I remember when my father passed on, it was 2001 and I was in grade 11 and I had just been appointed prefect – I remember not understanding why I had been chosen for that role. To be honest, I shouldn’t have been surprised because I was the head boy at primary school and that was the biggest shock, I still can’t make sense of it even today because I was more awkward then than I am today. Back in high school, I remember my parents sitting me down, suggesting that I go to a cheaper school because my sister was on the way. I agreed because they suggested a mixed school and I had been at Highlands Boys for two years for grade 8 and 9. Grade 10 to 12 I went to Northview High School, I struggled to fit in a bit because the school was a downgrade and there was a bit of shame that came with that. In grade 11 my father started getting sick and I was at a stage where I was going through my own emotions and being a bit of a rebel. My dad and I were not on great terms at this stage and it was because he knew that he wouldn’t be around for long and he wanted to prepare me for life, but I wasn’t hearing it. Many people say that either grade 11 or 12 showed them flames, but it was different for me, I don’t remember much of it, it was like those two years flew by and I woke up on the other side of high school.
Grade 11 was really a confusing stage for me, I experienced my first death that was this close and I wasn’t ready. The day I was appointed prefect I went to my aunt’s house to visit my father, he was staying there because my mother had to work to support us because my father was an entrepreneur. I would visit him every second day and to me it never occurred to me that this guy might or will pass on, because how can Super Man die? How can this guy die, he will get better, I went to tell him that I had been appointed prefect and he wasn’t surprised, instead he was trying to teach me things about life and growing up – I think I got upset that day and I remember walking back home really upset at this guy. This was not knowing that that would be the last proper conversation me and him will ever have. Maybe he expected me to be head boy, but that’s weird because my father never put such pressure on me or us either so this was weird for me. I remember the call we got at night that said that he was no longer and I remember a lot of people telling me that I am a man now or I am the man of the house. I didn’t know what that meant. .
The following days were all preparations for the funeral. The first time I understood my role as the eldest child, was the day of the funeral, besides making sure my little brother was ok all my life; that day it sunk in. We didn’t sit at the front with my mother and grandmothers we sat somewhere in the middle with everyone else and it was my little brother (11 years of age at the time) next to me and then my little sister who was 2 years old at the time. I started sobbing, Nkateko started crying, then my sister followed even though she didn’t understand why she was crying she joined because her big brothers were doing it. I realized then that I can’t cry in front of these two because they are watching what I was doing, I though to myself that I would cry later when I found an opportunity and I think even when the casket went down I didn’t cry because of what had happened earlier. I don’t know if that was what being the man of the house is about, not being able to mourn and inheriting such massive responsibilities at a young age, I wasn’t ready. Ready or not it doesn’t matter you have to be ready. Here I was, a 17 year old boy who was trying to figure out the world through loss. I was mad for the longest time because I had never been without a father and I didn’t know what the world looked like without him. Now I had to deal with the possibilities of my mother getting married again, my siblings being raised by another man… All this was a lot. I don’t even remember my birthday that year. My dad would get me a watch every year and obviously I’d lose it, but apparently he was trying to make me the man who understood the idea of time. He loved buying me Lanco watches. For the longest time I blamed him for leaving me, leaving me to be a father to his kids and a husband to his wife. The kid in me died when he passed on. For the longest time I mourned my teenage-hood because i had to be responsible when it was a phase when i had to discover myself. I was mad at my father for the longest time, why didn’t he fight to stay. Why did he leave me alone?
Grade 12 was a blur really, between being a prefect and dealing with my father’s death I didn’t see much of that year. I remember that there was a time I was in the biology class and out of the blue tears started coming out of my eyes. I don’t remember what the teacher said to trigger my grief, but I got ahold of myself quick and no one noticed. Then come after school that day and we were walking to the bus stop around Balfour Park, I just broke down and cried in full view of everyone. I didn’t care who saw me and who said what – I just cried because at that moment, it hit me that I was fatherless. I am not gonna lie and say my father and I were best friends because we weren’t, but he was my guide into being a man. He was tough on me because he understood how hard it is to be a man and he was scared for me more than anything else on how I would survive the world without him.
Writer: George Gladwin Matsheke