I grew up seeing a lot of Hollywood movies. And even though I had not been out there, I formed a picture of the realities in those places from what I saw repeatedly. One thing that struck me was the disparity in family life and parenting.
I’ll give you an instance. The first time my dad hugged me and gave me a peck, I felt embarrassed. To make matters worse, it was at a public place. You’d wonder why I felt that way. Well, if you were raised by a typical African father you’d probably know the answer already. In the movies, I saw fathers play with their sons (and I don’t mean babies only). But over here, it always seemed to be serious business once you passed that crawling stage. In fact, you couldn’t even remember whether he played with you when you were that little.
Now you are beginning to get the point; a little, maybe. So I was just reflecting on the journey so far, especially with today being Father’s Day. I know we (my dad and I) have come a long way, but I can’t stop remembering how I characterised African fathers from what I experienced and what I saw from others around me. If you have (or had) an African father, read and tell me if it’s so for you.
The first time I told my dad I love him, it was an awkward experience. I typed and wiped the text severally, not knowing how best to do it. Or whether I should even do it. I had never heard him say that to me. Perhaps it was a taboo. Men were probably not supposed to say that to each other; I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t also remember hearing it from any of the other dads around. Anyway, the message went, and the reply I got ‘broke the chain’. It was no longer a big deal, and I would be thrilled to find how often he’d take the chance to say that to me and my brothers. Perhaps it struck him. But I knew for sure that the African father always loves his children, even when he doesn’t say it.
Oh, the lashes! How unforgettable. He makes sure the ‘rod of correction’ is always close by. He dishes out instructions and expects them to be abided by. After all, he is the ‘man of the house’. Hahaha. But he also knows when you outgrow being whipped, and when to say to you, “You are a man now, you can make your own decisions.” Oh, how proud you feel to hear Dad say that! You know the feeling.
Nothing hurts the African father than not being able to fend for his family. It is his pride. And though many children (I’m talking boys here) often derive pleasure in trying to be their own man early enough, he still wants to be there for them. I think it goes back to our history of ‘manhood initiation’, where fathers groomed their sons until they were successfully initiated into manhood, as the culture dictated. There was hardly those running away from homes like I saw in many of the Hollywood movies. The African father wants to see you mature and able to stand on your own before he hears you want to leave home.
The African father is not a fan of flattery, but sometimes you’d feel he doesn’t understand that appreciation is important. He does. Maybe he just doesn’t want you to start feeling over your head. And it is usually his way of getting you to work harder on yourself. If you want to know what he thinks of you, eavesdrop on his discussion with his friends and other elderly folks. You’ll hear him say things he least says to you. But don’t worry; someday he’ll tell you how proud he is of you. And it will be priceless. Hahahahhahaha. It will feel like God Himself just gave you an award for being your father’s son.
You know that ‘real men don’t cry’ talk? I’d probably tell you I know where it originated from. AFRICA! Our manhood theory, dating back to history, just paints that picture. His dad grew him to always appear tough. Emotions, they believe, are for women. So he took that, too. Now you know why he acts the way he does. You want to know how emotional he can be? Travel far for the first time, and send him a bad news about your welfare. You will get the old man panicking, he may even be rushed to the hospital before you finish talking. Then you know they aren’t as strong as they appear to be.
His methods may not be perfect. You probably don’t know the struggles he’s been through, and the ones he is going through, over how to be a better father. You judge him for his imperfections. But who handed him a script on how to do it right? You are probably figuring out how you won’t be like him (just like I have), but wait until your son tells his own version of the father story.
I learned somewhere along the line it just isn’t an easy task being a father. Then I knew to appreciate his efforts, however imperfect. I knew to look beyond his acts and see his big heart, his sincerity, and value him for all he could be. He never had it better; else he would have done better. I knew and believed he worked hard to be an improvement of the father he had. Just as I am reassuring myself I’d do.
So while I can pick many of his faults, I choose to rather hold on to one thing. And if this is the only one thing I can say he did for me, then it is enough. HE TAUGHT ME HOW TO BE A BETTER FATHER. So expect me to be an improved version of the African father.
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY TO ALL THE STRONG FATHERS OUT THERE!