Issues

We weren’t done yet…

It’s my birthday in a week’s time and to be quite honest, 28 doesn’t feel any different to 27 or 26 or any of the other preceding years that I have been fortunate to experience. But it will be different, at least for me, in that it will mark the first birthday that I celebrate fatherless.

I use ‘fatherless’ here quite restrictedly for I refer to fatherlessness caused by death; there are many people who would tell you that they are fatherless anyway even though their fathers are still alive. And quite honestly, I can say I know what that sort of fatherlessness feels like too. But I will start this piece by writing about fatherlessness caused by death, that final arbiter who decides – as Michael prophetically affirmed – that, “This is it!”

This is it; I can no longer fantasise about certain things, like spending a birthday with my father; that even though this never happened in the past, it never shall in the future for his life has come to an end. This is it; he will never meet my children, my partner, his grandchildren. And this is it because I will never hear him say those three words to me, “I love you.”

My parents divorced when I was two years old. My father then moved to Harare and we (my mum, sister and I) remained in Bulawayo where we grew up. I can recount the years I saw him while growing up; 1990, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2001. After that we began to interact more often, but the damage had already been done; seeing your father once every three years – and seeing him for a few hours at that – does not fulfil the little girl’s need to be validated and loved and accepted.

On such meetings, we would go and dine at expensive hotels (a compensation for absence, I suppose) and I would try to squeeze in a couple of years of living into one conversation as I cut into my chicken Kiev, garlic mushrooms and sautéed potatoes – meals that I ordinarily didn’t eat because I lived an otherwise simple life. I remember our 1994 meeting when I recounted something funny about the Fun Day race that had happened a few months previously. I had been burning to tell him about it, but by then, the finer details of the event had become blurry and telling the story didn’t quite feel as meaningful as it would have done had I been able to tell it to him the day it had all taken place.

Because of the grandeur that accompanied my impressions of my father – he played squash, travelled often, sent postcards and gifts from London, Geneva, Sydney, Berlin, Tokyo and every other place that I only knew about from my diligent study of the ‘Student’s Companion’ –  he became my obsession, my action hero. And my only girlish desire was to enter the splendour of his life by showing him that I too was worth his attention; that I was just as special as his business trips and international destinations.

I have always been a good student, but the drive to excel was somehow informed by that need to prove to my father that I was worth noticing. I lived to make him proud. I remember him promising me the world if I did well in my O’ Levels. The rush of exhilaration that coursed through me as he said that was one that I wanted to experience again and again; my father, the important businessman, promising little old me the world and everything within it.

And thus I excelled in my O’ Levels getting 6 As and 3 Bs. I can still hear the elated roar of pride my father let out as I told him over the phone that I had done so well. Jokingly, he asked that I send him the results slip with my grades so that he could staple it to his forehead for everyone to see how great I was. “Wow,” I thought to myself. I’d seemed to hack the secret code to him; it seemed to me that doing well at school was the way to make him see me, really see me. And thus I continued with my single-minded focus into my A’ Levels and when I got 2 As and a B (14 points), his pride only seem to swell; finally, I knew how to make my father mine, or so I thought.

What I didn’t realise until later was that all those achievements weren’t really the solution, nor could they ever compensate for the lack of his presence in my life. Because I knew my father solely as the action hero who I saw once every while with a bag of gifts in hand, I missed out on the mundane parts of him, the disciplinarian in him, the bad guy; I missed out on his presence as just my father.

So what does all this matter? I have recently come to the realisation that if I don’t do something about this situation, I will be part of the perpetuation of a cycle. You see, my father was born after his own father had died. His mother was pregnant with him when his own father unfortunately lost his life. He didn’t have a father in his life and in a way, I feel this made it hard for him to know how to be a father to anyone else.  In effect, he grew up without what he also could not give to his children; a father’s presence.

The perpetuation of the cycle comes in that I am a living embodiment of what has happened over the course of this long history; I have seen my mother single-handedly tend to my daily needs and try, as best as she could, to fulfil the dual roles and responsibilities of a mother and father. But no matter how many light bulbs she changed or disciplinary speeches she gave, she could never be my father. And why should she have to have been my father anyway? Why should I have had to miss out on the real thing?

The answers to those questions will unleash another series of issues that I am still dealing with and trying to find words for. But for now, I must articulate how the perpetuation of the cycle I have referred to works. For many women raised by their mothers, we inadvertently internalise the idea that men are not a necessary component of life. No, our mothers do not actually need to expressly state this, but we see it in the way that life functions quite ‘normally’ without a male presence; the way that bills get paid and the sun still rises and sets on cue every day.

From an early age we experience minimal meaningful contact with the opposite sex that we ingrain it upon our minds that our pride lies in treating men as optional pursuits. We inculcate a power dynamic to relations with men, particularly men who would want to date or marry us, and want to sit at a vantage point where we can dictate the rules of the game so as to never give away our power to another man the way we did – without much choice in the matter – to our fathers.

