Me and my old man

child posing for a photo.

Given my share of mistakes and faults, I may never be as good as my old man but I will have a path of my own. Lessons learned are experiences never forgotten.

I don’t think kids of this age and time understand, let alone appreciate the authenticity of playing from 7 am all day long until the clock strikes dusk. Back then there was this unsaid secret code between kids passed down from generation to generation regarding the art of playing.

There was no TV, video games, the internet or fancy toys. Everything was old school, toys mad from anything and everything ranging from grass, leaves, plants and anything that came to the wild imagination of a child.

Playing was sacred. You woke up, had breakfast, dressed to play and right before you step out, you checked that your game face was bright and fresh. Every day was a new fun-filled adventure filled with various games all around the clock until the evening when we all called it a day and vacated the grounds to go settle in for a good night’s sleep.

Of course, there was the showering, storytelling time or even better riddle challenges that heralded dinner time which marked the end of a day well played.

Such was the life of an African child back in my time.

“Dad, why do you smoke? You know! Like can’t you stop, like you know it’s bad to smoke, don’t you?” I asked my old man. Not that I expected a straight answer, I asked anyway. “I know son, but unfortunately I can’t stop.” He managed to say after a long pause.

“I would though really be proud if you never smoke like I do when you become an adult. The alcohol and cigarettes. You really don’t need all that be a cool adult.” Continued my dad with a smile on his face I managed to catch from the corner of my left eye as the ray of dawn flashed across his rugged masculine face seasoned by the often long period in the forest of God knows where.

These are some of the words I had with my father. A good man faulted in a number of ways but nonetheless a good man with a beautiful soul, a lightening sense of humour to go along with an unbreakable moral stand.

A man of few words but a bounty of humour and charisma, my father was. Even on his darkest day, he found a way to humour everyone around him. He was my best friend. One I have tried to replicate a thousand times over but to no success.

Ours was a match crafted in the flames of joy, loyalty, blood and bond. We were inseparable even in our rocky times. We were almost like twins for the older I became of age the more we were hard to tell apart. In my eyes, those around me see the unending happiness my father conjured in people.

True goodness is not in being righteous all our days but in knowing when bad has been done, acknowledging the error of one’s ways, showing remorse and making a deliberate effort to correct such errors of life.

I and my father were close. We joked, went at each other the way father and son do and often found each other on different corners of the room but we always maintained a bond of a father who is a mentor and role model to a son who holds the kind of faith newborn flashes in their snowflakes eyes in the early days of their life.

My old man did what most parents did to groom a child and when he wasn’t around to do that, he made sure I had a support system of people worth of his trust to continue doing just that. I respect that man for that.

Two to three months (Not that I care to remember) I had words with my father. It so happens I got myself suspended along with the entire school for a strike. I did not actively participate in the strike but there was I at home venting and spitting all sorts of foul language at the school system.

My old man for some reason, a soldier who was open never around come all the way to my grandmother’s home, her mother which was close to my secondary school at the time. And so, we had words.

“Son, so why did you strike.” dad asked.

“I didn’t strike,” I replied. “But here you are at home, suspended!”

“So I will ask again, why are you on suspension?” he asked again, this time in an assertive voice.

“Well, the whole school got suspended.” I started,

“I know that.” Interrupted my father before I could finish.

“You were all suspended, but why do you feel you were suspended with everyone else?”  He asked again.

“Well the food sucks, the headmaster is terrible and…”, before I could finish. He bluntly interrupted again, “Have you ever gone hungry at home or eaten bad food?” “No” I responded, rather embarrassed.

“Then what excuse do you have?” I remained silent and so he continued. “Son? You are not everyone and you should not act because everyone else is.”

You are a stubborn boy and that’s annoying but it’s fine. Do you know why?” he asked. To which I responded no. He continued with a smile between puffs of cigarette smoke. “You are a good person, you have a good heart and a charming personality” Even with my doubts his words sunk deep into my heart.

This man did actually know his son more than his son knew himself.

 “I have no doubt that long after I’m gone, or even if I died tomorrow you wouldn’t fail to get someone to look after you.” said, my father.

Those were the last words of wisdom my dad shared with me. Because the next time I saw him was in a casket a few hours from being lowered into his grave.

I have studied and completed my studies and at every turn, there was someone willing to either pay my fees or contribute to my wellbeing. I’m an introvert but I always have friends. Well not all of them stay but humans are humans. You can force people to be in your circle.

My old man gave his heart to my mother but gave his word to another. That ran its course of highs and lows but at the end that was also a bittersweet lesson for me as a young man. For I was out to be a man just a little bit better than my old man.

We all need that point of inspiration to be better than we can be day after day. I didn’t just have a parent; I had a dad and a role model. Long after he is gone, I still have virtues and values I leant from him to go by alone with a bunch of people to remind me every now and then of the beauty of life.

My old man was a wise man. For he found a way to turn his own faults into learning steps from me. He was not about to see me make the same mistakes he made. Not if he could avoid it and he did do his best.

Every child needs a parent. A good parent but all I ever wanted growing up was a father, a good father. And I did have just that. Even if it was for a short time. That short time gave me a glimpse of what I can become.

I got a feel of what is expected of me when I too become of age and take on adult responsibilities like my old man before I did.

I was a stubborn child growing up and so was my old man as far as I can gather. We had a lot in common in so little the time we knew each other. I learnt of how he hated onions as this one time I was seen by my aunt who had laboured to cook a delicious local dish, pick out chops of onion from my food.

“What are you doing young man?” Asked my aunt this one time.

“Well, I just don’t like these things,” I responded holding onto the chops of boiled onion-like they were a two-day rot.

“I’m really sorry but these things taste bad.”

My grandmother who was also in the room couldn’t help but laugh as she seems to have been experiencing a déjà vu. Turns out my old man too hated those gross things as we often referred to them.

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