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Category Archives: Lessons From My Father

Lessons From My Father

 

All of last week I did a series of blogs in which I shared some of the lessons I have learned from my father. To be entirely honest I have been surprised at just how much that series of blogs resonated with my peers. It has been greatly encouraging. The feedback I have gotten has only made me appreciate the man even more. I have also felt vindicated for having the courage not only to write those lessons down but also for having shared them. I often worried that maybe I was just indulging the nostalgia junkie in me with all the trips I was taking down memory lane. That no one really cared much for the high esteem in which I hold my dad. The rest of the time I felt I wasn’t playing my own little beautiful games with the language. But I was very wrong. Many of of the lessons had an almost universal appeal. And I also learned that sometimes simply sharing a story that resonates is the most beautiful game you can play with words.

The irony is that even though I have been blessed to have such an amazing father and role model I haven’t always looked at it from that perspective. As I’ve hinted at before on this blog, growing up I was a mama’s boy. My mum coddled me and I almost always had my way with her. My dad on the other hand was the tough one. The disciplinarian. Even though he always made a point of saying “well done”, he would no sooner point out that I could do even better. And I resented this. But he would go on to remind me that I had one father and he was the one person in my life that would always tell it like it is. He would say that some day I would be thankful that I had him by my side to navigate this crazy little thing called life. I never thought that day would come.

But here we are many years later and I am proudly writing about those very things he has always tried to instill in me. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I am more conscious of the kind of man I want to be and with that came the realisation that I already had a blueprint for that in my father. As a result the older I have gotten the more I have started to see the wisdom in my dads words to a younger me.

Ever since I turned 30 I have found myself thinking more and more about the kind of man I am and the kind of father I would like to be one day. What started out as a quest to celebrate my father’s impact on my life snowballed into me sharing those lessons with readers of this blog. Many conversations have grown out of that and I realise that I am not alone in my experiences. More importantly I have also reminded myself of many of those lessons. The challenge now lies in actively applying them to my own life.

In case you might have missed them I have shared links to all the blogs in the series Lessons From My Father below

1. A Few Good Men

2. Let’s Talk About Sex

3. Put That Woman First

4. My Very Own House Of Stones

5. Head of The Household

6. I’ll Never Let My Son Have An Ego

 

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I’ll Never Let My Son Have An Ego

iTunes shuffle is the best thing since sliced bread. There. I said it. Now that we have gotten that out the way , back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Earlier I was contemplating what exactly I was going to write about for this series of blogs I have been doing this week on the lessons my father taught me. There are so many lessons and I was struggling to pick one particular lesson to share today. But whilst listening to the song ‘New Day’ by Kanye West and Jay Z I knew I wanted to talk about my father’s legacy to me and the legacy I hope to one day pass on to my own son should I ever be fortunate enough to have one.

‘New Day’ is one of the more emotional and introspective tracks off Jay Z and Kanye’s collaborative album ‘Watch The Throne’. In the song both Kanye and Jay have conversations with their unborn sons. A constant theme in both rappers lyrics is a desire to give their future sons better opportunities and a better life than they had growing up. They are not necessarily speaking about material wealth. Their wish is that their sons become better men than they were. They want their sons to not have to make the same mistakes they did.

‘And I’l never let my son have an ego. He’ll be nice to everyone, wherever we go. I might even let him be Republican so they know he loves white people …. Don’t want him to be hated all the time. Don’t be like your Daddy that would never budge’ – Kanye West ‘New Day’

Most fathers are accused of trying to make their son’s into miniature versions of themselves. If it’s not that then they are accused of trying to live out their broken hopes and dreams vicariously through their sons lives. some mistakenly believe providing their kids with material wealth will suffice. But there is also another narrative. Father’s whose aim is that their son’s become their own man and best possible man they can be. Father who spend time and make an effort to nurture the character of their sons.These father’s are more focused on the legacy that they live their sons. That legacy is often some aspect of their character or lessons learned from their own mistakes. The values that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

‘Sins of a Father make your life ten times harder. I just wanna take you to a barber, bonding on charter’s, shit I never did. Teach you good values so you cherish it…. Took me 26 years to find my path, my only job is to cut your time in half …’- Jay Z ‘New Day’

