I love you, Daddy
My dad is not a fuzzy guy. His response to "I love you, Daddy" or "I miss you, Daddy" is: "OK". While everyone calls my mom "Mummie", my father is referred to as "Director." He doesn't do small talk, or laugh politely at bad humor. He is almost irritated by shyness, and never cranes his head forward to hear us better, instead, he insists that we should speak up if we want to be heard.
I grew up in Uganda where there was often a tendency for the men, women, and children to sit separately from each other at gatherings. My dad always wanted us at the men's table. Often I sat fidgeting in my seat, disinterested in the usual topics of sports, politics, and business. But sometimes I found myself on the edge of my seat completely engaged; the first geneticist I ever met was at the men's table- a subject I later pursued for my undergrad degree. My dad's friends knew that his girls always had a seat at the table, and any hint of disregard or disrespect was not tolerated. I would try to discreetly ask my dad about something I didn't understand and to my dismay, he would tell me (in a loud voice) to speak up and address the person I was questioning.
In the evening, when my father returned home, he often liked to give us "the lecture". Sometimes my siblings and I would run to bed and feign sleep to escape it. On and on my father would go,
“Don't let anyone tell you what you can and cannot achieve in this world because you're a woman. You do not need anyone to give you anything or take care of you. You can speak for yourself, fend for yourself, provide for yourself. Your only limitations are the ones you put on yourself. You have the same brains and capabilities as anyone- if not more…”
and on it went. It was always the same overarching content, with a different case in point from his day. We pinched each other and stifled our giggles as he repeated a popular phrase. But he practiced what he preached. When we played draughts (checkers) together, he beat me mercilessly. He saw no reason to go easy or allow me to win. But with time I started to last longer in the game, and recognize the patterns in his moves. (I'm afraid this story does not end with me beating him at the game).
Stern as he was, I have fond memories of stepping on my dad's feet as he showed me how to waltz, sitting between his thighs in the driver’s seat so that I could get the feeling of driving. He is a picky eater that showed me a love of street food and barbecued a mean lamb shank! He showed me the difference between a flute, a red wine, and a white wine glass; and how to pour a beer with just the right amount of head.
This past December I went back to Uganda. I returned home one evening to find my dad waiting for me at the dining table. He asked me to tell him clearly about my business and my plans for the future. He asked a lot of questions seeking to understand what was driving my business and why it is structured the way it is. He asked why I choose to use more expensive Artisanal fabrics and not cheaper alternatives on the market? He asked if I thought the International market was ready to give Africa and it’s artisans value and respect. As I answered his questions my father listened carefully. We went on to discuss infrastructure, currency, and logistics. He had great ideas and shared examples from his own life to illustrate things I should look out for. At 1:30 AM my dad got up from the table, looked down at me and said, “Catherine, you have just given me back 10 years of my life, having a conversation with you like this. It makes me so happy and warms my heart to see you doing this. Pursuing this business and its challenges head-on. I know that you will be able to achieve all your dreams through entrepreneurship...It broke my heart to let you go to Canada, and it hurt that they got to keep you, but to see you come back in this way is the best gift I have ever received. Business is not easy, but stick to it and I know you’re going to make it. I am so proud of you.” He touched my cheek and headed off to bed.
I sat there, teary-eyed and full of emotion for several minutes. And then I grabbed my phone and texted my husband
”I just had my first regular conversation with my dad. And it was wonderful!"
I went to bed and woke the next morning with the realization that in truth these are the kinds of conversations that my dad had always had with us. From the time when we were too little to be having adult conversations my dad insisted we sit at the adult table anyway; my dad had been trusting our intellect and choosing to engage with us as equals all along.
Being my father’s daughter has not always been easy. He’s tough, and sometimes his standards seem unreachable. But thanks to his guidance I have never felt like there was a limit to what I could achieve. Every day, but especially on this day, I am grateful for my father and all he has taught me.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Dad. I love you.
- lorna mutegyeki