On Your Fourth Birthday
By Sehin Teferra
I didn’t want a son, can you believe that? All I saw of boys were the loud screeches and footballs thrown straight into guests at birthday parties and when I found out that your father and I were to be blessed with a second child, I hoped for another girl. So no, I am not the man-hating feminist that some silly people assume I must be, but I admit that I had to be taught the capacity for love in a little boy’s heart. Because you are the guy who wakes me up several times at night with, ‘Mama, can I have a hug, please?’ And who would ask me to stop driving so we can ‘Ekif Ekif.’ I see genuine alarm in your eyes if you think I am in pain, and your voice is high when you ask, ‘Mama, you hurt?!’ You pull my non-impressive hair to your face and state, ‘I want to drink your hair.’ I think to myself, no one has ever loved me this much, not even the father who brought me to this world and who taught me to walk, and he was also all heart like you.
Because you mind your own business and mostly ignore everyone, very few people know that your nonchalance masks a deep shyness. Friends and relatives tell me, ‘Lee just doesn’t care, does he?’ And I agree, because that tough facade, of not caring, is easier applied to a man-in-the-making than your deep sensitivity. I love you all the more for it but we don’t need to advertise it. I admire your self content and the fact that four years on this earth and you have never sought validation from anyone or anything. You are friendly enough if kids ask you to run around with them but you are as happy when they go off chasing other classmates. You love your own company. Digging in the garden is more exciting for you than jumping into a bouncy castle full of hyper kids, and I am grateful you already know that your best friend is within you.
You are Nature Boy and you climbed on a horse before you could walk properly. You love dogs, even the mangy no-names on that even I, well-known dog lover barely glance at. The one time I took you to Entoto mountain, you flew down the hills with your jacket flowing behind you like a superhero’s cape. ‘A boy in his element’, I remember thinking.
I wont lie to you, we do live in a world where nice guys finish last. Be a nice guy anyway. It is better for the world, and it’s better for you. When I teach you to respect women or question your privileges, it’s not just me acting on my feminist obligation of raising a man who values equality, it is also because I think you will be happier that way. I think it is a myth that because men have privileges over women, that becoming a man is a simple process – from what I can see, being a man is every bit as hard as being a woman. The ‘Man Box’ is a serious trap. You are supposed to be masculine but not too aggressive, you are meant to make money easily but spend it like it an heir, you are required to chase women for the sake of it, you are expected to drink like a fish but somehow maintain a six-pack. Grow up to be the man who doesn’t even know about the man box. There is no containing you now and there should never be. You are after all the kid who at the age of three joined Tsedeniya GebreMarkos on stage at a Setaweet event, offering your own version of an interpretive dance to a giggling audience.
What makes you different, that incredible imagination that draws dinosaurs on the shadows in the corners of our room in the middle of the night, or the sudden mood that overtakes you to roll the welcome mat around you like a blanket, what may seem quirky and strange behavior to onlookers is what makes you unique, what makes you Leeben. We parents want our children to conform, to be like every other child, because that mold is easier to work with. I confess I too struggled with this, but I am learning as we grow together and I love that you are so different. You be you, my love. You are absolutely awesome the way you are and what makes you different as a child will be that trait that will make you the unforgettable man in a few short years. Do good with all this heart that God has put inside your small body. I firmly believe you came into the world with a deep purpose. I will do my best to help you find it, or at the very least, not stand in your way as you reach for wherever you are meant to be. I am your greatest cheerleader and will believe in your worth every day until I am no longer here, and the beauty of our love is, there will be nowhere you can be that I will not follow.
Happy Fourth Birthday, My Darling.