My dad’s personal career success meant very little to me as a child. It is his character and the man that he is that has had a greater impact on how I approach my life. That is what I believe is his legacy to me. From an early age my dad taught me that people will treat you the way you allow them to. He also taught me that I should never let anyone tell me that I couldn’t achieve anything. It was very important to him that I became my own man and that I learn to make my own decisions from a very early age. He afforded me a great deal of autonomy on my life. This is not to say he let me just be. Whenever he thought I was losing my way he would never hesitate to gently guide me back onto the right path. And all the time he managed to make feel like I was in control and in charge of my life but I knew if I ever needed any help he was always there. My dad gave me the greatest gift anyone could ever give another person. He always believed in me, even when I doubted myself.
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Whenever I tell my dad any of my plans he always says the same thing. I remember when I first told I wanted to write a book. Despite my trepidation he was true to form and said to me” Make sure you follow through with it. Whatever you start, you must always finish.” Anything my dad has ever started he has always seen it to the end. So in that regard he has led by example. And that is probably one of his greatest legacies to me. Because for all the things he has taught me the greatest lessons I have learned have been from following his example. I just hope by the time I have a son I will be able to do the same for him.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2014 in Lessons From My Father

 

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Head Of The Household

Relationships are complicated. There is no one formula that works for all relationships. But there are some guiding principles that will always help us in our quest to having more fulfilling and meaningful relationships with the people in our lives. The most important relationship we will all ever have is the one we have with ourselves. This relationship sets the tone for all other relationships. However we hope to be treated or aspire to treat others we have to first look inwards and learn to love and be kind to ourselves first before we can even begin to extend the same courtesy’s to others.

From an early age my dad always taught me to believe in myself. To always treat others with kindness and respect. And to always be confident in my own abilities, but never arrogant. He also taught me to always show empathy and never to compromise my values. Another lesson my dad taught me was to always have an understanding of the dynamics of any relationship I was in. I must always know what my role in any relationship is. And If I am not comfortable with that role I must reassess the value of that relationship to my life. Was I a leader or a follower? A teacher or a student? Or maybe even an equal? According to my dad if you understand your role and accepted it you were putting yourself in a much better position to ensure that relationship was worth it.

Growing up we had a pretty defined family structure. My dad was the head of the household. He took it upon himself to be the leader of the family. And my mother gladly accepted that. Even though I have referred to my parents as the dream team of the marriage game on this blog before, it was never in doubt who the captain of that team was. It was my dad. But if my dad was the captain of the team then my mum was definitely the star play-maker. They needed each other. They played for each other. They supported each other. But even more importantly they had a shared vision of how they wanted their lives to play out. Because of that they both accepted their different roles in their relationship and it has worked for them. They understood their dynamic and took full responsibility for their particular roles.

Being the eldest child my dad always pushed me to take on the responsibility to be a leader in my own right. I was supposed to always set an example for my siblings. To this end he insisted that my younger siblings prefix my name with Mukoma when addressing me. (Mukoma is the shona title for a big brother) Everything I did he would remind me that my brothers and my sister looked up to me. To be honest, this is not a role I initially wanted to accept. Half the time I felt I had no clue what I was doing and the rest of the time I wished I had a Mukoma I could look to for answers. But this was before I realised that I had something much better to look to for guidance, my dad. As soon as I accepted that I became comfortable with being a leader for my siblings and I embraced the responsibility that came with it. Mukoma wasn’t just a title; just the same way my dad being the head of the household wasn’t one either. You had to accept, shoulder and live with responsibility that came along with it. And even though you are a leader you always have to treat others with respect. Only then would the dynamic ever work.

For a huge chunk of my life my father has been my mentor and as I have grown older the dynamic of that relationship has shifted and he has become one of my best friends. That is also the case with my siblings. We are all adults now with different experiences and with each passing day I am learning more and more from them as well. And that is a lesson I am still learning that even though relationships may have a specific dynamic at one stage in our lives it doesn’t always have to stay that way. It also important to evolve and accept these changes and you are guaranteed longevity in whatever relationship you have.

I am very grateful for the many lessons that my dad has taught me over the years. That has been part of the motivation behind this series of blogs over the past week. Not only did I want to share those lessons but I wanted to appreciate him in my own way. I also needed to remind myself of some of these lessons.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2014 in Lessons From My Father

 

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My Very Own House Of Stones

The ruins of Great Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe is Shona for "House Of Stones") – the capital of the Queen of Sheba, according to an age-old legend – are a unique testimony to the Bantu civilization of the Shona between the 11th and 15th centuries. The city, which covers an area of nearly 80 ha, was an important trading centre and was renowned from the Middle Ages onwards.

