FabAfriq Magazine

The African Father:

It is not common place in African culture to celebrate fathers. Celebrating our mothers comes a lot easier for many, especially in the diaspora. However, for some reason, by the time June rolls around, we seem to have forgotten we have two parents, making light of  the contributions our Fathers make to our lives. Is this a direct consequence of a culture that characterises raising children as womens work or do we just not care for them, I wonder? 

 Id like to think, its not so much that we dont care but that the structure of the African family does not allow for the kind of bonding required to celebrate them.

 I look back at my childhood and my relationship with my father and it is obvious that although he was an integral part of my upbringing, the reduced contact (compared to my Mom) and the long absences definitely contributed to the nature of our relationship now.

 I have early memories of playing in the back yard with my father and a big brown dog. It must have been a mongrel. I can only describe it as something between an Africanis and a Broholmer. Early one morning, I had gone to the yard to play with it but it as nowhere to be found. When I asked my father where it was, his response was, I gave him to a guy who eats dogs

Afraid for the dog and not knowing what to believe, I hounded him for the truth. All I got out of him was that the dog was gone and would not be coming back. I remember crying for my dog all morning. Daddy then went off to work and Mummy held me and told me everything was going to be alright. Eventually, I stopped crying and with the resilience of a three year old, put it to the back of my mind. I didnt think about my dog again till I was in my mid 20s and trying to figure out why I had so much trouble trusting or holding on to anything. Now I think of that day often.

 My childhood is filled with experiences enjoyed with my father. Dinner at the table, the circus, movies, Trips to the beach, dinner at beautiful restaurants, trips to the village, visiting family and friends (We often visited a French couple with a sweet tooth and that was always a joy. Wed be spoiled rotten with treats from France but theirs was a cold, cold house. I wonder now, what their electricity bill would have been!)

I dont have many memories of doing fun stuff with my mother. I remember trips to the hairdresser, being measured for beautiful dresses, functions where I always felt like the odd one out and daily trips to and from school. In fact, time with my mother was spent doing mostly functional stuff.

As I entered my teenage years, I barely saw my father. My secondary education was completed at a boarding school and I didnt see him for months at a time. Mother would come to visit every month. During breaks, he was always working and by the time he came home, was too tired to offer more than the occasional grunt in my direction. Time together was very limited; my memories are dotted with a few of what felt like perfunctory appearances by my father. The laughs were very few and far between.

Roll forward to adulthood and my ideas of what I want to do with my life are as opposite to what my parents want from me as chalk and cheese. After years of boarding school and busy holidays, they have no idea who I am. We row constantly about what they would like me to do with my life and my refusal to be the dutiful daughter they raised me to be. Eventually, we hit rock bottom. I didnt talk to them for over a year. Then one summer, Mother came to visit. It was a tense time and it wasnt until at the end of her trip we managed vaguely, to patch things up. Over the years we have slowly built on that relationship. We have gone from a relationship of dominance versus dependence to one of mutual respect with advice traded both ways.

In all this time, the relationship with my father has gotten marginally better. He refrains from getting in my way and I in his. It is one of unspoken mutual agreement not to overstep the boundaries, rather than mutual respect and understanding. I could talk on the phone to my mother for hours, my father and I struggle to talk for a few minutes.

I think often about why this is the case. I love my father and I know he loves me. He is a very quiet man and not given to talking incessantly; which probably explains why he and my mother complement each other so well. Even after taking that into consideration, there is still a vast chasm between my relationships with each parent.

I look back at my life and the only difference is the time I spent with my mother. All those trips to school, the market, the visits in secondary school and her presence at the dinner table managed to forge a bond so strong, it seems to overpower any other, except the bond I share with my son.

I dont love my mother more than I love my father. I just love him differently. I find it easier to talk to her because we have spent more time together. So, when mothers day rolls around, its easier to pick up the phone and shout, Happy Mothers day.

On Fathers day, its a more muted affair. I have to think about it before I pick up the phone. I wonder if hell even know that its Fathers day. Will he care that I want to tell him that he means a lot to me? I pick up my phone and dial the number. He picks up. 90 seconds later, the conversation is over.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad!

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