By Mankhokwe Namusanya:
Men get understood at two points, at least by their sons: When the sons themselves become men or, in the worse, when they die – the men.
In between these two positions, they are often tolerated, suspected, or feared. Those days they feel that the household has finally come to understand them, it is that the household has come to tolerate them. And it hardly lasts long. They default to the other two uncomfortable places.
There was a man who grew up fearing his father, and suspecting him, who told his story. A colleague resonated, even if only partially.
“I just wish he never married so as to understand his father,” he mused.
I thought of the tweet, now a meme, of a lady who advised all who could to get pregnant so as to know their real friend. In reaction to that, a gentleman had rightly wondered: Do you have to go to that extent – apparently even bring a new life into this miserable world – just so you can know who your real friends are?
The colleague who texted might have felt the same way. Musing: imagine bartering that freedom of singleness, that sour sweetness of loneliness, the space for kind compassion to the self and everything that unmarried life brings just to understand your father. I feel like there are steps that can be taken to understand your father before marriage. That man who told you his story must not have married just to appreciate his father.
But it was actually not like that. It was because he needed not marriage to understand his father. He needed something: death.
There was a mistrust when his father was alive. To say that he feared him would be a lie. He mistrusted him. A son always suspicious of his father. Want something, ask father, and he says he does not have it? He would not believe him.
“I always felt that the man just did not want to do the things for me, the right thing for me,” said the colleague.
In a way, it was as if his father were a hater long before they were invented. That, in a way, he carried with him a wind and hid in the proverbial dark corner that when the son’s candle was burning, the father would blow it out.
“Like when I was selected to a good Secondary school, a mission Secondary school, the dream of each one of us back in the days – even today…”
The father was well placed in the dark corner with the wind of announcement that it would not be possible for him to attend that school because there was no money. After all, he would dare add, it was not as if School had benefitted anyone he knew.
And he was right. A victim of geography that would later be harnessed by colonialism, he was not a witness to the magic power of education. A power that, with each passing year, keeps d i s s o l v i n g into hopeless fantasies.
For the son, it did not make sense. Because the father was drunk almost every day. Such a man, surely, needed not use an excuse of money. It was just that he did not care.
“It never occurred to you that your father could have been a man of stories, for whom people had to get drunk so they could hear wonderful narratives?”
The son said it never occurred to him then. Now, however, it is a reality he frequently confronts. His own skills at narrative are one of the reasons that makes him confront that reality. It might be a trait he got from his father.
I rush this story here, deliberately.
He went to school. Not that school, but another school that was not a boarding. It was at a distance but he was allowed to use the family bicycle. It was his mother, apparently, who came with the announcement that he can use the family bicycle and, only until a few years ago, has he been able to appreciate that his father yielded. In the years before, he was all praises to his mother for that gesture which enabled him to access an education. And become the man he is now.
His father died when he was almost a man too.
“It was sudden. On Monday he was sick. On a Saturday, that same week, I was back in College from having buried my father. My heart was not heavy.”
It was in the marching on of life that his heart became heavy. Like during the graduation. While colleagues had their fathers – even if dressed in suits faded by countless moonless nights – he had none. Just a few uncles and cousins who, at the end of the day, could never understand the pride of a father in having raised a son into a responsible male.
“Those moments made me think hard, and deep, about him.”
If you have not lost your father only, you might not know this: mothers hardly talk about their husbands, your father, after his passing. They just pretend he went and, in silent cold nights, they do not wish he was alive. They might talk about him, which is usually less, and with caution and distance – almost a denial of his existence.
He had to get the stories of him out of her. And with the stories came the photos.
“The photos, actually, helped us talk about him. And they brought me closer to him…”
Because his mother is a keeper. She had photos from the time they were both young. Long before they had their first child. Just to maybe until he became a father, not just a husband.
“In those photos you could see a young man of dreams, hopes and aspirations. Not a father, a drunkard or actually a mistake. Just a man, who would have a son.”