The ruins of Great Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe is Shona for “House Of Stones”) – the capital of the Queen of Sheba, according to an age-old legend – are a unique testimony to the Bantu civilization of the Shona between the 11th and 15th centuries. The city, which covers an area of nearly 80 ha, was an important trading centre and was renowned from the Middle Ages onwards.

My dad was a company man for over 25 years before he ventured out on his own and started his own business. During most of that period Zimbabwe’s economy was the envy of many a nation on the continent. So much so in fact that that it was commonly referred to as the bread basket of Africa. As is often the case in such a stable and vibrant economy being a company man has it’s vast array of perks. In my dad’s time these included company houses (rent free) and company cars with a fuel allowance to boot. Your kids school fees were also taken care of by the company. My dad being a hotelier, had other benefits specific to his profession, and these included fining dining and free holidays to some of Zimbabwe’s most picturesque and prime tourist destinations. And you still got paid your salary at the end of the month. Man, that was the good life. *le sigh*

Despite all this my dad never once let us believe that the many different houses we stayed in and the cars he drove were his. In fact he made a point of drilling into us that at any moment these could all be taken away from us. In the end when he retired from being a company man he had managed to build a house of his own as well own his own cars. To this day that is a lesson he never tires of repeating to me. That you should not get to comfortably with life especially when you are working for someone else and when you don’t have any assets of your own, because at any moment they could be taken away from you. And if you haven’t prepared for this eventuality you will be left exposed.

For me and most of my generation of Zimbabweans the company has been replaced by the diaspora. Over the last decade or so Zimbabwe’s economy has become a pale shadow of itself.  So much so that what once was  the bread basket of Africa became the basket case of Africa. As a result many son’s and daughter’s of the soil have left for greener pastures in the diaspora. And so the diaspora became the company for us, although I am not sure it offered quite the same benefits. It did however present new opportunities and possibilities that we are the better for. Some that immediately spring to mind and that I can personally attest is an enhanced world view and rather ironically a more heightened sense of patriotism. But I digress.

The thing about the diaspora though is that it can still offer the same trappings as the company did back in my dad’s time. When you are living in your adopted country it can just be as easy to get comfortable and not plan for your future appropriately. It is often because of an indecisiveness founded on not being entirely sure where your long term future lies. If you you are going to build or buy a house, do you do so in your adopted country or back home? For most of us this is not an easy question to answer and we often just push it to the back of our minds and continue paying the rent. Our indecision tempers our motivation to invest in assets of our own in the same manner as say for example my dad did during his stint with the company.

I found myself mulling over this a lot in the weeks after I turned 30. At the time I was going through a bit of an existential crisis. In those quite moments of reflection I remembered a story my dad once shared with me about how he ended up building his first house. I would like to share that story today.

When I was 3 years old we lived in a penthouse suite at the city hotel my dad was working at. On occasion my dad would take me to the nearby park to have a kick about and also just so I could enjoy the great outdoors. According to him every time we had to go back to our suite I would throw get hysterical and throw a tantrum all the way back. I hated being cooped up in that suite. There was no backyard. And to make matters worse my mum was always telling me not to touch stuff for fear I would break anything.This just exasperated me even further. But hardly anything in that penthouse was ours, it belonged to the company. So in hindsight I can understand her position. Long story short, every time I would return from the park with my dad says he would be consumed by guilt. One day the guilt became too much and he finally bit the bullet. He went to his bank and applied for a mortgage so he could buy a piece of land and  build a house with a large backyard for his family in the suburbs.To this day he says my tantrums are what finally gave him an impetus to go to take out that mortgage. And that is the story of how my dad finally built his first house, even though the company always gave him a place to stay.

Looking at my current station in life I have to constantly remind myself not to be so hard on myself. The lesson has stayed with me. I know all too well not to get comfortable or relax without a concrete plan for my long term future. I know I want to build my very own house of stones eventually. I have my dad to thank for that maybe all I need is just that push that overrides my indecisiveness in the same way my tantrum prompted my dad to act.

 
 

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Let’s Talk About Sex

Lets talk about sex

The first time my Dad gave me any advice that could be considered relationship advice I was 19. It was just a few weeks before I left for my university studies in Australia. There was no big prelude to give me any sort of inkling as to what this was going to be about. He just cut straight to the chase saying to me “I trust that me and your mother raised you the right way – with morals, to be always respectful and God fearing. At the stage that you are right now there is not much we can really forbid you from doing. Especially now that you are going to be living alone, 12000km away from home and us your parents. We wouldn’t let you go that far and spend the money that we are spending if we didn’t trust that you fully understood what is expected of you. You are young adult now. A man. You are going to have certain urges, be even more enamoured than you are with women now and vice versa. That’s perfectly normal. But I wouldn’t be doing my job as a father if I didn’t educate on the potential consequences of recklessly following through on those urges. Everywhere around us people are dying of AIDS. It’s no secret that’s what killed your uncle. But people, and even families avoid discussing it. And yet people continue dying. I am not going to tell you not to have sex, but what I will tell you is that if you choose to please always take precautions and use condoms. Respect and love yourself enough to at least take that precaution. That being said I would rather you didn’t rush into it” And just like that he was done.

