Letters To My Son (Part 3)


By the time you were 5yrs old you had developed this thing of grinding your teeth when you’re asleep. It is a loud crackling sound that causes as much cringe as it annoys, it’s called bruxism or something. But to say you ‘developed’ it is only a part of the truth. The whole truth is that I grind my teeth too especially when I’m nervous but, very few people know this. Such is the brutal honesty of sharing genetics; a child can oft times become the blinding embodiment of a trait that a parent possesses but has spent a lifetime trying to hide.

It is often said that we learn through nature and nurture. But the idea that some of that which we are to become in life was carved into our DNA – thus out of our control – feels like a hereditary injustice. But for these traits to go against who we want to be – according to our own reasoning – is akin to a biological betrayal. A girl inherits her mother’s uncomfortably large buttocks or breasts, but she is innately private and chronically shy. Her assets weigh on her spirit because the lewd attention she receives rips through her reserved persona like a rusted and undignified knife, the comments by passers by cling to her skin like stubborn filth and the uninvited public groping is an assault to the essence of psyche.

Consider the boy born with his father’s large frame and shiny dark skin, instead of his mother’s light orange complexion. Yet, he is also blessed with a sunny deposition. A caring and sensitive child who loves being around people except, his imposing structure, reddish eyes and ‘scorched’ skin make him an intimidating figure. He knew his ‘Mnyamana’ nickname before he knew how to spell his real name. People taunt him just so that they can disempower him. His bubbly personality is met with ridicule and jibes about his skin being like the night sky. He walks into a room and silence follows him. His warm smile is greeted by awkward bearing of teeth and quick shuffle away.

When I was your age I had anger problems. Only, I didn’t know what I was angry about or whom I was angry with. My mother picked it. I remember the day she sat me down and said, “you are not your father”. Her intuition as a mother made her realise that I was mimicking my father; a simmering volcano that could erupt at any time. The reasoning behind her words was that, unlike me, my father had his own reasons why he was angry. I could not, according to her, carry my father’s anger on his behalf. The truth is that by the time a fully grasped why my father was angry, I would be well into my 20’s. So, this means that my anger was as a result of my ‘nurturing’ as it was ‘fed’ to me by my desire to be like my father. Do I not have anger issues any more? I do. Because I found my own reasons to be angry about. lol.

As a parent, it is very difficult to know what traits your child will be born with. Even more difficult to figure out which traits the child will learn through mimicking. But, in every family that has multiple children, there always seems to be that one who is the personification of the parent’s dark side. The is a Setswana saying that say, “segotsa sa fetella”. It basically means when a child inherits a trait from a parent, that trait becomes excessive in the child. Ironically, sometimes, a parent and child who share the same traits can, at times, not get along because of those very traits.

It is also difficult sometimes to figure out that which is genetic and that which is learnt. My father was a creative – a budding musician in his youth – but by the time I discovered this I was already a creative in my own right. Did I inherit the creative gene? Or did I learn it from my surrounding? I sometimes take you on photo/video shoots. Sometimes you watch me as I sit and work on designs at home. We sometimes sketch together. Does that mean you’ll be a creative? I have no idea. Because me and you we live together and I spend more time with you than any other human being, you watch me go through life. You see me on those days when life knocks me down. You see me in those moments when I am riddled with indecision. Even though you are too young to process what you are seeing, you understand my silence better that anyone else. By now you’ve learnt that I struggle to communicate my emotions. You can tell when I am quiet and ok, and when I am quiet and consumed by my demons. I know this because you alway try to cheer me up when the cloud hangs over me. You never ask if I am ok. You just do that stupid dance that we learnt from cartoons. Maybe that is you becoming YOU. Maybe that is what you’ll be known for, full of life and addicted to seeing people around you happy. It’s difficult to say. But I hope so. But, most of all, I hope you become the You that You want to. I pray that as you journey through life, you will learn to navigate your genes, your circumstances, your surroundings and end up with the You that YOU want to be. A You that is not based on hurting and pleasing anyone but one grounded in self-love and contentment.

Oh, in a few days you turn 7. Happy Birthday Skhokho sam! 🙂