It is a cold and sombre winter Saturday morning and the paraffin on the heater is almost through. We are all shivering from the wind blowing through the corrugated iron roof. After all, shacks are not made for winter let alone for human beings – but we are hopeful because our father is out there combating the rain for a litre of paraffin – just to keep us all warm.

This is one of my earliest memories of my father.

Later on in the evening, I remember him playing the news on the radio while watching the news on the TV on mute. When asked by mother why he did so, he’d religiously reply, “Nkosikazi, iindaba zeli lizwe zibalulekile kaloku” – which emphatically expressed his passion for our country’s politics. My father, in my eyes, is a political science scholar who did not have the privilege to attend school. Forced by his circumstances as a young boy, born and bred in the rural villages of Cofimvaba, Eastern Cape, he had to leave home at an early age to go find work in the gold and mineral mines of Johannesburg.

When I look at my father’s hardened, semi-cracked black skin, I am reminded of all the sacrifices he made for us, his family. His skin, a map of all sorts of contradiction, of how softness and hardship can coexist in harmony in one’s body, informing his beauty. When I look at him, I am also reminded of all the times I ran away from a hiding. “You better run, you stout boy, and I better not catch you!” he would shout as I outran his tired, frail legs.

When I think of my old man, I remember not wanting to go home for the longest time, trying to postpone the inevitable because I had never failed before then. This was my first year in university and I had always been the student who passed with flying colours. University became the first entity to teach me about failure. However, my father was the first human being to teach me about how it is I learn. I have been able to muster my courage and approach my life because of the gift that was bestowed upon me by my father’s words.

“You always get it right the second time, my son. It is just how you are. Don’t be afraid to try again when you fall.”

My father, a man of not so many words, uttered those words when I needed them most. These words echo in my subconscious in perpetuity. It is these words that sit with me whenever I am met with struggle and moments of failure, or sitting in moments of anxiety and self-doubt. When I imagine the word ‘father’, I imagine a presence, one not only limited to being there physically and bringing home bread for the family to eat, but a [psychological] presence that sits with my personhood as an adult. I have been prepared for life by those simple, few words.

My father, a man of not so many words, is the embodiment of all that is worth smiling about in this world. I am proud to echo these words back to him.


This was a winning entry in the My Father essay writing competition. Click here to read other excellent essays from the competition.