I grew up inside a bubble. In this bubble, all Ugandan fathers were like my father. Fathers came home for 3 meals a day, every day, except when working out of town. In this bubble, Ugandan fathers knew their children individually and spent time with each one. Fathers taught their 5-year-olds how to ride bikes and later how to drive cars. They took them on trips and carried them on their shoulders and, later, placed them on the car steering wheel. Fathers laughed and played with their kids. They taught them about AIDS and encouraged them to remain abstinent. Daughters were the center of every father’s world and these daughters stayed close to their father for life.
FIRST REALITY CHECK:The first hole in my bubble was poked by Olga Rucogoza Ajiri in my late teens. The counselor in her sat me down for a sober talk. She had noticed how my sisters and I had been taking our way of life for granted, so she illustrated for me the typical Ugandan home showing how MOST Ugandans interacted with fathers. She forced me to contrast this with my reality.
MOST UGANDAN’S REALITY— A FAMILY EVENING: A watchman sounds the alarm, “Daddy’s home!”, and panic rises in many small hearts. Children scatter, like cockroaches who have been exposed to sudden light. They switch off gadgets, evacuate sitting rooms, and hold their breath in fear. Houses that had been pealing with laughter and giggles moments before are shrouded in silence. Occupants hide in bedrooms and in dark corners, waiting for Daddy to leave and go drinking with buddies. They then keep vigil for his return in the wee hours of the morning, never knowing whether his drinking will render him awkwardly friendly or scarily violent.
MY REALITY— AN EVENING AT OURS:Dad gets home in the evening or at lunchtime. Daughters acknowledge and greet him with a simple ” Hi Daddy” and then return to whatever they were doing before, ( usually —girl-talk). They feel no inclination to run, scatter, hide or EVEN to change the topic of discussion. If the topic at hand had been about the boy down the street who was kwanaring one of the girls, nothing would change. After greeting Dad, they would go back to “… girl he said whaaaat!? Uhn uhn! I know he didn’t! ” .Visiting friends would then squirm, pointing out that the patriarch was within earshot. We would be like “So?”My teetotaler dad had very few places to hang out after 6 pm, so most evenings, he sat at the dining table reading, while my sisters and friends and occasional boyfriends lounged and laughed and talked and watched TV in the interconnected sitting room.
With this contrast, Olga had pricked a tiny hole in my bubble. I could hear the steady hiss of falsehood escaping. It dawned on me—not all Ugandan Fathers were PRESENT.
SECOND REALITY CHECK:My next bubble prick came shortly after. Another friend came over and suggested we go out together. I had no money, so I turned to my Dad and casually asked for transport fare. He gave me 5 times what I needed, and I was like, “Thanks, Daddy. See ya!”.We went out, but my friend fell silent. I asked her what was on her mind. She remained pensive. Finally, she turned to me and said, “your Dad is soooooo generous! He gave you money just like that. ” I was like, “But he’s my Dad! “. In the silence of that outing, another distinct hiss sounded in my mind…another tiny hole had been pricked in my idea of Ugandan fatherhood— Not all fathers were PROVIDERS. You see, this friend, lived with her wealthy father, in a mansion, atop a hill, in one of Kampala’s leafiest suburbs. She had been surrounded by opulence, and by pretty things, but deprived of a relationship in which she could share her wants and needs. The idea of asking her dad for anything outside of school fees was unthinkable. I, on the other hand, had grown up with parents who were always stretched thin, supporting many people both in Kampala and in the village. We lived in modest housing. We knew we weren’t rich, but we also knew that Dad would take the RESPONSIBILITY to provide. If he didn’t have it…well…he just…had to find a way. Not that we were irresponsible kids. We all got jobs as teenagers, we pitched in as young adults and we made it a point to work towards independence. But, if we needed something, we knew exactly where to go. We went to Daddy and he made it happen.
OUTSIDE THE BUBBLE: Many years later, I hold no illusions of a land filled with fathers like mine. Many friends have since shared their tales of abuse, neglect and abandonment by their fathers. These have broken my heart and have exploded what was left of my happy bubble. Out here, I am exposed to the reality that my generation and those after us are in trouble. How can men who have never experienced proper fatherhood become great fathers? How can women, who don’t know what a good father is, choose someone to co-parent with? We have a genuine crisis of Fatherhood in our land. 40% of fathers ignore their known children and are not active in their lives. 10% are unaware of the children they have. Single mothers strive to make ends meet. Child-led homes are common. When fathers are present, they illicit fear and mislabel it “respect”. I pray for Uganda. That God will raise up fathers who will be PRESENT PRIESTS in their homes; who will PROVIDE, PROTECTand PROPHESY into the lives of their children. Maybe then, we can stop being a nation with daddy issues. Maybe then, our nation can be founded on the family unit as a basic building block for stabilityLET IT BE SO!
I dedicate this piece to all the Daddyless daughters of Uganda.