What else do you want to know?
Matthew’s 17th verse in chapter 7 says “…but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.” Nina Simone said they were like “strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees”, these “black bodies swinging in the southern breeze”. So it was, long ago. They came. A mirror for his throne. A king becomes a slave. A kingdom in ruins, keys to a shiny new shack. They stand on top of man, him in a Captain Morgan pose, this black man like Atlas, his pride and dignity like a footstool. Have you seen him? Have you seen how messed up a black man is? Back full of bullet holes, lungs puffed full of gas and dompass in hand. Man, I don’t know how many times his mother had to bury him. Did you see him when they tore down his shack and told him he doesn’t belong anywhere anymore? Ever seen a king scavenge for scraps in his own land? The guy is a mess. Then he had kids.
A few weeks ago, my cousin went out for drinks. He never came back. We found him 3 days later. In a bush. Heart carved out of his chest. Eyes missing. Genitals cut off. Throat slit past the spine. Amongst other things. His scream still haunts the hood where it happened. He’s messed up. This black man. Raping. Stealing. Lying. Angry. Bitter. Then he had kids.
‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?’ If a black man’s heart cries in a crowd and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Would you like to give him a solution? Would you like to tell him what to do? Tell him how to be ok? Can you, if you’ve never heard his heart cry? Nah, just tell him he’s messed up. Because he is. The black man is messed up. Then he had kids. Us. You see, ‘the child is a father to the man’. Get it?
Anyway, I was still telling the story about Mandla and the three brothers…
What qualifies as having Daddy Issues vs. just being straight up messed up as a person? Of all the issues that people struggle with internally, which can they say are a direct result of a relationship with their fathers? Think of the “Preacher’s Daughter” theory. Pulpit to the pole. From J to the D like holes in a donut. Some things are just a choice. Imagine a guy hooks up with some chick at a house party. He grabs a bottle of tequila, they head to the bathroom and he gives her shots as he runs on blades. Rachetry is not a condition. Right? Some folks have Bill Cosby for a pops and they still turn out as porn stars.
So now Mandla’s 3 sons are all grown up. Late 20’s to early 30’s. All 3 of them have different experiences of fatherhood based on how they grew up. Although they are just 3 guys, they represent a vast majority of men in the country. What they face as they become fathers is what many dudes have to come to terms with. The reason why the concept of Daddy Issues is so pervasive and, seemingly, perpetual especially in black society is because it seems we are stuck in a loop. Let me put it this way; each generation of fathers, in forming their own model of fatherhood, have to discard so much of what they saw in their fathers’ execution of fatherhood that they practically start from scratch. It’s like being stuck on Level 1. Every generation starts from the bottom. There’s a lack of a progressive legacy. While ‘other’ people’s fathers are building trust funds, closer to home, Tyma’s just trying to make it till next month. Black fathers are stuck on survival mode. Be it the survival of their own psyche or the protection of a patriarchal system that gives them some kind of value, as cheapened as it may be.
A modern-day father has to contend with a lot of things which he may not necessarily have the tools to battle with. For example, tradition. Thabo, one of Mandla’s sons, was raised by his stern grandfather in the village. Although educated, he has a strong affinity to the old ways of being a man. Unquestioned authority. Entitlement. A man is a man is a man. These affect how he approaches his children and, most especially, women or the mothers of his offspring. Daniel, on the other hand, grew up watching her mother female doing it with all sorts of men. His understanding of masculinity is steeped in a warped sense of sexual dominance. Daniel doesn’t really know the traditions of being a man. This was not his choosing. He learned everything from the streets where fists are heavy and balls are heavier. Here, it’s the flesh that is wounded but it’s the soul that bleeds. Then there’s Sphiwe, raised by his mother and gran. He has gleaned his ‘manhood’ from women. He constructs his view of fatherhood based on what he would have wanted to experience. He wants to be the father he never had. He is reading from a book that he wrote.
If the past 50-70 years or so of fatherhood within black society was some kind of experiment or test, then Angie didn’t deliver the textbooks. Most guys outchea, we wing it. Ladies, most of your baby daddies don’t know what the hell they are doing. That doesn’t mean they won’t try their utmost. Bear with him. The thing is, when kids come, they come like you did, fast and quick. Also, kids won’t stop growing while you figure shit out. There are no answers. Not here. Not in fists or anger. Neither in strange beds and self-hate. The hard part is that it’s difficult to see past the symptoms. Daddy Issues are a collective problem that has to be dealt with individually. History’s a textbook. Maybe we should actually start to plan our kids and………. *crickets
Writer: Vus Ngxande
Photographer: Khumbelo Makungo