Celebrating my father during women’s month

Date: July 29, 2010
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The climax of the World Cup is slowly wearing away and Women’s Month is almost here. As with every year, we celebrate women who have made a difference and been influential in raising the bar of gender equality and those who stand tall against the reign of patriarchy. However, there are some “heroines” in pants who have not always been afforded this space and I will take a chance now and introduce you to one. These “heroines” do not come in the very familiar face of a woman, they do not have breasts or hips as wide as mine, but they have a heart and sometimes the feel of a woman from the inside.

In my life I often found the love of a mother in a man, my father to be precise. By no means is this meant to be controversial: I write today instead to celebrate the women within this man that makes my heart warm and fuzzy at the thought of my life with him. He is the man who raised me to be the woman I am today. He always told me that the sky was the limit and if I dreamt enough I could reach it. He is the kind of man we want men to be. The type of man we should also celebrate this month.

In fact with the frenzy and excitement of World Cup there has sometimes been a realization from women of love lost with most men as they sat watching the games. I know of a few women who felt neglected by their partner as he sat with friends and World Cup cheers. This is not the kind of man my father is – if he’d been here I would have watched the game by his side. But then again, he doesn’t like soccer.

I know of many women who feel that they did not have father figures in their lives; and growing up was not much fun without involvement from their fathers. Although growing up in Zimbabwe I did not spend as much time with my father as I might have wanted, I have always been able to find a place for us to reconnect when it was necessary. You see, I spent most of my time in boarding school with nuns who had hands the speed of lighting when they reprimanded me. I am sure the Vatican should give me a refund for all the therapy sessions it took to get over the physical abuse. So I always looked forward to my father picking me up from school for holidays and the ride to the countryside was always filled with laughter and tears.

Ten years in boarding school can truly do damage to one’s soul and purging is always a good thing; cruel as it might have been for ten years, my father always rose to the occasion to cheer me up. We would cook together or go shopping for fabulous shoes, which has always been my greatest weakness. Taking days off from his work schedule to take me for tea or ice-cream was something he did without a second thought and it gave me such pleasure. I always looked forward to our conversations and although at times we fought because of different opinions, we always managed to respect the other view. As the years went by we also discussed what being a woman was and it seemed strange and yet fun.

From the age of 13 to 16 we touched on my transition to womanhood and at first I felt rather shy and gobsmacked at the thought of talking to my father about my period. He would ask me to come and sit by his side and say: “Well, you see you are growing now my girl and you will have to watch out for boys. Don’t believe a word they tell you about having sexual intercourse for the first time – and that you will not get pregnant – they are scatter-brains when their hormones rage.”

I would howl with laughter and I have used his exact language in this case as he always used the scientific words for all body parts that interact in the act of sex. He was not a man who minced his words. So I had my first period at 13 and because of his talks and support, it seemed a breeze shopping for sanitary pads – at least that’s what I thought at the time. You know the pads that are so large and have loops on both ends and you wear them like pants with a belt? Thank goodness for that female gynaecologist.

I was so terrified in those years but yet thanks to my father I understood what boys were capable of with their willies or peepees. That gave me comfort. I was also sure that he knew what he was talking about. “You have many choices but one,” he would say. “If you have sex with boys you must use condoms and you will have to buy them yourself, on the one hand if it breaks you might contract a sexually transmitted disease that will erode your privates and this AIDS thing is really serious.” So I did not have sex with boys.

Over the past year, on several visits to my father, we reminisced about the old times. Some of these times have not been easy and yet as we have grown we have been able to work through them by talking to each ever openly. His love of good food and shoes – which I have taken on – centres the laughter, chats, cuddles, and tears we shed when we are bonding. He still loves to cook and prepares preservatives fresh from his garden; duck A l’orange and prunes in brandy and that yummy jelly stuff.

We talk about love for life without limits and the fact that I have married a beautiful person, whom he adores dearly, and it is not a boy. I remember when I first came out as a lesbian to my father – something that is not easy for a young, black woman in today’s Africa. Instead of disappointment, my father reacted with curiosity and interest. He wanted to know more about it because he suspected he had a lesbian colleague who had not come out of the closet and he thought my experience might be something he could share with her.

It seems like yesterday that we spoke of this young girl, who has grown into this woman I have become. I am proud to have a father who is open and loving and allows me to be who I am. And I wish that many more of us women were able to find bits of our mothers within our father, so to speak, so that we can continue to embrace our fathers.

With the world still looking on South Africa, my wish for us is that we can improve gender issues on a very personal level; allow fathers to hold a space within our hearts and look ahead and forward. I hope our fathers and husbands and brothers can also rise to the challenge. Fostering these relations can make us better women and girls. In realising that femininity is not only found in a woman’s face we will all grow stronger.

What I know for sure is that the gift of life – of the woman within me – lies in the direction, pathways and opportunity set out by the father who raised me. With pride I celebrate him and I celebrate his feminine side during this Women’s Month. And I know that my father understands me as the woman I am and the woman I can be.

Glenda Muzenda Raftopoulos is the Gender and Media Southern Africa Network Coordinator. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.


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