Forgiving My Father
For anyone who grew up without a father.
I am proud of you
In the middle of a conversation, a colleague told me I am very proud of you, of course, it felt good, but I wanted to place the feeling on the right shelf so I asked why? She said “you travelled to check on your sick father even though he wasn’t in your life” and then she asked “aren’t you bitter, how did you come to terms with letting him in?”
Half a conversation with my father
The questions were a key to a room I had left locked for a long time. It thrust me black to the first time I sat down with my father in an attempt to have a conversation and ask tough questions.
When two men are involved, a drink is always a good idea for my father and I it was chai rangi (black tea) and mahamri. We sat in a local kibandaski [street eatery] facing each other, a wooden frame playing the role of a table, separating us. surrounded by the warm south coast air. He sat on a plastic chair while I sat upon layers of anger that I had stored for years in a plastic bag to preserve so that when I decide to unleash it would have warm stench.
The mahamri once bitten twice chai, the teeth were sharper today and so were my eyes, senses and intuition I wanted to unearth the truth detect any lies and read non-verbal communication and body language this was no friendly tete a tete this was a grilling the likeness of which they pretend to have at integrity house while grilling corrupt politicians.
Looking at him, I could see the horses of old age were fast racing towards him and he was too slow to get away. Looked at his face and then looked into my mind for the image of myself stored there, when they say the fruit does not fall far from the tree I wondered what the person would have said had he seen us, for us there is no tree and definitely no fruit falling. we look nothing alike.
I looked at his hand as he took a puff of his preferred poison (cigarette) I saw veins intertwined like cables crossing each other in a server room. I followed those veins and each of them took me to painful road I had crossed in my life.
The first one took me all the way, to how life had squeezed me like a towel, and all those days I woke up and walked with a longing for a father.
The 2nd vein took me to all the stories I had heard about alcoholism, abuse and domestic violence. How one day while drunk he came home found mum cooking chapatti removed a shoe and placed on top of the chapatti. With my love for chapo I just asked he wouldn’t have done it on spaghetti? Or pasta?
The 3rd vein took me all the way to a time when I was in class three do you know how it feels when your classmates are talking about their fathers and you have nothing to share I mean what will you share about a father you only see in pictures? and then one day I go home for lunch and there he was he looked just like the pictures, of course I had seen him when I was a child, a memory I couldn’t rely on. The joy I felt I couldn’t go back to school on time so my mum asked him to escort me to school and talk to the teacher and he did but just a few steps past the gate he slapped the life out of me I don’t remember what had caused it but all I remember is I just ran to class half in pain and half in hope that a classmate would catch me in tears ask about my predicament and I would have gladly said that my father slapped me just to have a feel of it; being a member of “ my father club “
The 4th vein took me to a time I was about 7yrs old I was walking with my mother selling milk in a place called kariadudu suddenly a guy appeared and started punching and head-butting her, for every punch I took the pain with her I just stood there in rage but not able to even swat a fly, it happened so fast I didn’t know what to do other than cry. 20yrs later, I come up with a better idea I should have hit him with stones.
The 5th vein took me to 2003 I was in class 8, in school I had no friends, as making fun of me was part of school’s sports, for I was short, I was dirty, and I was a hawker, selling milk door to door and at home my mum feared nitaharibiwa (peer pressure) then a boy was transferred to our school his name was/is Gabriel his family and friends had no enough time to pronounce it in full, so they just called him Gabby. He was all I was missing he became my best friend in school and my mom approved of him. He taught me how to fold trousers like his father had taught him I hated that I was learning to do this at 15yrs and I wished my father had taught me. I became very close to his father so much that when he fell sick and weak I used to take him to the toilet and take care of him and for the first time in my life I had a father figure together with a father feeling
I follow the 6th vein in pain but in the middle I just feel now more than ever I want to hear his side of the story.
I try to have a conversation but I quickly figure out my father is taciturn his vocabulary is mostly 2 to 4 words, no, yes, okay, don’t, fine and for a moment I just wish we could donate words like we do blood.
I look him straight in the eyes and in them, I can see pain or confusion or something like it I want to know about his upbringing his story what happened? Does he ever miss me? Us? Has he ever lost sleep about it? I have lots and lots of questions I look to the one with the answers but he seems to have more questions than I do. I decide to dig within and reflect I look at him and see he is a sum of all he has been through maybe he did the best he could with whatever he had.
