In January, I wrote my first post here, reflecting on motherhood and the lessons I learn from the women who care for the 50 children at Cura Orphanage.
Now, seven months later, Dwyane Wade has reminded me to reflect on fatherhood, too.
I confess that I had never heard of Dwyane Wade, let alone his new book A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger than Basketball -- but an hour on a treadmill with the September issue of Vogue can introduce a person to a lot of new things. Mr. Wade's middle-of-the-page, shirtless photo caught my eye for reasons that will be obvious if you pick up your own copy, but the mention of his association with President Obama's Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative was what really got me excited.
Because, let's face it, kids need men.
I am surrounded by good fathers in my own suburban life: men who provide for their children in both traditional and more gender-bending ways. But I tend to take these men and the roles they play for granted, in that way where something one relies upon becomes almost invisible.
I take this assumption of fatherly guidance with me when I travel to Cura Orphanage, but a fortuitous argument over Magic Markers made me realize, again, how crucial and transformative an increased male presence can be in lives of the children in our care.
The children were working with the art supplies I had brought to the Home, and all seemed to be well... until Simon and Margaret exploded out of the makeshift art studio: he in a flailing rage, and she in tears. The cacophony of the other children's shouting made it nearly impossible for me to sort out what had happened, and how I could help untangle what had become a vicious and physical argument.
I started in the place I knew: separating the two at the center of the conflict, not taking sides, asking for some calm to be restored before we moved on. But my ability to juggle the nearly 20 personalities and 3 languages that were contributing to this mess quickly expired.
Which is when Gilbert stepped in.
Gilbert is the driver I hired, by a (magical? karmic?) stroke of luck several years ago. He became my go-to guy in Nairobi, and he's been shepherding me and other visitors back and forth to Cura ever since. He is growing his taxi cab business and has children of his own, but he's also become committed to the children in our Home -- and the girls and boys alike gravitate to him. Gilbert is a young, Kenyan, adult man who speaks their language(s) and loves them unconditionally.
This was never more clear to me than when he stepped into the fray that had overwhelmed me. He spoke in some Kikuyu, some Swahili and some English (mostly for my benefit, I'm sure), making eye contact with the children and helping them put the fight they had witnessed into perspective. He asked them to consider the violence that can reside even inside words, and asked them to talk about the consequences that could arise when rage festers inside people, families, ethnic groups, nations. He cited Ghandi and Mandela and even Obama... all strong men to whom the children could relate.
Watching him draw out discussion, while simultaneously reprimanding and encouraging the children, was profound -- if only because I realized that I was witnessing a kind of fatherly presence that I hadn't yet fully acknowledged existing in their lives.
Certainly, there are other men in Cura!
Moses, the Home Manager, is the primary one. He does incredible work, as their advocate in school meetings, as the overseer of the budget and the maintenance of the Home and the grounds, and as the coordinator of their religious instruction. He has partners in his fatherly endeavors: Edwin, the reverend of the local church; Kenneth, a dedicated community volunteer; John, the grounds- and livestock-keeper, to name only a few.
Dwyane Wade's Vogue feature reminded me that, collectively, Cura's male mentors give our children a gift to which all children should be entitled -- and which all mothers should be able to take for granted.