When Mommy met Daddy

Reading children’s stories and fairy tales, we were all imparted with the same story of how couples start off and live happily ever after. Cinderella met her soul mate the morning after they danced the night away at some club and left her one of her clear heels. Rapunzel met hers while she was in the midst of a long overdue hair trimming and her long mane was no doubt what attracted the handsome prince who saved her from a life of solitude in the tall tower. Sleeping beauty was awoken from a deep slumber with a loving kiss by a handsome prince and not only did Snow White eventually meet a handsome prince but she had seven not so desirable men to keep her company while she waited. Basically the underlying message in all these stories is true love is almost exclusively found through some sort of conflict by two totally unattached individuals. This same idea is peddled long into adulthood by egregiously soapy romance novels. Some rich prince or stock broker with finely chiselled Greek Godlike abs waltzes into the life of some lonely librarian or baroness and they carry on a scintillating love affair. Beautiful. If only it was reality.

The truth is fairy tales are just that, Tales. The reality of the mating situation could not be any further from the ideal diamond encrusted romance novels and childhood stories we all read. Romance and dating is more complex for our generation and is just not as simple as Rapunzel and Snow white had it. One may argue that I’m being extreme and unreasonable by taking obviously fantastic tales and comparing them to our reality. That maybe so but the reality is it is these stories and tales that form the basis for all our relationship expectations and wants. We all want to meet a beautiful princess and be mesmerised by her beauty that we are willing to slay dragons and covens of witches in her name. Ladies want a knight in shining armour and a white horse to ride in, sweep her off her feet, and ride off with her into a life of luxury and multiple orgasms. Unfortunately reality has taught us to greatly compromise on some of our expectations.

Something the stories fundamentally failed to address was the issue of children. Inquisitive, exceedingly sharp children whose intellects have been sharpened by 500 TV channels and Google. The stories we read leave us at the point where the dashing prince and the previously distressed damsel live happily ever after. This leaves the reader to imagine an amazing life they later lead filled with rose petals and milk showers. Not once does the thought of dirty nappies and school fees ever creep into the picture. With children obviously comes questioning minds. Kids always want to know how mommy and daddy met. After consuming school and cartoon network recommended doses of these fairy tales they want to know if their parents fit into the mould. Here, dear reader is when the little white lies and fibs are used in copious amounts. Not all of us have such dreamy stories to tell of our unions with our wives.

I was one such inquisitive child and probed my parents to unravel the story of their union. My father was a shy but cheeky recruit in the army when he was introduced to my mother by his cousin. My mother had just finished high school and was looking into nursing as a career. They engaged in a brief courtship before my father had to be called off to the war. He would write her letters detailing the horrors he was witness to and how his memory of her was his tether to sanity. My mother kept all of them and I read some that were fit for consumption. The man had a way with words. When the war ended my father came back and my mother was right there at the train station to greet him. He settled into civilian life and got an apprenticeship with a news publication and then asked for my mother’s hand in marriage. The details of whether their marriage was as a result of me being the proverbial “bun in the oven” or if I was instead a result of the marriage are still hazy. The dates and numbers just don’t add up. But Anyway I digress. That story is as beautiful as the day I first heard it. Being a sceptic later during my early adulthood, I took it upon myself to investigate the truth behind their exceptionally glistening tale of their beginnings. Everything was corroborated by uncles, aunts, grandparents and the match maker himself. That story gave me a warm feeling and made me believe that courtship fairy tales can be a reality.

Fast forward a couple of years to the time I met my wife. I first met Lynnette when I was 12 and she was 10 back in her home town of Redcliff. Two years later she had grown into herself and with raging adolescent hormones thrown into the mix I asked her to be my girlfriend. We dated in high school for about 2 years until she decided to move on to a better breed of male that was captain of the basketball, rugby and hockey teams and was president of the Debate, Chess and Junior Rotary clubs at his private school. I however engaged in no such activities, save for being the Breast stroke guy in my school’s relay swimming team. But I’m not angry, I got over it. Fast forward to the year 2004 when I was a 24 year old management trainee with a leading hotel in Harare. I had big dreams and aspirations for my future and had made a promise to myself to purchase an Aston Martin before I turned 30. Only one car dealership had it in the city at the time I would take leisurely religious walks through the CBD to visit my dream car during my lunch breaks. One day in July I decided to take a route I did not normally take back to work since I had some time to kill. There ahead of me swung the most well shaped body I had seen in years. Dressed in all black, black skinny jeans, black sleeveless top and black knee high boots. With rhythm in coordinated movement I found it hard to believe that a lady simply walking would be so beautiful. It was poetry in motion. I ran up to the creature of beauty to introduce myself only to realise I didn’t have to. It was Lynnette, my high school sweetheart.