I remember our neighbors, families that had both parents, they didn’t have to go sell milk like we did, we wished to be like them, they seemed perfect, but looking back now I am thankful for what we had/were.
One of them was baba Julius our next door neighbor we watched TV there the first people I saw cooking meat without mixing with sukuma wiki (Kales) you say read meat is harmful they dry fried theirs brown, wee but Mimi sikuwa nakula kwa jirani (never ate at peoples houses) I admired this family a few healthy children, smart house, school fees paid on time good clothes and they had shoes, they also used to go upcountry as soon as schools closed especially the long December holiday. The wife and kids would be gone the first Saturday schools closed. As soon as the bus was ignited baba Julius turned the house into old Trafford and like a footballer he played ball with whoever he saw unmarked he brought home different women everyday when the wife returned she couldn’t say anything after a while he started loosing weight at first you would have mistaken it for toning and even ask what’s the secret, but after a while the belt could no longer hold the trouser and the shirts hang loosely it started raising eyebrows and gave gossipers a topic. He stopped going to work, here is where the soup got thick he always had a tough stance against his wife working and used all means necessary including blows. A short while later he died the burial was a mixture of grief and ceremony but even before marehemu azoee kaburi (immediately after burial) his family came and swept the house they carried everything, but the wife and kids and now mama Julius had no husband, had a house with nothing in it, no job and painfully no work experience or networks and above all no knowledge of where to turn to.
For a moment I just thought of how my father’s leaving had toughened up my mum how she had literally broke her back to make sure we never slept hungry and I wondered what would have happened if he were there would we have ended up like the Juliuses?
I was deep in thought when a bus with loud hooting and heavy breathing interrupted me ( by the way what do we call the breathing of a bus in motion, the, “ummmchaaaaaaaaa”
The bus was on its way from Mombasa to Lunga lunga Kenya Tanzania border and I escorted it with my eyes wishing it were possible to book a ticket for the questions I had and the anger I have held on to for long ivukishe border if only wishes were buses.
I come back from dreamland back to the veins and the painful roads I had traversed and in retrospect; I find that all those painful roads taught me lessons that have become a source of strength. The person that I have become all that I know the rich experiences I have been through, the way I view the World the passion I exude, the skills I posses, have all come out of this and like instant coffee I flip the other side of the coin and now am thankful for everything for he gave me a good name, when I was young, ladies used to tell me aki si ukona jina supuu ( you have a nice name) you don’t believe me, try it out for yourself Hassan Hamza (its crispy, fresh, tantalizing lol) I wonder why no one tells me that now.
The best thing I got out of it is, Islam I did not inherit it from him I did not grow up a Muslim but him being one led me to researching about it and was amazed it’s the best thing to happen for me in this world and my ticket to the next life, so I pray.
I write this on my way from Msambweni Sawa Sawa beach a walking distance from home, I have been here for a week to check up on him after he suffered a mild stroke his left leg and hand not functional, he has to be bathed taken to the toilet can’t walk but Alhamdulillah my elder brother and I, his only children but who grew up with their mum are here among other family members to nurse him. Amidst all the heat, the she said and he said that come with family gatherings I just feel the breeze and determined to take care of my father like a son should
Afterwards I think of going to our local kibandaski order coffee and vitumbua my favorite. The kitumbua once bitten twice chai
I share this with a lot of respect for my old man not with the intention of painting him as a bad person but some painful truths have to be shared for healing purposes for myself and others who have been in similar situations.
The French have a saying “ tout comprendre c’est tout pardoner” To understand all is to forgive all, of course it’s not easy and sometimes you can be taken advantage of but it’s a god place to start, as Barbara Hunt said : Forgiveness is for you – not the other person. It’s something you do inside yourself that you feel in your body and heart that releases you from your past and frees you to live life fully
Forgiveness is not forgetting, forgiveness is remembering without anger, for anger is the wind that blows out the lamp of the mind.
So forgive your parents your kids your siblings your friends. Pick that phone make that call send that text its no guarantee that they will respond positively but do it for you.