DAD STORIES: Our house was a theatre and my father the lead actor

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By JAMES KAHONGEH
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Ndovu was our secret nickname for dad. We called our mother Simba. The story behind the names is one for another day.

My dad is a religious man who put “open” in the phrase “open book” and his comedic prowess could rival Trevor Noah’s.

Growing up, our house was a theatre stage, with dad as the lead thespian. In another life, Ndovu would have been a comedian. You see, my old man has a hard, almost mechanical, sense of humour. Whenever he told a joke, and tell those he did frequently, he would first fire bullets of rasping laughter, and for minutes on end, he would drown in amusement at his own joke. If you entered the room, you would imagine he was crying. He would then compose himself to finish the joke, always consigning us to overpowering hilarity, whether the joke was good enough to elicit mirth or not – and the latter was mostly the case. 

ELECTRIFIED OUR HOUSEHOLD

Several humorous incidents occurred, but one is remarkable, and does still electrify our household whenever we meet.

School was reopening the following week and dad went shopping. When he showed up later that evening slightly after 10pm, there was no sign of any shopping, the poor man was bloody terrified, his wristwatch was in shards and a raw bump stuck out on his right cheek – the unmistakable result of a powerful and expertly executed punch.

“What happened to you?” mother cried. 

It is then that mother took note of dad’s shoeless feet.

Where is the shopping?” she asked anxiously.

I lost the damn money,” dad said quite matter-of-factly.

I could feel the air in the room turn from unpleasantly heavy to unbearably hot. Simba, to tell the precise truth, is a no-nonsense kind of woman. Even dad lived in awe of her, though not as henpecked as Rip van Winkle was by Dame van Winkle.  

Mum stared at him momentarily, seemingly lost in a haze of pity and confusion, before exploding into laughter, as she wheeled past us to fetch balm for him.

Right on cue, my siblings and I burst into laughter as we scurried back to our rooms. That a good and proper dusting had been dispensed upon dad was our conclusion.

He has never disclosed to us what happened to him on that night. 

It would be utterly insincere of me to attempt to mark dad as completely flawless. Dad has blundered in life, as every man is wont to do. Some of those incidents have been legendary gaffes, a topic that is strictly not the object of this tribute.  

My father is your regular peaceable fellow, despite growing up with a tyrant of a father, my late grandpa. Notably, he has never raised his voice at mum – you can bet it is a different story with us. His formidable patience (except with our homework, of course) is a quality I wish to emulate.

It intrigues how he has never ignited the usual subject of nerves between fathers and their grown sons: dating.

This story would never be complete if I don’t talk about dad and music. In the fashion of most folks of his generation, dad has a distinctly refined ear for Lingala, and the gamut of items that come with this genre of music. Tabu Ley, Le Grand Kallé (Kabasele) and Franco rule the roost of airwaves at our home on weekends to date.

An apple falls not too far from the tree. Corduroy is a culprit that has hogged space in dad’s wardrobe for years, something mother always protested about, with little effect on dad. Recently – and this fits the bill of an omen – I could not resist the urge to try on some corduroy pants during my wanderings in city boutiques. I have taken after him in both manner and character.

No word quite accurately describes mon père than, well, defiance. For more than twenty years now, father has not changed one whit. Even as he approaches 63, with irregular tufts of grey hair rapidly seizing his head, to me, he is the same man I knew when I was hugging his pants as a tot.

Whenever I am out of sorts – and that does happen often – dad generously tides me over. What beats that? My relationship with him isn’t the rosiest. He may not have sway outside our family, and neither is he the wealthiest man under the sun. Yet if I were to choose, I would not think twice.

I am thankful for having him. Long live dad. Happy Father’s Day.

rn rn

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