We dated on and off for two years before I realised that this was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with (that is if no sport playing intellectuals came along to ruin it all). Sounds like a cute story of the rediscovery of a long lost love right? However I left out some minor details. Here is where the story gets unpretty, hairy, and rather rancid from a story telling point of view. When we met as adults I was engaged to my college girlfriend who was out of the country and she was dating some wannabe back up dancer. We had an affair for about a month until we both decided to end it. We shall never know whether it was forces of the universe conspiring against our respective relationships or we somehow cursed them by being together. Two months later we found out my fiancé was not exactly ready to be exclusive to me or the other 2 guys she was with at the time and Lynnette’s boyfriend had been sleeping with her best friend and flatmate for 6 months. She walked in on them just after they had broken her bed base right down the middle. What I would have given to walk in five minutes earlier just to see how they managed that. We then found comfort in each other’s arms and the rest as they say is history.

Many of our friends and peers have had similar stories to tell of how they met their spouses. The process of searching for and selecting a mate has evolved and is not as traditional as what our parents had to go through. Back then there were designated and sanctioned venues for young ones of courtship age to meet. Usually these places were patronised with a chaperone and all activity was carefully observed. With the advent of the internet, MTV and modern liberal thinking, dating and mating has changed to what our parents would have been stoned to death for. Now finding a mate is as easy as joining a website, going to a club or simply taking them away from their current partners. Whether these practices are good or bad they have resulted in many partnerships that I have witnessed.

One may argue that these are isolated cases and are mainly restricted to the more laissez-faire western societies and Africa is still somewhat protected. This view, I’m not afraid to say, is detrimentally naive. We live in a space age where information is readily available on 24 hour TV channels and smart phones. Just as the dissemination of information has become that much easier so will the influence of so called un-African cultures and practices. As much as we may try we cannot put a filter on the things we want society to learn and those we wish to protect it from. I came to this realisation in the middle of trying to preserve the fairy tales and stories of our parent’s courtships. Is it really sustainable and practical to believe that princes and princesses will always meet while unattached and live on in pink and fluffy worlds that are fuelled by nothing but love? And if not what do we tell our kids now when they ask?

Logic tells me that just like the dinosaurs, if we refuse to accept that the dynamics of our society and relationships are evolving and refuse to evolve along with them, techno-sapiens of the future will take their offspring to museums to view our bones that would have been excavated from the ruins of obstinacy. Within that evolution are we not sacrificing the innocence and naivety of our children at the same time? When my parents told me about their story I bought it hook line and sinker, simply because they said so. Kids today are not that susceptible.  How can  i tell them that Father Christmas and the Easter bunny exist when Google and Wikipedia on their phones tells them otherwise? I’m still of the opinion that children must be spared reality and allowed to live in fantasy fairytale worlds for as long as the gentle fibs can sustain themselves. This techno age is not making that task easy at all.

So looking at how i met my wife, our story falls short of the prescribed story book events. So now begs the question do i do the logical thing and tell my children that mommy and daddy were born for each other and knew that from day one. Or do I save face and credibility with them and gently tell the truth since they will inevitably find it out by the time they read and work a touch screen. This is a conundrum that that perplexed my wife and I for some time now. As much as we would love to protect our children we do not want to breed naive drones that simply acchat the world is what their parents told them it was. With the ever changing relationship dynamics we wouldn’t want them to feel alienated or weird because we told them otherwise. I guess we shall just have to wait and see.

