Someone once said “being lucky enough to wish someone turning 80 a happy birthday doesn’t make writing in their birthday card any easier” and I believe them; and I guess let alone when that someone happens to be your father as this birthday marks a huge milestone in his life. But I will always be grateful to the Almighty to have lived to see this day when I privileged and able to have the opportunity to acknowledge a long and meaningful life of my father.
We are told that 80 is beyond average life expectancy, so it’s no surprise that those who get to reach this age consider it a blessing. Likewise, people at this age are a blessing to be around and there’s a lot to learn from them, even if you don’t agree with everything they say; (I can attest to this as this has now become my reality).
Well to cut an 80 year story short, 19 February 2022 my dear Papa officially became an octogenarian as he tapped into God’s grace that he earnestly prayed and hoped for exactly 10 years ago on the same date on the event of his turning 70. And oh yes Papa, your Psalm 90:10 kind of Grace has come to pass. Oh what a blessing of being the divinely favoured one. On that day he was so happy to have reached 70 years of age and in a congregation of Family, Friends, Colleagues and Neighbours gathered at our family home, he reminded us of this famous but difficult scripture “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures…..” (Psalm 90:10). He prayed and wished for his body and soul for the strength to endure until he reaches the age of 80, what in his own description he referred to as “bonus years”…. “anything beyond 70 is bonus years”. Talk about the power of confession; the power of the tongue.
You spoke life and a blessing to your situation and today you are eighty and beyond Papa and I am just wondering what you have to say to your 80 year old self, the endless tales of how you lived your life. But today as I get to talk about my 80 year old Dad, I must admit, this has to be one of the most difficult pieces I ever have had to pen. How do you sum up a life of such legendary as my father is in a paragraph, a page and even a book or so? I mean, Where and how do I even begin….?
My name is Vulani. I am my father’s fourth born of his nine children (well the ones that we know of, as we will always tease him). As at the time of penning this message, I am 50 years old and 62,50% of his life he has been my father, and whilst in my case, 78% of my life he is the only parent I have had and known after we lost our dear Mom 39 years ago (may her beautiful soul rest in peace) That alone is profound enough to sum up the reason why despite our ups and downs, my Father will always remain my lifetime Hero and today I would like to pen this little message to him. Yes little message, for words can never be enough to describe this gentle giant to ever grace the face of this earth. Today I stand and walk tall, for I stand on the shoulders of this giant that I am so blessed and honoured to call my father.
Dear Papa (Dear Dad)
Eka Papa, Tatana wa nkoka, Mutswari wa mina ariswanga…
It is indeed an honour, privilege and blessing to be able to pen this tribute to you when you are still alive to hear it, giving you flowers when you can still smell them. I titled my message “My Father, My Hero”… for with your perfect imperfections, you will always remain that underrated, unsung Hero in my backyard, the only difference is that, where it concerns me, you will never go unsung, and this message is one of the many ways I will continue to sing your praises.
There’s so much I want to say about you and to you Papa in tribute to you, but I lack the ability to do justice in a short piece to explain or tell the world all that you are to me, to us as your children and grandchildren and in particular to me and my brother Ponani (Cassius) as you have been the only parent we knew and had for the better part of our lives. The only grandparent our children have known. It’s so difficult in words and even expression to show what and how much you mean to me. May be to escape this, I could just easily say, they don’t make them [Dads] like you anymore.
Thank you for being the best and most supportive father any girl could ever hope, dream and ask for. Believe you me Papa, with your imperfections, in you I have such a great Leader, Teacher and Role Model. As you always say especially when we fight, there is so much in me that is you too and that I have so much of you in me.
You broke barriers about the traditional stereotypes of what African men can and can’t do. I remember when Mhani passed on, my brother Ponani and I didn’t want anyone else but you, including sharing a bed with you. You made our lunch boxes (the only thing you never nailed how Mhani used to make them), but they were more than others had for you made them with so much love and passion.
I remember how you would wake up early hours of the morning to cook our lunch in the process, just so we had something to eat after school. I remember how you would take us to school after that, and we were never late. How you would come home during lunch without fail to dish for us. How you would take me to Mavambe Clinic every Friday afternoon for my weekly treatment for eczema. I don’t even remember how it finally went away. You broke the stereotypes Papa. You bought me my first pack of pads. The first lesson of becoming a young woman I got and heard it from you. In your own “unique” way you gave me my very first lesson about boys. You taught us every sport that one can think of and always you played with us and supported us. The list is endless. Even at my 50s, when everything else has failed me and nothing seems to make sense, you are still my safe place that I run to for comfort and wisdom. You walked me down the aisle.
