‘Who I am today was heavily shaped by my father who raised me, by my steps and missteps in work, relationships and life, and by my children’ – Listen To Your Footsteps, extracts. Kojo Baffoe, who is best known as a writer, poet and author, talks about his book, important life lessons he learned from his father and myths surrounding African fatherhood.
Muzi: You are a writer, poet, blogger, media consultant, producer, columnist, speaker and former editor of destiny man magazine. Would you describe yourself as a jack-of-all-trades and to what extent should the quote ‘jack-of-all-trades, master of none or one’ be considered?
Kojo: I have always joked and said I am a professional jack of all trades because I have held different positions in different industries and never defined myself by my title. I think in today’s world, we need to be able to navigate different areas and understand different sectors and areas.
Muzi: Having held various positions, what would you say is your career highlight, and what is your true love?
Kojo: I do not focus on the idea of a career to define my life. I have never really focused on building a career in the traditional sense so I have never sat down and reviewed my ‘career’ to determine where I am now. My goal is never to be that or to reach a particular position. It is about the life that I am building and living. As far as the highlights, they are certain moments, certain things that have happened or that I have achieved that are memorable or significant, but each one kind of falls into the step of the journey. Publishing my book is one such highlight. When I self-published my poetry books in 2005, that was a moment, and I think having children and getting married are also moments.
My work has been publicly available, from publishing in magazines like Afropolitan and Destiny Men to hosting a talk show on Kaya FM, but a lot of what I do today, and a lot of what I have done in between, is not necessarily publicly available. While I do think, in this day and age, we need to acknowledge and celebrate things, more important for me is that I am doing the work. My focus is always on the work, whatever work that is, and the life I am trying to build.
Muzi: Your latest book, Listen To Your Footsteps, is a collection of essays, thoughts and poems that reflect on your journey so far and the lessons you have learned and continue to learn along the way. What inspired you to write and share your journey?
Kojo: In terms of the actual book, I have always wanted to write a book and have wanted to for about 10 years. The first conversation with the publisher was in 2011/2012, but it did not happen. I was too busy being a magazine editor at the time. I write every day and I always have because that’s my job so it – the desire to write and have a book published – was something that was always there, to some degree. Plus, even though I am always writing, I felt a little inadequate as a writer because I had never written a book before.
Muzi: In your book, you mention that your father made you the person you are today. What lessons from your father have proven most valuable and what is your idea of fatherhood?
Kojo: There are certain values and principles that I grew up with that I have taken to heart and that I can bring to my parenting in my own way. At the same time, being a parent is challenging because you try to guide your children and teach them certain values, but in everyday life things are constantly changing. Overall, I try to teach my children to be empathetic and respectful and to approach the world with the same respect for others and themselves, which is something that my father always reiterated. That and we always have a choice so we need to be deliberate in making said choices ensuring that they reflect our values.
Muzi: I grew up with a single mother who did everything for us and we did not feel the absence of a father figure. What is the important role of a father? What difference does having a father make?
Kojo: Part of the challenge with a question like this is that we equate parenting exclusively with doing. For example, when we talk about single mothers being able to care and provide for their children, it is possible. I too was raised by a single parent, just in this case, it was my father. At the same time, I believe that every child should have two parents, and I should say I don’t focus on the gender of the parents. It’s just that I have children and I have found that in raising our children, there are certain things that I struggle with and there are certain things that my wife struggles with, and it has a lot to do with our personalities. Two people raising a child bring different strands, different personalities, and they complement each other. The reason I say that is because I have gay friends who are married and have children, and it’s the same thing.
The irony of this country is that when I first had children, people asked me, “How do you feel about absentee fathers? I do not know what to say. After all, you are talking about your point of reference, your context as opposed to my context. I do not understand it, because I do not understand the attitude that you say ‘you know you have children, but well, you’ll see what happens’, and you are not present in their lives. I guess it’s a problem all over the world, but I feel like it’s more prevalent in South Africa. When I was growing up in Lesotho, for myself and the people around me, our fathers were there. Even if they were not perfect, they were there.
As for the role of the father, I do not focus on what I provide but rather on how I am, as a parent. What example am I setting for them? Just as there is the notion of motherly love, there is also fatherly love.
Muzi: Do you have a message for young fathers or fathers-to-be?
Kojo: Simply, be there. Be present for both your child and the mother. Most times you won’t feel like you are getting it right, whatever that means, but keep trying to do and be better and keep being there. Being a parent is a journey and our children force us, if we allow them, to become better versions of ourselves. They watch us and so we need to practice the lessons and values we are trying to instil in them. Ours is to provide them with the tools – emotional and otherwise – to build the lives they want. We are their example.