The first person who ever took me for a buffet at an upmarket hotel was my dad. This was at the Meikles Hotel in Harare, still considered a fancy place by today’s standards of the city, with porters in white gloves and tail coats to welcome you to the grandeur of the place – styled around colonial nostalgia. I remember savouring everything at the serving table to the point of utter confusion about what to leave behind. Slithers of salmon. Slow-cooked chicken. Rich beef stews. Pasta dishes. The works. So I had seconds; and maybe thirds, even. The occasion was, to me, so important that I didn’t want it to end and I stretched it out as far as my tummy would distend.
When I turned 18 some years later, it was again my father who I shared my first glass of Merlot with, drinking down the wine into the late night and talking about the politics of race, class and religion; some of his favourite topics.
In this latter memory, I recall my father saying to me that he wanted me to have good alcohol with him so that I wouldn’t need anyone to make it seem like something so spectacularly uncommon to me that I would have to do anything I was uncomfortable with just to have the experience. The same probably goes for why he’d take me and my sister out for lavish lunch dates. Although I must add that as a child of divorced parents (with my father living very far away from us and visiting infrequently), it is also likely that some of this carefree spending came about as a result of his guilt at not spending as much time with us as we would have liked.
Regardless, multiple messages have stuck with me from many of my experiences with my father. When he died some years ago, I distinctly recall us children trawling through his possessions as one does – culturally – after the loss of a close relative. Out of every possession he owned, it was the stack of used up old passports that struck me the most. With exit and entry stamps into multiple countries around the world from every continent, I sat and flicked through each one, awed by the amount of travel he had amassed in his lifetime.
And I wanted the same for myself.
Learning about his travels wasn’t an altogether new discovery for me because, many times in my youth, he would send us postcards and gifts from London, Geneva, Sydney, New York and many other places I wished I could also visit.
Perhaps it was all these experiences that made him the man he was; the type of father who would sit down with you and talk quite openly about sex, relationships, marriage and other ‘taboos’ that would make me cringe initially and finally relax into free-flowing debate with him.
Beyond the many distances and disappointments, it is these lessons and conversations that I hold most dearly to me about my dad. That he broke through many cultural boundaries with me and left me with some endearing lessons about how to navigate the world my own way and not have to go along with convention for the sake of ‘fitting in’.
I am thinking about all of this today, particularly, because of a tweet I saw on my timeline yesterday, posted by South African poet Lebo Mashile.
A visionary mother indeed. Because so often, girls are taught that the finer things in life can only come from encounters that entail a transaction of sorts [with a man], and therefore come with a price tag attached to them. “I’ll give you this [insert much desired experience, resource or artefact] if you have sex with me,” as it often goes.
Mind you, I am bringing no judgement to such transactional encounters when they are shared between adults who have chosen to exchange meaning in this way. My intention is to reflect on the significant role my father played in moulding important aspects of my character such as my independence and eccentricity. He normalised what I might otherwise have considered beyond my reach; things which I might have to have gotten into unnerving situations to attain otherwise.
And while my mother did so much of the same in my life, the focus of this narrative is my father because he was a man. And because in this young world of mine, bereft of positively reinforcing male figures, these gestures and events held great sway in the way I have largely chosen to live my life, which is free-spirited, adventurous and not tethered to responsibilities, relationships and transactions that I am neither convicted by, or interested in.
Maybe there are adventurous experiences, like going on long beach holidays or travelling the world, that I would have enjoyed my parents being able to provide me with as a young girl. But I am just as proud to say that I have managed all these things through my own agency as an adult. But the seed to all these experiences sprouting was planted in my young mind, many years ago, when the influencers of my early life taught me that I neither needed to beg nor grovel to find a way to create a unique path for myself. That tasting the things of this world required first being exposed to them in some kind of way so that the world invariably become my oyster.
I am not blind to the privilege that these words convey. For being able to show your children a world better than you – as a parent – may have experienced in your own early life is a privilege. Being able to treat kids to encounters of luxury and grandeur costs money. But more than any physical gift I may have received in my lifetime, it is the memories of my parents showing me that nothing was unfathomable for me to attain or go for, and that no one promising the world to me on a silver platter [because no one can actually ever do that] could do so.
And that is a precious gift I will always carry with me.
Main photograph taken from https://bit.ly/2Ex1j6u