With very little education, opportunities and exposure, your sheer determination and fighting spirit to bring the change that you want to see in our communities, our country and the world and how you still do it at this age beats me beyond comprehension. You have travelled the World literally and figuratively, your achievements and the accolades says it all and speaks volumes of the calibre of person you are. Mintirho Ya Nwina Yi Mi Vulavulerile Khalanga. You have a lasting Legacy Papa that you will leave behind and I believe it will last forever. But most importantly your love and your care for me will forever be engraved in my heart and soul. Take pride in that. A self-taught Sports Man; Archivist, Accountant, Artist (…..and oh, now I can play a Guitar. I guess that will make you very happy) and many others in one.
A girl can dream right? I emulate your good, your immense and selfless contribution to society, not only are you a Community Builder but a Nation Builder and I take this opportunity to thank all those who recognised your contributions whilst you are still alive. Because you owned up to your mistakes, through them I have gained invaluable life lessons.
I think of all your children, I am the one you have had your best and worst fights with, but in us I can undoubtedly say, Indeed Love Lives Here and in us, for we always find our way back to each other no matter what and you are always my number one Cheerleader. You believe in me. Celebrate each little achievement and have helped me over the years to believe in myself, believe in my ability to achieve anything that I set myself to achieve. Even when everyone else think I can’t sing, you always make me believe that I can sing and every family event (funerals and parties), you will always ask “ani mita yimbelela mhana Andile” and I love how you will always reassure me that we sang beautifully, at times to an extent of exaggerating that it was our singing that made the whole event beautiful or dignified. I am still very far from achieving that which I set myself to achieve in this lifetime, yet the whole world knows how much you are proud of my little achievements and accomplishments. How much you will encourage me to continue following my dreams even when I think it is too late. It is never too late, as long as you are still breathing, it’s a second chance to start all over again. How much you will give and instil hope in me even when I have none. Even when I make so many mistakes, you get very angry, you will shout, sometimes in a way I personally feel that your words do not model love, but it is through these kind of moments that I have come to understand a father’s love for their child.
The past 7 years have been the hardest and you have carried us, me and my boys the best way you could. We may have seem ungrateful or not thankful enough but we are. By God’s grace this year and the year that you are turning 80 we believe will see the end of our survival phase as we begin to live again. Thank you to your teachings that it is OK to start all over again. Thank you for your fighting spirit in me, a priceless gift I have successful passed on to my children, we are here today. We did not give up, for you taught us that giving up is never an option. Thank you for teaching us the importance of working hard and eating from the fruits of our labour. When the time comes, I will be able to pick up the broken pieces of my life and rebuild.
You are an amazing father to me and grandfather to my children. In the 50 years of my life, you have taught me so much and I have learnt so much from you about this life. Too many things to put in a letter. To mention but a few,
- You taught me about Family; I have witnessed how you care about and for your own and others, even when they don’t return the favour, you still continue, sometimes to a point where your cup run dry but you still continue being the very best that you possibly can be.
- I always admire your Persistence and your Resilience; the go getter, pusher, trend setter that you are.
- You taught me the importance Time (I guess hence my obsession with time pieces);
- The Importance of Dreams and Dreaming (hence to date, no matter the stumbling blocks, I always believe in the beauty of my dreams; I always believe that my dreams will always be valid; that is never to late to start all over again, it is never too late to start a-new);
- Equality; Raising me in a male dominated environment where I was the only girl in the house, you always taught me that I was equally an equal to my brothers. You taught me about being feisty;
- You taught me about a home and not a house;
- You taught me about love, giving, kindness and humility and I still can’t comprehend how one being can possess all of them like you do Papa;
- Thank you for teaching me about being humble and staying true to oneself.
- You taught me about compassion and being compassionate;
- Thank you for teaching me about power of Prayer.
Dad, you are truly amazing in ways that one cannot even begin to explain. I could go on and on and on. There’s so very much I’ve learnt from you.
Today as I honour you Papa, the treasure of a man you are to us and to many that you have come to meet and touch, I pray that a little bit of you will always shine through me.
You are not a perfect being Papa, but you remain true to yourself through and through even when your truth does not make sense to us or to the world; and with your imperfectly perfect imperfections, I say to you, Here’s To A Life Well Lived the best way you knew how, I am richly blessed, divinely favoured to be called your Daughter and to call you my Father and forever I will remain your Little Girl.
I could have spoken on behalf of all nine of us and our children, but I believe that we all have our own narrative, and this is my own narrative and it is not even a drop of what and who you are to me.
The woman that I am and still becoming, with her flaws and imperfections, I owe her to your struggles over the years to be a better person and better being, and to you this I promise, I will continue to strive to be a better person every day of my entire being and never give up.
The next time I see you I will sing you your favourite song “I Love You Daddy” by Ricardo.. the difference this time is that I will be playing a Guitar (your favourite instrument) and I hope you will compliment that with a flute…
Happy Birthday to you Papa! May our good and Almighty God continue to keep you for us.
Inkomu Khalanga for being the Father that you are, Thank you for you and thank you for being you.
To be continued…
I Love You,