Family matters: My way

Msafiri’s regular columnist Jackson Biko ponders the true meaning of fatherhood

Father’s Day. What’s that? Do we get vouchers on that day? Are our feet washed that morning, and a glass of our favourite single malt placed in our hands? Or maybe it’s the day we get a T-shirt branded with some celebratory phrase lauding our greatness and contribution to family life?

I didn’t hug my father until I was 25-years- old. Even after that hug I have only hugged him countable times since. He wasn’t the kind of guy you hugged. Don’t read me wrong, Dad is a swell chap. But Dad is from the school of thought that frowned at any outward show of emotion. It embarrassed him as a man. It was unmanly. So in order not to embarrass him, we grew up thinking only weak-boned weasels hugged their fathers. Needy half-boys who wanted daddy to wipe their noses for them.

Fathers, we learnt, were there to show leadership, to pay the big bills and come out with a large, formidable club when the dogs started barking at night. Let your mother hug you if you are dying for a hug. And so I grew up knowing that Dad didn’t care for birthday candles or birthday cakes or anniversary cards or anything that involved us talking about emotions. Somehow given this domestic disposition things worked out great: I’m a well-adjusted man. Mostly.

Last year I only remembered it was Father’s Day because all the ladies were gushing on about how cool their dads have been. So I called the old man up and wished him a happy Father’s Day. There were sounds of his cows mooing in the background for a moment before his heavy chuckle came down the phone, “Happy Father’s Day to you too, Daddy.” (That’s what he calls me.) We laughed at that, and then quickly moved on to other matters. You see, after all these years we are yet to know how to handle our emotions. I wondered whether that call meant anything to him. I wondered what Dad has always done with his emotions. But such thoughts, I realised, embarrassed me.

There is never any doubt that he loves us, Dad. He had his own way of showing it; by not only being there, but by letting us know (in his own soundless way) that he was always there.

It’s curious that although I chose not to embrace his model and style of fatherhood (I hug my daughter so much, I think it sickens her a bit) there are certain aspects of my dad’s model that have informed my own fatherhood. Through that seemingly unyielding parenting I learned that domestic leadership is not about wearing a tie, but wearing strength and direction. That great fathers aren’t afraid to draw a line no matter how many people sulk at them in the house. That fatherhood isn’t earned by your seeds but by your deeds. And even though my old man has barely hugged me throughout my life, I still feel his closeness and warmth in many other ways that aren’t tactile.

Happy Father’s Day to Dad and all the ‘traditional’ fathers reading this.