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Understanding a father

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By Mankhokwe Namusanya:

You might have grown up resenting your father. That is understandable.

It might be that, from a young age, he instilled fear in you. That each time he came home, long face, you had to scamper to the bedroom. That even when you aged a little, his name was still used to align you into being a responsible human.

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Or, it might be that, he needed a diviner: your mother. For you to reach him, you had to go through your mother. Days of school nearing? You gave a list to your mother, then waited upon the Lord. And, like the Lord he was, his answers were not always favourable. Sometimes, he would take out a few things from the list.

Even on your wedding, he was the only one who had the terrible steps. While your mother danced, flowed with the song, and raised her face to check out which of her village bank friends had showed up, your father marched to a rhythm in his own mind and memory, showcasing steps salvaged from the banality of his youth whose music has no resonance to Amapiano – not even Kwaito.

He became a meme. Your wedding trended, not for the fact that you wore an imported suit or your bride had her natural hair, because of his marching moves.

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“That man, he has never done anything right,” you mused after the wedding, as if you were not one of the products of the things he has ever done.

You might have had been right. You have not really turned out right.

For a moment, of course, it appeared you had turned out right. You came from an uninspiring neighbourhood. Your friends, and mates, either died or got jailed. A few that survived this terrible binary live that hand to mouth life, literally. A few you have met in town selling cheap perfume – or water for perfume.

Yet from that you had an education. You were selected to a national Secondary School after the Standard 8 exam. The only one from your school to earn such a privilege. From there, you went to a public University and studied a useful course.

You struggled a little after University but eventually the job came your way. A good one by the standards of many graduates, even those with whom you shared lectures and graduated with a similar degree.

When the money came in, you started drinking. But that was moderate. Is there such a thing as responsible drinking where the drinker knows their limits, checks out even when the night is just starting, and they do not text their exes or call their crushes in the dead of the night, and actually remember their bed and toilet seat? That was it. You were that.

Even when you found a reliable love, after surviving callous infatuations, she did not complain of your drinking. A few moments, she even sent some cash your way as ‘a boyfriend allowance’ (for the reader: yes, other people get those allowances. Without asking, on time. And it is not weird at all. Try it on your lovers).

You were on an upward trajectory. In community, at work, and Church. That you thought of marrying your lady, a proper Church wedding.

You were the first one in your family to have that white wedding. You would be one of the few amongst your friends – from childhood and community – to do right by the ancestors of a woman without needing to impregnate her first.

It was along that way to the altar that you faltered. She was your superior in some way, although you were not reporting directly to her. That thing of infatuation at first sight, it was what you had. Then, apparently, you thought there was chemistry.

You became friends. She helped you with understanding your bride-to-be when the nerves kicked in.

“But it’s months away.”

She told you to never say that again to your lady. That you must understand her. The wedding, she added, to her might just be coming in days – or hours – not months as the calendar was registering.

When she said that you should order your suit through one of her friends, she also told you that you had to go with it. For fear of what would happen if your choice lets you down.

She became a friend, a confidante, and that cliché work spouse. Except, it was not just a cliché. She was actually a spouse at work. It was an affair that could have stayed wrapped if not for your habit of holding on to text messages – another of those that you must have gotten from your father.

Your bride found them with only two weeks to the wedding. There was no denying. The messages were quite telling. But she was not about to let you go, she was not about to let all her preparations materialise into naught.

You went ahead with the wedding while still battling with each other over infidelity. None of your parents knew. A few of her friends knew from her, the rest knew from her circle. All of your friends knew from you.

The trouble started at the honeymoon. She said you would not touch her. The only time you touched was for photos for the envious public. Beyond that, nothing.

It drove you to the bottle. The entire week you were at the lake you were only sober when waking up. Then you hit the bottle. It hardly bothered her. If it did, she did not bother showing it.

It has been a year now. Only a few countable times have you consummated that marriage which led to her pregnancy. You have a son. But it is just that. You are not much of a father.

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