How many times do we hear stories of African stay-at-home husbands/fathers?

Well, if there is one thing I am grateful for, it is growing up having Papa as a father. Despite him being strict, Papa is a very good man. He is also extremely funny, although it doesn’t take much for him to put his serious face back on. On top of all that – and this is something those who know him could testify to, Papa is one of the most intelligent and resourceful men I know – the know-it-all, fixer-up type of person, hence the nickname, Rumenyi.

For the first years of our lives (my siblings and I), Papa was self-employed; he ran his own business. However, despite his job, we were always his priority. You know how little kids usually tend to call their mom when something goes wrong? Well, we were more likely to run to Papa because there isn’t one thing in this world he doesn’t know how to fix. As a matter of fact, Papa performed a lot of the care work at home. Among other things, Papa would wake up early to fix us breakfast before driving us to school. He was our nurse – why go to the doctor’s when Papa has umuti w’Ikirundi for almost everything? Besides, Papa has a passion for cooking – he is a great cook by the way – therefore, he knew the kitchen better than anyone else did. Moreover, Papa was not the type to spend his nights mu kabare. Instead, he would come home early and have dinner with us.

Then, one time, Papa had an accident. The injury cost him his business. This marked the beginning of Papa’s life as a stay-at-home husband/father. Despite his recovery, Papa never really went back to work ever since. Now that he spent even more time at home, Papa would monitor everything around the house; supervising each of our domestic helpers. In other words, Papa always found/finds a way to wisely spend his time. Always! Whether it is fixing things, reading something, doing his own little researches on pretty much anything… Plus, Papa is a self-taught, self-proclaimed nutritionist who spends majority of his time educating himself and everyone else on healthy eating.

Some of you might be wondering where Maman was during that time. Because yes, I have a Maman I am extremely thankful for as well.

Maman is a hard-working, successful woman and has been our family’s primary bread-winner for the longest time. Her job has always been very demanding; plus, she travels a lot, making it hard for her to be there as much as she wanted to. Later on, Maman was assigned to work in a foreign country. At that time, our parents decided we were all going to move. Assuming Papa and Maman came to an understanding that it would be best if their kids went to live abroad, Papa still wasn’t compelled to leave Burundi as well, but he did. He could have chosen to stay and start over his business; however, when asked why he chose to move knowing he would be compromising his own career, Papa said that, with Maman working and travelling all the time, his responsibility was to look after us.

In the eyes of Abarundi though, our family’s structure was abnormal. What man stays at home and takes care of his family while his wife is out making money? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t personally know of many stay-at-home Burundian dads, but I can only imagine how hard it might be for them to endure all the negative comments from ignorant people. In our case, many are those who pitied Papa and blamed Maman for the whole situation; seeing her as a bad wife and an even worse mother.

However, if anyone asked my siblings and I how living in a not-so-traditional household has affected us, they would be surprised by our positive response – and this is not me defending my parents, it is simply the truth. Looking back at my life, I don’t see a single time I lacked love and attention from my parents. Maman always made sure to make the best of the time she got to spend with us, so never did we blame her for her absences or questioned her love for us. In the end, our parents’ attitude towards the whole situation was the reason my siblings and I were neither bothered by nor ashamed of it. If anything, it was the most normal thing ever to us; only to realize later how it disturbed others instead.

With that being said, shout out to all the stay-at-home dads out there and mine in particular. In a world that says, “real men ought to financially provide for their families”, I salute those dads for shamelessly owning their choices and challenging ridiculous social norms. I honor their selflessness and celebrate their commitment to their families. I thank Papa for being such an example to my siblings and I; especially my brother who grew up seeing that manhood is much more than what society narrows it down to. Overall, I praise Papa and Maman for teaching us that partnership is about compromises and team work, regardless of who does what, as long as the job is done.

I am sure many still consider the traditional family as “the way things should be” but I am here to say this: I was raised by a stay-at-home dad and a workaholic mom, and besides me being a feminist, I think I turned out great – and so did my siblings.

P.S.: If like me you grew up with a stay-at-home parent who went out of their way to make sure you were cared for and you are lucky to still have them around, I hope you let them know they are celebrated. Chances are, you wouldn’t be who and where you are today if it wasn’t for them.

By Delice Lella Irankunda

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