I see this in myself quite clearly. And it’s taken me short on 28 years to finally appreciate this in a constructive way; that yes, I tend to use intellectual bullying to push men out and also to show them that I am not weak, no, no, no, I am not weak, you will not be allowed to mess around with my trust because that already happened to me and I won’t let anyone else do it to me!

So there, I said it! I have an intense fear of being loved because my first reference of love from a man is so vague that I can’t even hear his voice echo in my memories telling me, “My daughter, I do love you.” I have none of that.

But what I do have are the memories and I hold dearly to them. The one remembrance that I draw comfort from is from when I was 25 years old and my father paid a surprise visit to me at work. He’d bought me lunch and just came by to deliver it. When he’d met the security guard at the gate, they’d had a little conversation about me. I was really good friends with the guard and the two were comparing notes about me.

As my father gave me my food and went through the normal motions of conversation, he broke with the formality and said to me, “Fungi, I didn’t even have to enter the premises to hear someone speak well of you. If even the man who sits outside the office knows you well enough to hold a conversation about you, then what more can I really say? This makes me proud.”

And finally I realised then that I didn’t need to do anything great for him to see me. He’d always seen me… but he just didn’t know how to acknowledge it. He was dealing with his own absence of a father and trying his best to be mine.

I am told that my father was buried in a pair of black leather shoes that I bought for him some time ago in 2008; I was too wrought with grief to check what he was wearing in his casket. I am also told that he used to tell everyone who would listen about those shoes and how he had a wonderful daughter doing great things who still remembered him wherever she went and bought him gifts.

And now I live with that memory of a winter’s Friday afternoon standing at my father’s graveside looking down at his casket nestled in the ground below.

“Throw the soil, my sister,” the pastor finally whispered to me.

I felt as though I had been standing there for an eternity with that clump of earth clenched within my fist. I didn’t want to throw it, didn’t want to bury him, didn’t want to say goodbye.

The rasping sound of that earth hitting the hardness of my father’s wood casket still fills my ears in the moments when grief consumes me.

We weren’t done yet Baba. We left so much unsaid. But this I will not leave unknown:

“I love you too.”

32 thoughts on “We weren’t done yet…

  1. your thoughts are pure and true and pierce the heart my dear !! i pray that your fear to love becomes replaced by faith in love:)

  2. Now that’s some serious and hearty thoughts, will drive everyone particularly the male folk into some introspection. Just embrace the one worthy your attention and you will not be disappointed.

  3. I cried a tear….My life was completely the opposite, having brought up by a single father who only married when I was older, but nevertheless played an amazing record breaking role in my life……..I am counting my blessings a million times over for my father…….unfortunately I have a thorn in my heart, painful, painful thought, mummy issues. Indeed I also pray for your faith in love!!!!

    • Mummy issues is a subject that a lot of people also do not appreciate or understand. I am currently putting my thoughts together just so I can talk about my own mummy issues…. but for today, I have to applaud the bravery of my sister in writing this moving article that also tugs at my heart strings

  4. truly moved, my dad and i definitely weren’t done yet and i can so understand the whole pushing men away thing and being used to living without one – resonates deeply with me – such insight

  5. I remember at some point in my life wishing my parents could divorce so I could have two gifts at Christmas, and today as a grown woman, I still giggle when my dad comes home and gives me a bar of chocolate … We sometimes have the desire to push men away because of the way our own fathers treated us, and it is great that finally you have come to terms with this dilemma and I am soooo proud of you for taking the courage to do so. Maybe now your relationships with men will mean so much more. And to your father who like all of us was just a human being who made mistakes, I hope he rests in peace, he thought of you and was proud of you, and no one can never take that away from him.

    Keep doing your thing girl, I know so many people will be inspired by this story xxxxx

  6. Wow…this is deep, you really went all out Fungie. Thank you for sharing your feelings/thoughts/experience. You are a strong and brave young lady.

  7. I honestly was moved by your story, i for one grew up with both parents but there were times when i felt like my mother was the only one one who cared.i couldnt help but cry while reading your story.thanx fungai!

  8. thank you for sharing this. i think every girl can relate somehow to a relationship with their father. the part that touched me most was when you stood by the grave and couldnt say goodbye. well i did exactly the same thing a while back when my dad died. i held that picture at his grave site in my head for many years and it haunted me like crazy….. finally one night i dreamt i was still standing by his grave and felt a deep anger towards him for leaving me all alone (fatherless). then a strange thing happened and he began to speak to me and asked me to come down where he was.i then felt his hand pull my leg and i fell down straight into his grave. he kept calling me to come to him and i remember this great fear inside and i knew then that i had to let him go. i then remember hanging on to some log and looking down….he was right there and all i had to do was let go and i wouldnt be alone. but i couldnt do it so i struggled to climb up and the next thing i was up. from that day i let him go and learnt to move on with my life. it has been tuff and the relationships have not been easy but i finally met someone who made life worth living and i am grateful. Goodluck on your quest for love.

