My father was quite the opposite of my gentle mum. Like many fathers of back in the day, he was a tough man. You did not ride on his back or call him Dadee. He did not mistreat us. He just struck the fear of God in every spine that was roaming the house when he was around. What we accorded his presence was respect and beyond. Whenever he was home, we spent our time on the opposite side of the compound. You watched your step. You detoured whenever paths threatened to cross. You minded your decibels. Nobody cooked wrong. He bought you ugly school shoes and you wore them.
My father’s hangover cure of choice was clove oil. Mornings after he came home well entertained, he would inhale clove oil (or bathe in it I don’t know) and then proceed to sneeze. the. house. down. Out the window the hangover flew I guess. Along with any unsuspecting pathogens that may have been lurking around.
One day he bought me a dress and brought it to me just a few minutes post sneezing. He bent down to playfully pinch my cheek. I was hit by the acrid smell of clove oil. Then I turned and saw red…. a red face and even redder eyes. I got so petrified, got up, and ran to mama. In my young mind, I smelt my parents in stark black and stark white. My father was not in the village a whole lot and we found that this worked well for us. But that does not mean that we did not often wonder what it would feel like to have a different version of him around.
Growing up, we never really communicated much with my father. It was always just awkward and uncomfortable. Maybe due to years of being apart and the fact that he was very strict and aloof. We would only communicate when absolutely necessary and even then, we’d often use mum as an emissary. I don’t hold anything against him because that was just him and that’s it. Besides, as I grew older and got to know about more households, I learnt that he was not alone. Many fathers were like that.
When mobile phones came about, things got much easier in terms of communication between dad and us children. For all his toughness, my father was quite big on cohesion within his family and he used communication as one tool to achieve this. Not that communication was easy back them before mobile phones but he tried. He ensured we wrote letters to one another and that his children spent school holidays together.
With mobile phones I found it easier to communicate with my father, first via text and eventually via voice calls. It was interesting to finally be communicating with my father. I remember his Safaricom line came in a round tin which he gave me to use as a jewelry box. I kept him upto date with my life and I finally got to tap into his thoughts and wishes for us as we grew older. By the time he passed on, we were certainly in a better place as father and daughter.
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