Advertisements

A Pocket Full Of Kryptonite

If you tell yourself something for long and often enough you will at some point start to believe it. Whether the affirmation or mission statement concerns one’s work personal or love life, compelling repetition has proven to be the fuel in one realising their end goal. I say this because this was the case in my own life. Ever since I was a gullible child of five, I idolised Superman. From the first time Christopher Reeves donned the iconic blue and red pantyhose in the first superman movie back in 1978, I was hooked. Please understand, seeing pictures in early comics and magazines had nowhere near the same effect that actually seeing the hero depicted in moving visuals. The man was faster than a bullet, had square jaws, perfectly jelled hair, impervious to harm and for some reason no one recognised that it was simply mild mannered Clark Kent without the glasses. The man’s mystique was mind boggling. From that moment I wanted to be Superman. I would tie my swimming towel around my neck as a cape and would perch on the top of my bedroom wardrobe scouring the city of my room for evil doers. My unfortunate pillows and He-Man action figures received numerous beatings for their evil plots to take over my shoe cabinet. In my childhood innocence I was convinced I could very well be the man of steel. I even started doubting my paternity and begged my father to tell me the truth about the burnt patch of lawn in our back yard. I was confident that was where my Kryptonian ship had landed. The truth was my idiot uncle was helping my father change the oil in his car and in a moment of genius decided to dispose of it on the lawn. I however did not buy into this conspiracy. I was Superman.

Psychologists have postulated that childhood trauma, in most cases may carry on into adolescence, and well into adulthood. In my case it was not trauma, but the firm belief that I was Superman incarnate. I was always a small child so I was an easy target for bullies back in school. Still when confronted by these agents of evil I would pout my lips and push my chest out in as heroes’ stance. This however didn’t deter the evil doers from beating me to pulp for being insolent but I still believed that I had to grow into my super powers and then they’d be sorry. I identified with both sides of the hero because I was as meek and mild mannered as Clark was and at the same time I had my bouts of plucky heroism. So I was the perfect fit. I did take into account his one weakness, kryptonite. I searched high and low for any deposits of the wretched mineral in order to avoid it in future and there was no sign of the green stone. So I believed I was safe not knowing that it simply came in a different form.

As puberty rolled around the world started making little sense. I started noticing girls as the fair and glorious creatures they were and they noticed me in not so much the same light. I tried the same tricks that my chick magnet cousin Simon pulled to get dates and he did exceedingly well for himself, still the formula didn’t work for me. Simon was the captain of the basketball team, was an active member of the Junior Lions club, and was in the running for school head boy post. I however had managed to land myself as the benchmark for the other end of the spectrum. My confidence was shot and my Superman experienced his first Kryptonite encounter. The fact that I attended the same high school as my female-adhesive cousin really did nothing to alleviate my woes. The constant comparison to him was a continual kicking to my nether regions and I took it with a defeated spirit. Instead of rising to the occasion I cocooned and receded into a mass of self pity and disenchantment. All the words of discouragement poisoned my spirit and threw me under the proverbial bus. One may scoff at this and say I was being melodramatic but all those who care to cast their memories back will remember how much a young man’s worth was calibrated by his popularity with his peers during this time in life especially with the female species.

The difficult time of wet dreams, pimples, and Playboy Magazines passed and I found myself in my first year college student studying Hospitality management. That is when I met my college sweetheart who happened to be the one of the hottest girls on campus. The fact that she chose to be with me was not only a source of constant perplexity for many but also a major self buoyancy boost. Remnants of my adolescent experiences still lingered in my life but i felt that if I could bag a girl like this then I could conquer the world. The blue and red super suite had returned and I felt the big red “S” burning in on chest again. This assertion permeated to other parts of my life. I breezed through my studies and graduated with honours. I was even recruited by the leading hospitality group before completing my studies. I was the hero I always dreamed I’d be. As all great romances go it didn’t last with my college sweet heart and we broke up right after graduation. She had outlived her purpose towards the greater good anyway. I then met my exceedingly beautiful wife Lynette when i was management trainee for one of Zimbabwe’s leading hotels and she fit right in. I completed my training and was appointed a department head managing 193 members of staff. That wasn’t enough since the Superman in me wanted to soar to greater heights. I worked hard till the bosses in huge air conditioned offices with two assistants noticed my efforts and decided to recruit me for their General Management Development Program. There I was, on my way to becoming the general manager of a hotel at the tender age of 26. I was that good, or should I say “Super”.

I believed in my own greatness and invulnerability I believed I was incapable of making a wrong move. I decided that my then employers were incapable of carrying me to the heights I envisaged so I discarded them in favour of not only a more established hospitality group but a new country all together. I moved to South Africa promising Lynette a life of plenty and abundance since I was Superman and all adversities trembled at the mere sight of me. Unfortunately this was easier said than done. My prospects faded and I found myself unemployed and down on my luck. Lynette turned into the super heroine for our home while i became the damsel in distress. She brought home the bacon while I waited to receive it. Regrets from job applications came hard and fast, financials were tight and small disagreements gave birth to even bigger ones and those procreated exponentially. I came from being a “Super” God-like life form, flying faster than a speeding bullet, to being a creature of frail flesh and blood. The Superman persona abandoned me once again.

