To my father, on his 83rd birthday…

When I got married in 2002, my father sent a message, to my in-laws. I heard it for the first time, at my husband’s home village, Makuta, when my grandmother, MmaThata presented it to a packed marque. We had gathered for the last part of our two-part wedding celebration.

“Oesi’s father, Etshabile Tiro Sebusang sent me here. He had preferred to have been the one addressing you, on this issue, very close to his heart. But as you are probably aware, our culture prevented him from attending”.

Where I come from, part of central Botswana, the bride’s parents do not attend their daughter’s wedding, at the groom’s home. I do not know what happens with sons.

“Oesi’s father says I should tell you that she is still a child. That although she is getting married today, to her mother and father, she is a young girl and his father requests that you treat her as such, a child still needing parental guidance. Please protect her; love her as your own. She has indeed become your child too. Please take care of Oesi because if you don’t, she will come back home. And because her marriage doesn’t make her any less my child, he says, we will indeed be happy to welcome her back home.  Please take care of my daughter”.

I cried at the tenderness of those words. Memories of my father taking my side when I refused to play in just my panty, ‘like other children’ came flooding back. He always insisted that I be left to be. “She does not want to undress. Just leave her’, he would say.

I love you, father.

A week earlier, he had walked me to the altar, breaking the marriage ground, setting the foundation. I would catch my father shed a tear as the pastor declared me married. I had seen him, years earlier, drop a tear, when my older siblings got married.

I have a good father.

God bless your kind generosity. You are my hero.

I don’t remember my father whipping any of us, his children. But he was a strict disciplinarian. He talked once and we would know not to commit the same sin again. But like all normal children, we erred many times but he decided, in his wisdom, to spare the rod.

I grew up sheltered maybe overly protected.

My father did not allow us to play with kids from families fond of insulting words. The tricky part though was, all the neighbourhood children gathered at the same playground and there was no way we could ask those children to stay away. We thus resorted to dashing back into the yard at the first sound of an approaching ‘Datsun’. Our ears were trained to hear it while there was still time to reach home.

My father, in many ways, became my lifeline, my measure, he became the barometer with which I gauged life.

One of the most vivid and his most regular encouragement, especially after reading our school reports was, “I educate you so you will have a life when I am gone. Your mother and I are not doing this for you to support us when you start working, no! We educate you for yourselves so that you do not struggle when we are no more. Getting an education is for you, for your future. We will not be here forever to provide, so please work hard”.

I celebrate this man, who loves me unconditionally. A man who still worries when I don’t look as lively as he knows. I celebrate a father who can pick minor changes on me “Oesi you look darker than usual. What is wrong?”

I celebrate a contented man. A man without the benefit of high education but confidently engages with intellectuals. The man who used to say, “I hear of children committing and attempting suicide because their parents reprimanded them for bad behaviour. I’ll rather remain childless”.

He talked tough and loved even harder.

I celebrate a man who ensured I never lacked. He ensured we had decent clothes and proper shelter over my head. My parents bought us new clothes every independence and Christmas days. The latter, until I finished university.

I am celebrating a village hero. My father serves everybody.

My father and mother would visit us at boarding school, on their way from the farm, bringing fresh cow milk, wild berries, watermelons and many other farm produce. They checked us often to be sure we were coping.

I learnt to love from my father. I learnt early, that love protects and provides. I knew during my formative years that men love their daughters and groom their sons. I was shown that husbands play with their wives. My father did.

My father refused to segregate chores across genders. We all did everything

My father is neat, he is picky.

I cannot finish my father’s story in one sitting. This is to celebrate my baseline. My start. I am grateful you lived to see my children. To meet my husband. I know you worried I was young. You said you had wanted me to stay home with you and not marry. You wanted to protect me forever.

But I am well, father. I cry as I write this. Because I am truly well. I am safe. I know you know. Your smile, when you visit, assures me that you can see, your baby is happy and well.

I love you Ntate. Happy birthday.

I have a loving Father

I told lies. I broke tea cups and dinner plates and denied it. I played beyond the stipulated time and would arrive home late from school, then cook up a story of my delay.

I was a normal child.

I had my moments of sugar eating and condensed milk sucking. But I was never lost to being Rra Ewetse’s child. Often considering myself his favourite child. Why not? Probably my siblings also did. In fact I still believe I am his favourite.

The point is, although I was probably a naughty child, I never for once thought I didn’t deserve my father’s love. I never imagined him thinking differently of me because of my lying and breaking tea cups. Even when he would have scolded me hard. I never had reason to think he loved me any less.

I have a father, a doting father who had a firm hand on us. A hand that ensured we all turned out right.

My song of the week “He knows my name” got me thinking. If I have such confidence in my natural father; If I never lived with the guilt and condemnation from my faults and naughtiness, where did I learn to feel guilty in relation to God? If I had confidence that Rra Ewetse forgave and moved on, never to remind me again of my bad past, where did I learn to dwell on my sins, leading to guilt and self condemnation?

My natural father’s readily forgiving nature and abundant love, challenged my relationship with a God in heaven, this week. The God who formed my father.

And I asked God to forgive me for this error. The error of unconsciously trusting that the natural can be more capable than Him, a supernatural being. Maybe not in that overt kind of way. But this often feeling of guilt, I was, in a way saying to myself, I was not worthy because of what I would done or not done.

I refuse that. I will always refuse it. I dealt with guilt and condemnation this week.

Lessons from Rra Ewetse, fallible as all of us, pointed me to a God who forgives unconditionally. The God who forgets my faults, the God who deals with me on a clean plate each day.

The liberation came in the form of my natural father.

I confessed to never again carry the guilt and never again condemn myself. Not that I have arrived home, but because for those who have believed in God, there should be no condemnation. It’s a done deal.

I’m free from guilt and shame. I have fallen many times, and many times I have risen. Still I refuse guilt and condemnation. I choose to rise as many times as I fall. I choose peace over a heavy heart.

I’m loved beyond words. I therefore choose to be found immersed in this sea of love. Surrounded by, filled with and drunk in this love.

Come with me.