You see that old Black man with the self-satisfied smirk on his face and a knot on his forehead? That’s Kwasi Gyekye – my dad and the first love of my life. I have measured every man’s ability by his; whether that be an ability to comfort me, provide for me, praise or belittle me (and yes, my dad has disgraced me in public on several occasions for my “own good”). My dad is the standard of measure for all things male.
I understood my dad very little when I was little, and even less when I was a teenager. Why was he so hostile to all these boys that would come over to visit me? They were just friends after all. None of these guys with nick names like “Skido” “Rasmoke” or “Jata” had ulterior motives when they sat on my porch sipping ice-water and shooting the breeze…or did they?
“Naw!” I rationalized in my pubecent mind. “They were truly just my friends!”
Stupid, stupid Malaka.
Now that I’m a mother of two girls with one on the way, I understand my father completely. All boys are bad and are to be regarded with the highest suspicion. As far as my father was concerned, none of them had any proper home training, could ever be respectful enough, and were certainly dead set on “spoiling” his daughter. And for that, they must all be made to suffer. My father made it his business to make sure none of these “small boys” felt completely comfortable coming to his house, sitting on his sofa, watching his VHS and drinking his drinks. Oh yes, he would nod politely as they approached the gate and saluted him…as he sat bare-chested on his veranda in khaki shorts or trousers. Nostrils flared and hairy chest moving up and down as though some demon was waiting to burst from his rib cage, he would yell for either me or my sister to announce that we had “visitors” after a brief stare down with the offensive male intruder. My sister and I would wait expectantly for him to enter the house and put on a shirt, a singlet or something…anything! – but all Kwasi Gyekye did was sit there fanning himself, angrily listening to the crows caw in the huge nym tree that grew just beyond our wall.
The visitors who had either trekked in the hot Ghana sun or spent hard earned cedis on a taxi to visit us did not stay long. They were either too scared to ask if they could enter the house or were disquieted by my father’s steely, silent glare. They announced that they were leaving and quietly informed my dad that they were going.
“Ehh. Buh-bye,” he would say dismissively. “And next time change your dressing when you are coming here. You are not a clown.” (My father could not abide 90’s fashion; and that included sagging, baggy pants, oversized t-shirts and Tek boots.) For my part, I would fly to my room in shame.
Everything my father did in terms of protecting his daughters was strategic. His bedroom was on the first floor of the house, with a window that allowed him to hear every conversation from the kitchen, to the living room (where the phone was), to the garden…which also just outside his bedroom. No conversation, no matter how “innocent” was safe from his sonar. He was like a Navy Seal – part of an elite force among fathers. I hated it. Some of my other friends were allowed to bring boys into their bedrooms for godsakes! My male visitors could only gain access to the inside of the house if they had been coming to visit for 8 months or more – And that was on the condition that they had been unceremoniously told to “get out!” at least once before, and had the balls to come back and apologize to him face-to-face for the hideous infraction that prompted their eviction. That infraction could be tantamount to wearing purple on a Tuesday.
As we got a little bit older, my dad became a lot more congenial to my male guests. This new tactic gave me cause for concern. Why was he smiling and joking with these boys so much? Why was he taking them aside to have private talks with them? What was he up to?? I never found out, but I do know that several of my longer term boyfriends were considerably more reluctant to get intimate with me after those chats.
Even into my late 20’s, my father continued to assert his dominance in my life. My husband (who was still just a boyfriend at the time) had come to Ghana with me to visit. In America, he was the man of my life, and held a position of strong influence (or as much as I would allow him) over my life. Unfortunately, that all changed when we landed at Kotoka, and I had failed to inform that the balance of power was no longer in his favor. We were Kwasi Gyekye’s domain now. At a local beer bar one evening, I challenged my dad to a chug-off, sure that I could swallow my 40 oz faster than he could. As the patrons of the bar regarded our game with amusement, cheering for my dad to “go!”, my boyfriend looked on in disapproval. The look was not lost on my father.
“Ei Marshall. What’s your problem?” he asked, obviously irritated.
“Nothing,” Marshall countered. “I just don’t think Malaka should be drinking.”
This, to say the least, pissed my dad off. He stuck his finger in my chest.
“This is MY daughter, and I’ll do with her whatever I like! If I want to drink a beer with my daughter, I will!!”
Last night, my husband and I were watching Lock Up on MSNBC, and the reasons behind my father’s antics become starkly clear. Some guy was serving a life sentence for murdering his girlfriend when they were in their teens. As he sat in prison 20 years later, the girl’s parents came to see him and confront him, where he then acknowledged that he’d killed her and betrayed their their trust. He was apologetic. I was stunned. I immediately thought of my own father.
“You see? This is why every girl needs a dad that is absolutely insane,” I said to my husband. “If that boy had had a little bit more fear in him, this probably wouldn’t have happened!”
My husband agreed.
Like I said, now that I am a mother, I completely understand my father’s unpredictable, irrational behavior. My husband and I have agreed that he too must take on the mantle of a completely inhospitable, invasive, intrusive, unbearable dad as far as our future enemies are concerned. For my part, I will play the listening (but very unsympathetic) mother whose only retort for my daughters’ woeful bleating will be “Ah. That’s just the way your father is.”
For all the boys who have been through Kwasi’s boot-camp, who have been kicked out, reviled, insulted and eventually welcomed into the fold…I can’t say that I’m sorry. Most of you have little girls of your own now, and you know that you are ready to do far worse: I hope he’s taught you something you can use as you become Crazy Daddies.