My father never touched alcohol. He loved playing (but not watching) football. I remember him when I was about 10-years old (he was 30): him in small shorts, those dreadful ones that Diego Maradona wore, leaving the house in the evening to go play with his mates, coming back home at dusk, sweaty but invigorated, streaks of green on his shorts, the shower running, him humming a song. When not playing football he’d be at home listening to his record player. My dad was always at home. I don’t ever remember him ever not being at home. There are men who are quiet and then there are men who are silent. He was a quiet man. Still and quiet, buried in his books about Africa and Africans and the upheaval of that time. The ghosts of Kwame and the Sankara floated his boat and floated in our house. He never raised his voice – unless someone banged the door loudly. He hates when you banged the door loudly. I hate when a door is banged loudly. Apple, tree. We all turn into our fathers, ey?
Nobody told us anything about alcohol, whether it was good or bad. Alcohol was just alcohol. It was like a salt shaker. Although we didn’t grow up with alcohol in our house we all ended up drinking. One of my brothers went to fetch his degree in India, as it was common during that time, and when he came back after four years we thought he’d come back like those who came back from India at that time, disillusioned by that lifestyle. Instead, he came back home pretty much as he had left, only his tolerance was higher than usual. He would be the last man seated at the table if it came right down to it, and he never staggered. Alcohol agreed with him.
Once in a while, we all go to the village to visit my father. He’s now a year shy of 70, remarried, happy in love and has embraced God with both arms. There isn’t much to do in the village; you wake up and have breakfast under a tree or in the verandah. Relatives will occasionally drift in the boma carrying their walking sticks (it’s a thing in my village) to shoot the breeze and marvel how the grandchildren are all grown now. Lunch will be had in a group. Afternoon naps under a tree on a mat, a radio squeaking in the background. Evening tea at 4 pm, chit-chat, laughs, children running excited at seeing the cattle back home from grazing. Just before dinner, my siblings and I, might open a bottle of something alcoholic and share it. But never in the full glare of my father. We would hide it under tables, behind chairs and drink it from teacups, not because alcohol is bad or because he said alcohol is bad, but out of respect for him. He knows, of course, he’s old, my dad, but he’s not foolish. He knows that people are different. That we all walk different paths. So he looks away. He respects it. Like I said, my father, is a quiet man.
I will probably have a different experience should my son decide he wants to drink alcohol. And if he does, I hope he doesn’t drink a cider. Or a liqueur. But if he does, the world won’t end. Not my world, at least. I hope he chooses whisky like I did but I also hope whisky chooses him eventually. And I hope that when he starts drinking I will be there to hold his hand on not what to drink, but how to drink it. Because we wasted so many good years of our lives drinking alcohol with the wrong intentions. Maybe I should let him also experience his own journey to appreciate his destination.
I hope one day we can sit together and share a bottle. I would intentionally limit those drinking interactions to only special occasions when I need to talk to him about something serious. It will be something very exorbitant, like a Johnnie Walker Blue. The drink will symbolise depth and honesty and growth. So whenever I summon him and he sees me retrieving the Johhnie Walker Blue he will know it’s about that time of connection. Of wisdom. (Mine, obviously). But we will not drink for any reason but to talk, which means it will be sparingly and that bottle will last us over a year. It will be symbolic, monumental even. And when the bottle is done, I will hand it to him as a memento, to keep in his own house one day as something that represented a journey we walked together. Because we all need to walk with our sons, in our own ways.
Happy Father’s Day to all fathers and daddies out there.