Lincoln Ndogoni is a psychosocial adviser and counsellor. He’s been at it for over 22 years, counselling individuals, families and communities in managing trauma, stress and depression.
He has worked in Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, Uganda, Liberia, South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Swaziland and Sri Lanka. It gets interesting. He’s an expert in neuro-linguistic programming, eye movement desensitisation reprocessing, thought field therapy. (I can take a whole day to deconstruct them).
He is also at lecturer at the University of Nairobi. To decompress, he likes nothing better than to sit in a boat in the water.
He often gives rousing talks on raising children in this modern age. JACKSON BIKO met him at his office on Riverside Drive, Nairobi, where he runs his psychosocial company Oopen Space Centre. (Yes, with a double “o”)
Should we spank our children? We were all beaten, we turned out this way. Are we raising our children as white people raise their children? What’s the African cultural significance of raising children the African way, or there is no African way anymore?
No! No! No! The African way should remain the African way, with a little adjusting. You know this adage, it takes a village to raise a child, you don’t get that in USA. In Africa, there were methods of disciplining children. Everybody knew about them. Spanking is a method of discipline, but sometimes it’s inappropriate and it can cause trauma. So a bit of conversation with kids sometimes helps.
How many do you have?
I have three boys, first is 23, then 22, and the last one is turning 20.
What is the best reaction of a modern African parent when his son comes and says, “dad, I’m gay,”?
I would ask him, ‘please tell me more about it. What does it mean to you? What are the reasons that you have for choosing that sexual orientation?” Remember it is about him, it’s not about me. If I overreact to that kind of a situation, most likely it’s me who has an issue which I need to process. At the end of the conversation, I would say ‘okay, are you happy with it? Is it working for you?” First explore, understand, and take action.
Once, in a supermarket, I asked my 10-year-old daughter if she knew what sanitary pads were because now they start their menses so early and she said they’d already learnt about that in school. She later told her mother that I embarrassed her. What is the role of fathers of pre-teens in the reproductive health conversation?
Wow! What is the reason you chose to ask the girl about sanitary pads?
Apart from not having too many filters? I was curious. I feel that surely we should be open about this.
Exactly. So you are trying to be a parent in a field where you don’t have a lot of skills. Sexuality in Africa is a taboo. But traditionally, there was nothing like a taboo. There was a system that allowed people to access sexual information, male and female. But here you find yourself on your own.
You need to connect with your child and protect them. These kids now have more knowledge than their parents had at that age. I would say, about sexuality, find out how much information they have. Sometimes they are getting inappropriate information on the web, exposed to pornography. Also use the same model, explore, explain, take action.
What has been the greatest challenge raising your three sons?
The greatest challenge for me was when their mother died, I was 49- years- old (he’s 57 now) and it was very difficult. I brought up those kids alone and they were also dealing with loss and grief. We struggled.
My first born delayed in finishing college, but I let him be. I said, ‘‘you know what, this is very difficult, so go at your own pace.’’ My other boy was very ambitious like his mother, he went to college then he said ‘I’m not interested in this college thing’ I said okay, choose what you want and now he is a chef and he is out there working.
Did you remarry?
Yes, last year. There was a lot of pressure from people.
When is the best time to introduce another woman into your children’s lives when you become a widower, because your life has to continue. And what’s the best way to do this?
Wah! I don’t know. (Chuckles) It’s very personal. It depends on who you are, how self-aware you are, how functional or dysfunctional the previous relationship was, and how you have processed the loss.
The more functional the family system is, the more difficult it is to process the grief, because it’s a big loss. Men tend to go a little quick, so as to suppress the pain. There is also the pressure of the society.
How was it getting back into the dating scene?
It was very complicated. You’ve lost the skills. The world has also changed. There was no WhatsApp and whatever. Then many people do sympathise with men who are single, relatives, good friends, introduce women to you. I had my share. And you don’t know how to deal with this.
I told myself when my last born turns 18, I will start getting very serious. And that’s what happened. In fact it was him who told me ‘maybe it’s time you look for someone. You are very broken and are very miserable.’
This animal called mid-life crisis, is it a myth or it’s something real. Have you experienced it?
I did experience it. It’s not a myth. It is a transition and transitions are challenging. They are called crises because you are not prepared, but you find yourself right there. I have seen many men who get depressed. Not necessarily clinical but situational depression.
For men, for example, when you get into the ‘mid-life’ period, the sexual drive goes down, it becomes hard to get an erection. You’ve always been thinking you are the toughest guy around the village, all of a sudden you can’t function, what do you do? The dilemma is that sometimes women’s sexual needs go up. So you are moving in different directions. It’s a crisis. You were not prepared, nobody told you.
What do you do? Many people run away from home because there are certain expectations they can’t meet. You get a girlfriend or whatever. You get into what they call inappropriate coping mechanisms. But if you know that I’m not able to do the things I used to do when I was 35 or 40, physically, psychologically, sometimes spiritually, you to accept and find out what to do. And people need to talk about it, because the less people talk about it, the more you think you are in trouble, you’re crazy, and you try very many things. And sometimes our ladies don’t understand that. They attack.
What’s your philosophy on money and wealth at this age?
I don’t give a damn about money anymore. What is it for? I have worked with billionaires who are depressed. Their money can’t help them. I’ve worked with very poor people who are extremely excited about their lives. So at this point in life, as long as you have basic needs, the rest is basically chasing the wind.
In this room, people come to find out about themselves, what’s the one thing you’ve never been able to resolve about yourself? A question you’ve never been able to find an answer to at your age?
I have seen so many clients and emotional pain is one of the worst situations that a human being can go through. It has no medication. There’s no tablet you can take for anger, fear, guilt, shame.
If you compare your 40s and 50s and probably your 30s, which decade do you think you had your greatest fun?
My 40s. I had energy, I had passion, I travelled the world, doing a lot of work. So there was a lot of fun, a lot of cultures, a lot of learning to do. In the 50s, I started slowing down, I started questioning a few things. And now going towards late 50s, I’m kind of now slowing down again. Trying to think, challenging young people to come out with something different that has probably not been tried before. That gives me a bit of energy.
Have you got other kids with your wife?
No. She also lost her spouse and she has two boys. Now I’m moving towards retirement, I wouldn’t like to bring up kids who would call me grandfather when I’m supposed to be father. Kids are brought in this office with psychological problems because their parents are old and they are telling their parents, ‘don’t drop me to school. Don’t come for parents’ day, you are too old.’ I don’t want to traumatise my child.