The past weekend was dedicated to fathers. Some say fatherhood is a thankless job. Dear fathers, the job you do in caring for your children is not easy and so I hope you feel appreciated. And for the men who step in to mentor sons with no fathers, kudos. May this story remind you that what you do is never in vain.

He heard a shrill sound coming from the backyard. He hoped it was not the neighbour’s fat, grey kitty playing hide and seek with the clothes on the hanging line again. He was not a cat guy and had no plans of becoming one even though the kitty seemed drawn to him. He turned off the vacuum cleaner and walked out, headed to the backyard. “I swear if that kitty is at it again!”

Alvin was shocked to find his ‘father’ lying on the ground. He had been busking while reading the newspaper. He enjoyed being kissed by the orange sun especially on weekends. The chair he had sat on was also on the ground turned upside down. The fat kitty meowed next to him, moving in circles as if trying to investigate what had happened. Unsure what to do, Alvin ran back to the house. He unplugged his phone from the power socket then quickly dialled 911. Ring! Ring! Ring! He waited. Suddenly he heard a voice on the other end of the line.

“911 what’s your emergency?”

“Help! It’s my father. Please help.”

“Kindly state your name and location and what your emergency is.”

Alvin gave his details as he walked to his father. He held his phone in his left hand as the right one tried to support his father’s head. The voice on the other side of the line asked him a couple of questions and assured him that an ambulance would be dispatched to his location in a few minutes.

Mathias had met Alvin at a juvenile jail. Part of his work involved counselling minors. He had taken up counselling to complement his teaching job. Most of the young boys who ended up in jail lacked role models. Mathias felt the need to nurture them. He thought counselling them would go a long way in impacting them. The administration supported him as he went through training for a year to become the counsellor at the prison.

The first time he saw Alvin, the diffident boy who hardly spoke in any of his classes, he wanted to know his story. So instead of the usual picking on those who raised their hands to answer questions, he called out Alvin’s name one day.

“Alvin, what is the answer?”

“Eehh… I… I am not sure.”

“Could you at least try?”

“I think… I… I don’t know.”

Mathias was known to be patient with the boys. He particularly wanted those who seemed timid to get out of their cocoons. The boys liked him. Some confessed to going back to crime so that they are re-arrested and brought back to jail. But Alvin was different. He wanted to grow up fast. Become a man for big crimes and have a taste of the adult jail. He had nothing or no one to live for. He had no parents. No siblings. His survival depended on stealing; clothes, food, money, phones, etc. As long as he and his boys stole something, anything, they got by just fine.

Alvin’s aunt had abandoned him for being a thief way too soon. He had barely finished his sixth grade when his aunt started receiving calls from the teachers. He was a troublemaker and his aunt had had enough of it. By grade seven, he had run away from home and joined a gang of street boys, some younger than him, others slightly older than him. They became his friends. He felt a sense of belonging in their company.

Since his parents died and were left under the care of his aunt, nothing was ever the same. His aunt took charge of the little property his parents had left behind. As soon as their burial was done, she transferred him from the private school he attended to a public one. She then put her two children in private school. Alvin would be left to do most of the housework as his cousins studied.

13 years was too young for Alvin to fall into depression. His life had changed in a blink of an eye. He would wake up at night and call out for his parents. That day he ran away, his aunt had given him a whopping. So severe was the whopping that Alvin could neither sit nor stand for too long. His entire body was sore. He resorted to finding himself a new home, in the streets. The only way for him and his boys to survive was to steal. They became young thugs of the hood until one night, three of them got arrested while the other four got away.

As Alvin waited for the ambulance, he heard Mathias mumble some words while his head rested on his arms.

“Son, the future is bright for you. I know it. I can see it. Make sure you teach other young men what I have taught you.”

“Papa, we shall teach them together. I know we will.”

This was the first time Alvin had referred to Mathias as papa. He always called him by his name. Mathias had adopted Alvin when he was 17 years. His wife was sceptical about it at first. She thought he would be a bad influence on their two sons. As soon as Alvin served his two years in the juvenile prison, Mathias took him to his home. He enrolled him on a technical school to help him acquire a skill that would help him set up a business later.

The ambulance arrived and it was then that Alvin remembered that he had not informed his ‘mother’ about what had happened. He quickly dialled her as the paramedics buckled Mathias on the stretcher bed and put him inside the ambulance. His mother didn’t pick up. The fat kitty kept meowing as everything unfolded.

Once the paramedics were done, he got into the ambulance and as he was just hopping in, his mother called him back.

“Hi, Alvin…”

“Mama… Papa is…” he said between sobs.

This was the first time he had called her mama. It was a first to many things. First calling Mathias papa and now calling her mama. He tried to explain what had happened but he couldn’t. He hung up the phone and instead sent her a message and the hospital they were heading to.

At 22 years, Alvin longed for his father’s embrace. This was the first time he allowed himself to be vulnerable. Nafula saw the pain in Alvin’s eyes and she embraced him as soon as she got to the hospital.

“Mama, I don’t want papa to leave me. If he dies, let me die with him. I cannot lose my second father. A father who graciously embraced me when I was rejected and dejected. A father who saw greatness in a young boy lost in his little world. A father who lovingly gave me a home and an opportunity to live again. Mama, if he goes, then am also gone. He is all I have…”

“No son, he is not going anywhere. And should he go, I am sure he’d want you to take care of your brothers and continue in the work he had started at the juvenile jail. So, Alvin, you must stay strong for papa. For me. For your brothers.”

Later that evening, the two were allowed to go see Mathias in the admission ward. He was a little stable, they were told. The cardiac arrest had given them a scare but he was going to be ok.

“Papa, don’t ever scare us like that. My brothers are a handful to leave them in my care.”
Mathias managed a smile as his wife held his hand and Alvin stood next to her. Alvin excused himself to get some fresh air.

“Thank God Alvin was around when this happened. I don’t know what would have happened if you were home alone. And thank you for being his model father. You have mentored him into the fine young man he is today.”

“Nafula”, Mathias looked at his wife then continued, “I wish I had someone look out for me after my parents died. Like Alvin, I had no siblings. I didn’t know any of my parent’s relatives. I struggled through life but I was lucky to be taken in by a children’s home. I vowed to show kindness to someone else. Alvin was my answered prayer.”

They locked hands together. Nafula smiled as she thought of her husband’s sacrifice to father a young boy who would make a great father one day.

Happy Fathers Day!

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