  9. Ha, that was quite touching. Reading the last bit of I burst into tears as I stood by you at the graveside that Friday Afternoon. I know the emptiness one feels when losing the loved one. However, that was meant to be. I do have similar story with my grandma. what can we do? Just live missing them.

  10. that yearning, that desire to please, the efforts to excel just for his recognition and his appreciation… his absence mingled with his presence, the pain, the anger, the confusion, the love… all so some things that I can relate with. Fungai, talk about brutally honest. Thank you, my sister. This is an article that helps me face my demons, my fears and my regrets. I had a love-hate relationship with my dad, he was my hero and yet in some cases, my anti-hero (whatever the term is)… such an unforgettable part of my life, even in his death.

  11. Thank you for this piece. I envy you that small sentence: “If even the man who sits outside the office knows you well enough to hold a conversation about you, then what more can I really say? This makes me proud.” Despite his absence – and even if he didn’t show it well – your father must have loved you immensely.

  12. I read this at work and was so moved. Took some time to compose myself. I wanted to cry for you and your pain yet looking at you now I would be a fool to cry for anything other than joy. For you made it despite all obstacles

  13. You’ve triggered many a thought about my daddy – with whom for the greater part of my life I was at loggerheads with. We only really connected in perhaps the last 3 years of his life and while that was not enough at all for catching up, I am thankful for that time.

  14. Your story reminds me so much of me,esp.when i was growing up though i never asked my self some questions i learn t to grow up and be independent but later on i asked myself the obvious questions_its hard talking about it because then i didn’t think about it,but when u share such a story,i feel better n know that i will be OK
    .

  15. I have a greater appreciation of my father now! When I was younger, my father was my best pal, I’d sit and cry myself to sleep at the front door as I watched him go to work. Nowadays, my father and I rarely relate becuase we’ve grown so far apart – I now also work and realise it’s importance but at the same time, think I should spend as much Quality Time with my father while I still have him around.

    Thank you for sharing Fungai (Nokia) :)

  16. Wow. You are really an amazing writer, this brought tears to my eyes. I know that any comment I make won’t be able to effectively carry across what this story made me feel, but you have a beautiful talent and a long road of success ahead of you, of this I am sure.

  17. As an Afrikan male having been raised by my father and missing my mother my entire life until she passed when I was 22, I can relate to a lot of this although my situation is clearly different. What an absolutely painful, but incredibly eloquent piece. Thank you for sharing this, I know for a fact it has struck a chord with, and benefited others around the globe. Wishing you peace, some semblance of closure and healing – from Norway

  18. In life I’ve learned that there are so many things that you can’t quantify. like the power behind a hug, can’t quantify it… but it just makes you feel better. and laughing inevitably breaks the stress of any moment, how can one action change and break anxiety? not sure, but if you’ve ever laughed, you know it does. well, having a father in your life, is like one of those unquantifiable factors of life. We women have tried to convince ourselves for years that men aren’t necessary, that they could just even act as sperm donors and our children will still receive the same love from the mother that the missing father doesn’t provide. But there’s still something a little off there. We, little girls and little boys, we need our fathers and their love, and their affirmation. we need that in our lives, it provides this necessary component to creating us into whole sound adult individuals that can love without fear. when that piece is missing completely or over vast pockets of time, or even if that piece is missing because the father is too distracted by other things to be a father, we inevitably become broken pieces of what we were supposed to be. Damaged, afraid to love for fear that we will be rejected as we were when we were small sometimes over and over again. How can broken damaged individuals create whole loving children and whole loving families? it does become this vicious cycle, this vicious chain of damaged inheritance that no one wants, ever asks for or deserves. But with any cycle, we don’t have to be swept into it. We have choices in that. Fungi, I challenge you to love boldly, without fear. When fear of rejection tries to swarm your heart — kick that fear in the face and LOVE HARDER! because that very love that you missed so much as a child that very love, will save you and heal you and make your own family impenetrable. And remember, God is love. Embrace Him, His love and watch how a wonderful new cycle unfolds in your life. God bless you sister.

  19. This piece broke my heart. I grew up with an absent father, physically and emotionally. Sometimes I eagerly anticipate his death because his being alive now my mum has passed has created an infuriating burden of responsibility for my siblings and me… I know I have daddy issues, but nothing I’ve ever read has resonated with or convicted me this much. I’m an unmarried mother, and I feel ashamed to think that without realizing it, by letting her father know I see him more as a problem than a partner, I could be setting my daughter up for a lifetime of questions and pain.
    Thank you for giving me a way to start unpacking my issues, and so beautifully too. The tears I shed for both of us felt like such a relief…

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