind of look on their faces that you give a toddler trying to cook. One of them walked over and, with wide-stretched hands asked if I needed any help.
I said no thanks, kept eating and rocking the young man.
He too continued crying.
The waitresses too continued watching.
A minute or so later another of the waitresses came to the table, apparently also troubled by a crying baby on his father’s bosom.
“Excuse me sir, can I carry him as you finish eating?”
“No thank you ma’am,” I responded.
“I think he is tired of seating,” she opined.
“No, he’s just sleepy,” I responded.
She walked away unconvinced and a little bit irritated. As she did, the third lady came over, determined to succeed where her peers had failed.
“Sir, maybe you stand up and walk around a little,” she said.
At this point, I was ready to give these people a piece of my mind. I was getting angry. The kind of angry that makes you want to hold an entire lecture. Who did they think they were? Did they know my son more than I did? What exactly about my demeanor told them I was somehow open to suggestions from complete strangers about what was best for my sleepy son?
Amariah meanwhile was starting to dose off, then wake up and wail. He was almost there. I called the waiter that had served me and asked him to cover our platter as I walked around and got the baby to sleep. He kindly obliged. I paced up and down for a while and Shoroora slept. I came back to my seat and continued munching at our fruits. I looked up again at the ladies. They were smiling and looking quite pleased. The kind of pleased you are when your toddler does something very adult-ish and responsible. They were like proud mamas looking at their son who had just neatly put away his toys without being prompted or asking for help.
It has always struck me as strange how many women I know at once decry fathers’ lack of involvement in childcare and at the same time never really give men the space to actually be involved. I’ve seen women complain about men not being able to change men’s nappies while at the same time would either never let them try or would laugh at them if they tried and failed or overly and dramatically praise them if they successfully did.
During a Scripture Union conference many years ago, I remember ladies crowding around me and marvelling at my ability to peel matoke faster than many of them, before insisting I needed to leave the kitchen and the duties there to more competent people (read girls).
Like many other feminists, I believe in the equality of genders. I am learning every day, to check my privilege as a man in a deeply patriarchal world. The failures in this journey are more than is comfortable to admit, but the successes too keep piling up. So do the lessons.
One of the lessons I’m learning, is that women, like men, are in much need of unlearning stuff that perpetuates the patriarchy. Based on the particular experience of my son and I in the café, here are my two very specific suggestions to ladies out there interested in seeing men be more involved in childcare.
1. Just let us do it:
Far too often, I have seen women run to the rescue of fathers far too soon in the game. You cradle the baby slightly differently to how mothers do it and you are promptly told that’s not the way to do it. Let us be. Let us make our mistakes. Let us learn our lessons. You trust us to get the car working again. Half the time, we have no idea what we are tinkering with in the bonnet. But we get round to it eventually. What’s the worst that can come out of spending 2 extra minutes changing nappies? Or 5 extra minutes feeding? Or 30 more minutes getting the little one to sleep? Make peace with the fact that we will not do it the way you do, but will get the job done anyway.
2. Normalise expecting men to take care of children:
I know this is probably easier said than done, but nonetheless important. The ladies at Café Javas no doubt meant well. But the thing is, when my wife and Tanya joined us later in the day, and Shoroora was as cranky as he was earlier, they didn’t rush to the table to offer to carry him or advice on how to deal with him. They didn’t do so because my wife and a female friend of ours were there. Interestingly, it was my brother Josh Twin that got him to keep quiet more often than not. Each time you are tempted to intervene or react differently when a father is in charge, ask yourself if you would intervene if it was a mother or female in the same situation. If your answer is no, reconsider offering help. If it is yes, go ahead and ask. But if the help is declined, in the name of everything fair, respect that!
In completely unrelated news, there’s truly something unique about Ugandan fruits. Olya enanansi wenna nowulira nga ekutuuse ku mmeme. Nolya omuyembe newelabira n’amabaati gebabba.
It’s great to be home.