Tribute to my Father:
Luther Vandross sang a song called, “Dance with my father”, I must have been in high school and God, I hated the song. As everyone sang along to the song, I could not help but wonder why I hated it soo much.
Later, as I went into sharing the word of God, I would notice that to some people, and indeed a lot of people, ‘God the father’ reminds them of their own earthly fathers and trust me they cannot connect the dots when you say God is a ‘loving’ father, to them, father means pain. What a hindrance to the gospel.
So, if you have read the tribute to my mother, you already have an idea of what my father is like. I must say that he is not a popular man. Not in his family, or even outside his family.
My youngest memory of him is me playing football with him at a veranda in front of our homestead. Green grass and white sand piles in one village in Ibanda, where the family had settled in early 1980s among a few kinsmen. My grandfather had also moved his family here from another district a few decades earlier. I had a green gun shaped flute that he used to teach me how to play. I also remember him at night as we took a midnight bus to Mbarara as we were moving house.
Growing up in Katete, Nyamitanga in Mbarara, as the struggles mounted on the young family, he became more disgruntled and we the kids were the ones to take the beatings, me especially being the older and my brother Frank. Ofcourse we were mischievous as kids but the punishments meted out would go beyond description.
One time when I had joined University, as I had a chat with a friend, he told me that he usually catches a beer or two with his ‘Dad’, as shocked as I was, I probed further, and he told me that His father had never laid his hand on him when growing up. In fact they were buddies, confidantes…this was one of my greatest shocks. My father and I had no relationship what so ever except the fact that he is my biological father. Talking about him with my younger brothers, now men, wells tears out of their eyes. How can a father physically abuse his own children?
There is this particular evening, I was about 7 or 8 years old. We were truly mischievous, after playing a game of soccer with the village kids in our compound, we retreated to our house and started eating ground nuts, they were unshelled but we found our way and began eating the raw nuts.
He discerned what was happening a few meters to the house, I saw him first and I froze, I did not mention it to anybody and then he entered the house. He gave a few strokes of canes to the neighborhood kids, and then it was our turn. He gave us (me and Frank) a severe beating and left us in the house, our mother had proceeded to a party after her work.
The next day, I could hardly walk, bruised on every part of the body, I woke up around 9am, they wanted to send me to the shops for sugar and a few other items, a distance of about 700 meters, as I walked there, the pain became unbearable, I became dizzy and sat by the road side. Someone, a stranger woke me up after sometime but I could only stagger. How on earth can a father visit such beatings on his own children?
He seemed to enjoy beating us. One time he gave my brother 100 Strokes of the cane. He removed the young lad’s trouser, he was around 5 year of age, and he fixed his legs under a chair and held him by the back and gave 100 strong strokes. I can still hear the lad crying, his voice went hoarse until he cried no more. The old man was still enjoying and counting proudly to one hundred. Another day, he fixed him on the kitchen door with ropes, he had a liking for striking naked buttocks, this time he gave him 50 strokes.
On one occasion I was made to carry a huge bunch of grass, used for mulching the banana plantation. The bundle was so heavy that I felt my neck sink, I could hardly see where I was going, he would lift it up with all effort of his youth and land it on your head, without consideration. Taking a step, one step, was a nightmare but I knew the road, about 7km away I started my painful walk. Counting my steps and praying as hard as I could I almost made it home but around 500mtrs from my destination, I could not take an extra step, lest I collapse and die. So I let the bunch go, my head and neck were more painful free than how they were when I had the bunch on my head. After relaxing and getting more support from my village boys, we divided the bunch into many small ones and carried them. This I experienced many a time to count.
Merely seeing our father became a combination of fear, disdain and hate. Zero relationship. However as we grew up, particularly for me, by the time I went to University, I had no kind words for him but I longed to understand the ‘Why’ he acted this way.
As I prayed, and read my bible, and got taught, I forgave him and accepted to give him the honor that a father is due, to the extent that I am because he is. If he hadn’t lived, I wouldn’t have lived. Slowly I started to look out for the good, however small, or to at least understand his frustrations at the time.
This was a man who lost his mother when he was a toddler, didn’t finish lower primary school, his army career didn’t yield much and here he was with a wife and 7 children (One of them from a secret relationship). No income and an alcoholic. Not to justify his behavior though but it gives a perspective.
Around 2001-2, he got really sick, chronic diseases had come up, his deep and authoritative voice weakened and he needed help. I was away at school and I remember coming home for holidays, I had barely entered the house and he showed up from the bedroom to welcome me, he was a shadow of his former self. I almost took off, he was consumed to the bones, scary to say the list. Most people thought his time had come but he survived after a long battle.
When he recovered, it was as if something had been missing, he doubled his drinking, became increasingly distraught, started selling off most of the family properties especially land. He had been doing so before without regard to our mother, at one point we went to harvest potatoes from one of our gardens where we were informed by the new owner that we were no longer welcome there as he had bought the land, not even our mother knew. It was and still is prime estate by our standards. This time he was on a roll. The only remaining piece today is the one with our family home and he dreams of the day he can sell off the compound and remain with only the house.
One positive thing we enjoyed is he did not only beat us but also beat up grown-ups, as kids, we enjoyed the ‘cinema’, lucky for him, he would normally do the beating. The teachers at the neighborhood school where we used to attend were in constant fear, he would promise them a beating if they dared touch any of us. So they treaded with care.
Now he has grown, in his early 60s (none of us knows his birth date by the way), and he longs for the relationship with his children. Personally I forgave him for the behaviors but building a connection can be challenging. He often calls in wondering why none of us ever call him. I have since noticed that it doesn’t come naturally, sometimes opting not to pick his calls because I don’t feel the vibe and yet I know he longs for that relationship. It’s not easy to build a great relationship with your kids, I can see it now that I have to discipline my own kids who are toddlers but it’s a challenge am relishing. It can’t get as bad as it did with my father.
We cannot account for the sacrifices our parents made in our interest, most times, they try to do the best they can in the circumstances and try to choose the best for us. I have held my kids in my hands when we go to hospital, things am sure they will never recollect, often times you choose to pursue a certain direction in their interest, in providing for them, a shelter over their head, etc. Long after today, they will not know or remember your contribution.
So without a doubt, I celebrate my father for all the decisions he took in our interest over time, where I was too young to understand what was going on, the hospital nights, the decision to move the family near town, marrying my mother, the decision to have children, the outright hustle of supporting a family.
For this reason, I choose to celebrate my father. He might not be a perfect man, but he is my father.
I thank God for his word, it’s by looking through the lenses of his word that I was able to recover from the bitterness I had, to most of my siblings though, the struggle still goes on, am sure a time will come soon when they will choose to change their lenses.