Condoms

I was gobsmacked. I had never discussed girls, let alone sex with my dad until that moment. It was something that had always remained unspoken. I mean even at 19 I was a virgin, a baby and maybe even a bit of a prude. Yeah I liked girls but I had never seriously been in a situation where sex was an objective or even a possible outcome. My six years at an all catholic boys boarding school had seen to that. I had had girlfriend’s but it was mostly innocent. Whilst I had fooled around a bit, the actual act of sex had not been an even remote possibility in my mind’s eye.Not forgetting that it was logistically impossible. I spent 8 months of the year at an all boys boarding school and the rest at home with my parents. If the street lights came on and I wasn’t home, somebody was going to get hurt real bad. I never missed curfew.

But here was my dad telling me to use condoms. Where from? How? Why? To him it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to have sex some time in the near future. I wanted say to say to him “Don’t worry dad, I’m still a virgin and I plan on staying that way until I get married.” But I didn’t. Eyes to the floor I just kept quite and nodded hesitantly.

In retrospect I am glad I didn’t say anything. It seems my future self knew better.  Because only a few months later now at university I lost my virginity. And thanks to that practical advice from my dad, the only thing I seemed sure about during that forgettable experience was the need for using protection. How quickly things had escalated from just a few months before when I had my self imposed vow of chastity. And it wasn’t even with a girlfriend or someone I loved. This was just some random girl who though I looked like Will Smith (I don’t) that I had only hung out with a handful of times. Left to my own devices and away from the shelter of boarding school and my parents my resolve weakened.  I easily succumbed to the casual hook up culture that is prevalent in university life. No one actively pressured me to do it, it was something that all of a sudden felt like the next logical step.

I remember though that I was too embarrassed to tell my partner in crime that I was a virgin, but I am sure she figured that out. I had no idea what I was doing and a little over a minute later it was over. I cringe just thinking about it. I didn’t have any regrets though, even though I had previously planned to stay celibate til marriage. At that point that was the right decision for me and seeing as I placed no value at the time of doing it with someone I loved, I am glad my dad had that talk with me. Just hearing it from him had made sure that it was always going to be at the forefront of my mind.

Years later, I was much older but not that much wiser I was back home at my parents. Having lived away from home for years I had grown some balls and figured I could pretty much come and go as I pleased. On one such occasion I ended up sleeping over at a girls house. When I sheepishly returned home in the early hours of the morning my dad wasn’t too impressed and he let me have it. This talk I brought onto myself. After establishing that I had slept over at a female friends house, he went on to ask me if we she was my girlfriend. She wasn’t. She was a friend (with benefits). Although I didn’t disclose the benefit’s part.

No matter, that was just the launch pad he needed.  He pointed out that I was grown man fully capable of making my own decisions, but he was my father. And he wouldn’t being doing his job if he didn’t say anything. No one else might tell me this but I had to hear it. He pointed out that I was an eligible bachelor, with a very bright future in front of me. Most women will see you as a good match and probably fall over themselves to be with you. And that could make me a target. Whilst I had achieved quite a bit he knew very well I wasn’t responsible enough yet to be a father. so he gave me this advice. If you are going to sleep with someone, at least make sure that on some level you can visualise that person as the potential mother of your child. If the very idea of that person carrying your child makes you uncomfortable then keep your pants on.

The point he was making was that by indulging in sexual intercourse, protection or not I needed to be cognisant of the possibility of pregnancy. The expectation was that once that happened there was no shying away from the responsibility that lay ahead. He put it to me that I wouldn’t end up happy if I ended up marrying someone just because they got pregnant. Neither did I want to be an absent father or have someone else raise my kid. The way he saw it, I needed to be more thoughtful of the potential consequences of my sexual ambivalence. And the way I took it, if I can’t envision whoever I sleep with being the mother of my kids, then I shouldn’t be playing Russian roulette with my penis.

At this point in my life that is the most relevant and practical advice that my dad could have given me. And I am grateful for that.

 
 

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