With all this time on my hands I took stock of my life and listened to my friends and relatives on what they regarded as realities and facts. The world was never inhabited by super heroes, but simple mundane humans who scrape through meagre existences. I accepted that Superman was nothing more than the product of Jerry Siegel’s imagination and had no place in the world of the living. I had to deal with my issues just like the rest of the world. I dispensed with the Super silliness and packed away the super suite to the bottom of my “nothings” closet. I managed to get a job that I was exceptionally over-qualified for with a menial salary but it enabled us to make some sort of living. I was content and the world was the heartless witch I was supposed to take it as right from the beginning.

One summer day after a long and tedious day, I came home exhausted and just sank into my favourite couch. Lynnette came from the bedroom with her hands behind her back and asked me to close my eyes. When I opened them she had a Superman T-Shirt in her hands and she whispered, “I want my Superman back.”  At that point I felt a deep sadness over come me. I realised that I had played a major part in killing my Superman. I’ve been collecting kryptonite since I was in high school by listening to detractors and nay-Sayers that it stuck to the lining of my pockets. I abandoned my beliefs and decided to listen to reason and sanity. As I listened to every one of these I put a piece of kryptonite in my pocket that further weakened me and my super being. In a world where there are such seemingly insurmountable problems, maybe a super hero in all of us is exactly the fix we need. I believed I was superman and in that belief I accomplished most of my life’s milestones and the minute I stopped I fell off the wagon.

So now I resolve to get rid of all the krytonite I’ve been collecting in my pockets over the years and shield myself from any more. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to look for a telephone booth to change in.

Fathering Blind

As a child, like all my peers at the time, I believed in the children’s book idea of a family. Even our teachers peddled the same ideas of a nucleic family consisting of a father, mother, and children, any deviation from this ideal was seen as unique and far from a “real” family. I had a friend whose father passed away when we were eight and he became an example for one such “unique” family set up. Overnight he ceased being Tinashe and became that kid without a father. Everyone looked at him with pity and changed the pitch of their voices whenever they spoke to him. No one wanted to play tag or chikudo, as we called it, with him anymore because we all feared he would break. I for one pitied him and was glad I wasn’t in his position. Little did I know, five years later I would join Tinashe’s elite club.

My father passed away in a car accident when I was twelve. Apart from the tragedy of losing a father at such an early age, the segregation I was going to be subjected to occupied my mind. Where I grew up losing parent was like having leprosy. One was ostracised and left to walk home alone after school and playing games with the guys was just out of the question. I guess it can be attributed to either the naive understanding of death that we had or simply that kids just weren’t that nice where I came from. Back then being friendless was the biggest and most detrimental side effect of losing my father. As I grew older I realised that growing up without a father had some other far reaching consequences that went beyond being picked last or not being picked at all for a game of street soccer.
Now as an adult I ask myself just how much growing up “dadless” will define me as a husband and father. Common knowledge and popular tradition dictates that boys grow up to be the husbands and fathers that their fathers set as examples. The examples my father set during his presence went largely unnoticed at the time. I was under the naive impression that when the time was right my father would sit me down and say “Son, get a pen and paper, I’m now going to teach you how to be a man.” Unfortunately for me, his life was cut short before that day came. The only example I had left was my mother. One can argue that I also had my uncles to look up to but apart from the occasional phone call and odd visit, I failed to get the advantages that would be gained from constant contact.

