What you need to know:
Every time I watch my father with my children, I do it with open-mouthed disbelief. With disbelief because I always wonder whether he is the same man that raised me. My dad, like fathers of his generation, was a tough disciplinarian.
He rarely caned us, but there was something about his manner that compelled you to abide by his rules and to obey without question or delay. His word was law. He was also rigid and so set in his ways, there was no swaying him. He believed that there are things that one should never do and that there was only one way one should go about doing certain things.
He, for instance, frowned on us placing or stretching our legs on the seat. He expected us to sit upright, feet firmly on the ground, a tough expectation for fidgety children with a sporadic attention span. We were also forbidden from adding salt to food – he often explained that eating raw salt was begging for an early death.
You should have seen us joylessly eating saltless nyama choma on a day out, hoping against hope that he’d turn his head away if only for a few seconds so we could sneak some salt into the meat. Uttering abusive words, of course, was also forbidden, and a ‘harmless’ one like “kwenda” was akin to a cardinal sin in his eyes.
Many decades later, my father is still rigid and even more set in his ways, but you wouldn’t deduce it from watching him with his grandchildren. He not only allows them to put their feet on the seat, he smiles indulgently when they jump up and down on the seats and smiles indulgently when they fall asleep on the same seat they had been trying to break.
Even more unbelievable, he turns a blind eye when they decide to do cartwheels on the table. Several times he has urged me to “let them be” when he overhears me castigate them for bad behaviour, and each time this happens, I secretly roll my eyes and wonder why no one let me be whenever I engaged in bad behaviour…
But what almost floored me with incredulity was when one of the grandchildren, a boy no less, turned up with dyed hair, only for my father to comment about how “cool” his hair looked.
Dyeing one’s hair was the last thing we could have thought of growing up – my father believed that we should embrace the natural look that God gave us, and dyeing hair, or, God-forbid sporting dreadlocks, was a sign of a criminal in the making.
This is not all, growing up, our home was the land of sukuma wiki, beans and all things healthy, while the cure for coughing and runny nose was a beaten-up raw egg, which he made us drink to the last drop. We saw stuff like soda when he was cleaning the car battery and on Christmas Day. Well, today, that home is the land of soda (the same one that was only fit for cleaning a car battery then), juice and sweets when the grandchildren land.
I guess it’s true what they say about mellowing with age. The other day, I overheard my 10-year-old muttering to my almost three-year-old who was throwing a tantrum that he was “complicated like mum”.
I have since made peace with the fact that I am the bad cop parent, but that comment threw me off, and since I was afraid of the answer I’d get, I didn’t ask him what he meant when he described me as complicated. I wonder what my children will say about me when they become adults and get children of their own.