At my current age, my dad had just had me, his first born child. He had also recently become the first black manager at one of Zimbabwe’s finest resort hotels, Troutbeck Inn. The year was 1984 and even though Zimbabwe had become an independent nation a few years prior (1980) his chosen career path was still predominantly a career for former white Rhodesians. My dad had come a long way from the days of herding cattle by day and having to study by candle light at night in the rural village he grew up in. He wore his first pairs of shoes when he started high school at the age of 14. But yet there he was a few years later wearing Tuxedo’s and hosting cocktail parties for guests. Not to mention running a four star hotel frequented by foreign and local tourists alike. In the years that have passed he has gone to achieve even more and he ended up owning and running his own business.
When I think about the fact that he grew up in a broken home, in colonial Rhodesia, an oppressive society that regarded black Africans as second class citizens his achievements are even more impressive. My grandfather divorced my grandmother when my dad was still breastfeeding. My grandmother had to put my dad through school by making and selling clay pots as well as working as a labourer on farms owned by white Rhodesians. She did all this alone with barely any assistance from my grandfather. With all these obstacles in his way no one could really begrudge him if he ended up like most of the other boys in his village. And that meant either being a subsistence farmer or a teacher at best. But there he was at age 30, happily married, with a kid and a pioneering professional in what was then Zimbabwe’s vibrant tourism industry. Having known the man all my life I can confidently say that he achieved all this because of hard work, a steely determination and focus. All these are qualities he has made a great deal of effort to instil in me and my siblings.
It is no coincidence then that my dad is my role model. If I turn out to be even half the man he is I’ll be a better man than most men I know. For all his personal success my dad is the humblest person I know. His main focus has always been to put his family first. To that end he has made great sacrifices ensuring that we had a relatively comfortable middle class upbringing. He has provided me and my siblings with a much stronger foundation than he ever had. We have had access to some of the best education, both locally and internationally. And we grew up in a loving family environment with both parents. We never really wanted for anything and when we did my dad always made a plan.
When I think about my current station in life in that context I feel slightly embarrassed and guilty. With all the opportunities I have been afforded I feel I should be doing way more than I am currently both professionally and when it comes to a family. I look at the sacrifices that both my grandmother and my father made for their families and I juxtapose that against my own selfishness and I can’t imagine starting my own family just yet. Unlike my dad before me I have the perfect blueprint in front of me on how to be a good father and husband. The irony lies in that it is actually the source of my hesitation in becoming both those things. I know I am still too selfish to make even half the sacrifices that my parents made for me.
My views on marriage and parenthood are largely informed by having had a front row seat to my parent’s relationship all my life. When I was younger it is something that I definitely took for granted. I assumed that every home was a happy one. That mum and dad always loved each other and put their kids first. I have since realised how what a blessing this actually is and that is not the default family structure I presumed to be prevalent. I know a lot of people whose fathers has been absent in their lives. In fact it’s a theme that is all too common in the black community. And even those with fathers who have been present, they haven’t always made the same sacrifices for their families. The result is that especially fathers are not really celebrated especially in the black community.
Mothers on the other hand are regarded as Queens, especially by their sons. Growing up that was my default position. My mother was and will always be a Queen. She carried me for nine months. She is the one person I spent most of my life with. The one took on most of the responsibility for my emotional well being. She nurtured me and for the longest time she was all I knew love to be. Even though we knew my dad was ‘the bank’ as a kid I would always run to mum. She could never say no. Dad was more frugal. The only guarantee was if it was something school related. Then he never hesitated and I would actually go directly to him. This is not to say that I didn’t appreciate my dad or love him. I was just always closer to my mum. My dad was the provider, always working, sacrificing in his own way.
My dad always placed an emphasis on academics and his major input in our young lives was instilling in us a discipline and drive that would hold us in good stead for the rest of our lives. But even though I was always closer to my mum I knew I wanted to my dad when I grew up. I wanted to look as regal as he did when he wore a suit. I wanted to be manager too , even if the motivation behind that was just so people could call me “Chef”, the colloquial term for a boss amongst Zimbabweans. Ah, the dreams of childhood.
As I have become my own man my relationship with my father has evolved. For one he refuses to be ‘the bank’. Although there are times I wish he still was. This growing up and responsibility shindig can be quite tough on the wallet. Over the last few years I have gravitated more towards him and we have become much closer. He has taken on the roles of mentor, friend and close confidant. I would pick anyone else to be all that in my life. He has been a man, husband and and father for long as I have been alive and he has set the bar very high.
The popular narrative of the black man is dominated by his failings, the families and responsibilities he has abandoned as well as his womanising and alcoholism. Whilst I am not downplaying this narrative I know it is not the only narrative there is. For a long time I have watched black men vilified and unappreciated and I have always struggled with this. My own personal experience with my father showed me that we too can be Kings to our kids. Obviously not all of us will be or even know how to but I know there a few good men out there and one day I hope to be part of that group.
There are so many lessons I have learned from father and as time passes I will make an effort to share most of those lessons on this blog. And maybe someone who might not have been as fortunate as I have been will learn something and we will end up more than just a few good men.
‘Raised by mothers would couldn’t deal with us. Left by fathers who wouldn’t build with us. I had both mine home. Let’s keep it real niggas…’- An excerpt of lyrics by Rapper Pusha T in his song ’40 acres’ off his My Name Is My Name Album.