Growing up in Eastlands, the strongest person around – in almost all cases a boy – was referred to as “First Body”. This nickname came from our slang for a bodybuilder, who were called, “Body”.
But the real First Bodies were our fathers. We never saw our fathers fighting. However, they occupied this undisputed position. Their word was law.
Then we grew up – and they grew old – and life happened. And sometimes the twists of life can be cruel. Cruel to the memories we made. But mostly cruel to the last memories we’re trying to make with our aging parents who, it seems, have one trembling foot in the grave.
For some of us, our fathers are going through old age-related health issues, which have forced us to take up roles we are not trained or prepared for. Nobody told us there will come a time when we will have to give our fathers tough love.
But then again, life hardly prepares men for surprises. Surprises come and we are forced to learn on the job. We’re forced to talk tough to our aging fathers; not because we’re disrespecting them, but because we’re protecting them from snares and snakes. We’re forced to berate them so they can see who’s who. Because, in their situation, it’s not only their eyes that have been dimmed by age, but their minds as well.
And when we’re done dishing out tough love, we retreat to a hidden place and weep our eyes out. Nope. We can’t be vulnerable. We’re exhausted from it all, but we can’t show it. We’re not allowed to be weak. We’re not allowed to bawl out for helpers to carry us.
The only time a man is allowed to be carried is when he’s inside his casket.
The process of dying
For those of us who grew up in the city, we never witnessed the day-by-day aging process of our grandparents. Sure, we visited the village. But these holiday visits were not always enough to make us see the vagaries of the aging process.
We never saw our fathers giving their aging fathers tough love. We never saw what early onset dementia does, both to our fathers and their caregivers who, in some cases, were our mothers who lived upcountry. If truth be told, caregivers of aging parents also go through the most.
One morning, a telegram arrived and we were asked to pack up and go to the village to bury a grandparent. Because we never witnessed some of the challenges of caring for an aged parent, we thought dying is an easy process.
Death is not always quiet. It rages like a whirlwind straight from the pits of hell. It comes in fits and starts. Sometimes it plays mind games, claiming an aging parent’s mind, causing them to go full circle back to being a baby. When that happens, his children are forced to become adults and call the shots.
The men who do the tough job of giving their fathers tough love are unseen. Society hardly notices what they are doing. Why? This is expected of them. They are expected to be good sons. They are judged harshly should anything happen to their father. Their success in life is measured, not by how their father lives, but by how he dies. And for that job, they don’t get any flowers.
The only time a man is given his flowers is when he’s dead.