My mother found it difficult to cope alone with three kids so she employed the assistance of my unlucky-in-love Aunt Magdalene (four marriages and six kids unlucky). The oestrogen levels in that home were off the charts. For a boy who had just entered the confusing maze that is puberty this was far from ideal. With the lack of a male guide to help me through it I was left to my own devices and the shoulders of my peers to lean on. Everyone had their two cents to put in and I distinctly remember a young man who went by the nickname Mhungu. Those who had the misfortune of attending back-of-beyond boarding schools will agree that great story tellers were revered and venerated. Mhungu would beguile and dazzle us with tales of his holiday sexual exploits. The man would describe the female anatomy with such poetic accuracy that we could all paint a picture. If indeed all his conquests were true he must have bedded at least twenty six girls during the four years that we shared a dorm room. We would clap and unanimously agree that Mhungu was the epitome of manhood during those days. Unfortunately this was an idea that would deeply embed itself and stick with me through my adolescence and into early adulthood.
All through my encounters and experiences I had only my mother to look to for parental guidance. Obviously I was unable to speak to her regarding the more intricate issues of male adolescence but she was the only example I had. Bless the woman she tried so hard to fill that void. The fact that she worked as a Sexual Health Counsellor for an NGO really made our discussions all the more awkward. She found it difficult to deliver the raw facts of STDs without the added emotional burden of having to deliver them to her own son. As I left for college instead of giving me a knitted sweater or quilt to remember her by she gave me a carton of condoms. A carton, containing 75 packs, each containing three latex condoms, that’s 225 units. I guess she thought that’s what fathers did for their first born sons as they went off into the world. Her being without a husband and me being without a father we just made up the rules and expectations as we went along.

During early adulthood I was crippled by the feeling that I did not know the first thing about being a husband let alone a father. Having only the example of being a good mother I felt I had no practical example of a good father. Yes I did have memories of my father but my so called mature understanding only dismissed most of what I remembered as romantic impressions of a father sugar-coated by the eyes of a child. So I was in limbo and stole time by believing that one day a bright light from the heavens would shine on me and induce an epiphany that would reveal all the secrets to me. By the time I left fantasy land I was twenty nine, had been in a committed relationship for five years, but had not made any solid plans to put a ring on it. Even then I was still not ready to be a father and husband.

The fear of failing my wife and children crippled me into delaying the inevitable. As I realised that time was no longer on my side, the epiphany did come, without the bright light though. I realise that I had gone about the wrong way. I realised that my father didn’t have to hold my hand all through infancy, childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood for him to have set an example. From the so called romanticised memories I have of my father I managed to sift the following out:

I do not have a single memory of my father being violent towards my mother. If they ever fought they made certain it was never in front of us.

Lesson: Never raise your hand against the mother of your children or any other woman for that matter.

When I was nine we lived just behind my school so it took me ten minutes to walk there through back street connections. I would get so jealous when I saw other kids being driven to and from school by their parents. I nagged my father asking why he didn’t do the same since we also had a car. Even though he tried to explain that the purpose of us moving so close to school was for him not to have to drive me there and he finished work late so by the time he was done I’d be home already. Still I refused to understand this. One afternoon I walked out of the school gates to find him waiting for me. He had got of work early just to come and drive me home.

Lesson: It’s your children’s job to dream and it’s yours to make them come true.

I was a very inquisitive child and always had questions about everything. From what incest was, to why the whole world went to war twice, to who gave all the colours their names and how he came up with them. My father always had an answer ready. If not he made an effort to find out before I forgot the question all together. This was before Google so he invested in a complete set of encyclopaedias for reference.

Lesson: You are to be an inexhaustible well of knowledge for your children.

My father helped me assemble my first BMX. He taught me how to fix a puncture on my tyres, he fixed my back pack zipper whenever it wouldn’t close and how to replace a blown out appliance plug.

Lesson: You must be able to fix anything.

My father was always there to help with my home work, attend my school activities, and even watch Brave-Star and Voltron with us. The only time my father was unavailable was on Sunday evenings while watching English Premier League soccer on TV. Apart from that he was ever present and the only time he went AWOL was the day he was in that car accident.

Lesson: Always be available.

My aunt had her wedding nine months before my father passed. My mother was heavily pregnant with my youngest sister at the time and it had been a difficult pregnancy. During the after party at my grandparents’, my mother got into an altercation with one of the uncles and retreated to her mother’s bedroom balling her eyes out. When my father heard of this he came like a freight train shoving all the elders in his way. He stormed into the bedroom and picked my mother up. As the uncles protested at his disrespect he merely pushed through them and put my crying mother in the car and drove off.

Lesson: You are Superman and you protect your family against any and all threats at all costs.

These are just a few of the lessons I picked up and will most definitely implement and add more to them. And even though I viewed my memories of my father as romanticised and fantastic, what’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t children have fluffy and dreamy visions of their parents? It’s when they don’t that something is wrong.

Being raised by two over protective women did however have side effects. I cried when Nicolas Cage died in City of Angels, I can carry a twenty litre bucket of water on my head; I know how to braid hair and could change cloth nappies since I was fourteen. I just hope I won’t smother my children and find that balance between over and under parenting.