On the occasion of my 28th birthday in March this year, the message from my mother was slightly different from that of years gone past: “Happy birthday son. You know I’m now eagerly anticipating the day you bring someone home and of course, also looking to hold your child in my hands.” From where I come from, her anxiety is understandable. I’m the last boy in the family (the legacy of the family name is under threat) and I’m the only one who remains unmarried and childless.
What my mother didn’t know as she delivered this message is that since the beginning of the year, when almost everyone is high on new year’s resolutions, I had been thinking about finally settling down and, of course, starting a family. But this was not, by any chance, a new year’s resolution; it was much more. I really don’t know what it is but something turned inside of me and my perspective on marriage and family shifted in a big way.
Surprisingly, I have found myself at peace with these thoughts. I am surprised because two years ago, like most guys I guess, I would balk at the thought of a lifetime commitment. I had many good reasons to, among them that I wasn’t earning enough, my career needed to come first and, of course, that I had not yet met the right person. Perhaps the biggest reason was that it just wasn’t time because, it seemed, I had a whole load of life and time ahead of me.
I still do.
As a predictable birthday gift to myself every year, for the past six years, I take an HIV test. When I started this practice, the philosophy that motivated me was that the most important thing in life was to stay alive. It still is. But, the messaging and medical advances around HIV/Aids have evolved a great deal and to test positive for HIV no longer means the burden of carrying a death sentence over your head. So, in that regard, the HIV tests have become a lot more bearable for me in recent years. Yet the questions, anxieties and fears in that consultation room remain. What if…?
Staying alive requires one to also lead a lifestyle that does not glorify self-destructive behaviour such as overeating unhealthy food, excessive drinking of alcohol, improper use of drugs, lack of physical exercise and of course, uncontrolled sexual activity. As one gets older in age, your body rewards you for the way you have treated it. Fact.
My desire to start a family has also led me to question my motives. Why do I want to have children? Do I seek to perpetuate my father’s name? Do I want to please my ageing mother? Do I want to gift the world with the next genius and innovator? Do I want to mean something to someone as a parent? Am I being weighed down by society’s expectations, no matter how vague and false they are?
I’m not sure. And I love the uncertainty because until I hold this child – my child – in my hands, hopefully, I cannot truly tell what is and what is not about my desire. The mother, undiscovered as she is, may feel differently. That said, I guess the broader responsibility for me and her will be to raise a child whom we are willing to give up to the African continent so that he or she can be all that they will dream to be.
While South Africa celebrates Youth Day on June 16, the rest of Africa celebrates Day of the African Child.
This continent has moved from being described as hopeless at the turn of the century to a worthy contender in the global economy. The best is yet to come but perhaps we need to be content with the possibility that the fullest potential of Africa may not be realised in our lifetime but in that of our younger ones.
If that is true – and most indications are that it is – we might have to urgently move beyond the empty sloganeering in child-raising; telling children that they are leaders of tomorrow and in so doing, delaying their potential and postponing their visions and dreams because tomorrow actually never comes – and for good reason!
Rather, it is important that all parents, prospective parents like myself, and guardians begin to pay more attention to Africa’s needs in industry, politics, social services (especially health and education) and sport, areas in which productive leadership is required, and begin to mould, through their children, active citizens who are not afraid to engage with and participate in spheres of life that will ultimately influence their own well-being and, consequently, the well-being of Africa.
Maybe in future then, the Day of the African Child will stop being about merely presenting children as victims and raising awareness of children’s rights – which is important – but also about celebrating the immense value of the currency children add to this rising continent.
It is the least we can do, for posterity’s sake.