My paternal grandfather, Kenneth Mataka, passed away in 2010 at the age of 96, and my grandmother, Laina, in 2015 at the age of 93. Both of them were accomplished singers and are revered as musical icons and pioneers by those that are true students and scholars of Zimbabwe township music. And after their passing stories were written about them and documentaries reaired.
As their grandson, it puts a lot of things into perspective: the value of a great life, heritage, and the legacies we inherit and one day leave behind.
I remember the last conversation I had with my grandfather. As we reminisced about my youth and infantile shenanigans, he brought up his daughter, my mother. She died in 2006 of cancer at the young age of 50, something that pained my grandfather.
He said, “A child is supposed to bury their parents, not the other way around.” And my grandfather had buried three, my uncle when he was just 14 years old, and my mother and aunt, who died five months apart.
The thought of having outlived my mother overwhelmed him. But suddenly his sorrow turned to joy as he said, “My mind is at peace because I see and hear her in you.”
He didn’t say this because my eyes and smile bore a striking resemblance to hers, which many people often point out till this day. He said this because just like her, I had dedicated a big part of my life to making a difference in the world.
My mother began her career as a secretary at The Herald, Zimbabwe’s leading newspaper. After a few years, she would go on to pursue a career in social work with a focus on domestic violence. This is a job that had her traveling around the country, and on some occasions, she would take a young 10 year old me with her. And it’s during those rare but immersive excursions that I would see the many lives she was touching and the importance of her work. I enjoyed this time with her, but didn’t realize how much it would influence my adult life, how I saw the world, and my role in it.
Beyond anything, my mother was a kind, caring and generous soul. And with each new phase of her life and career change, be it transitioning from the world of journalism to social work, landscape design to theology, she never lost her dedication to bettering the lives of those less fortunate than herself. I had never stopped to think about where she got that desire to make a difference in the world from until that day my grandfather and I were having that conversation that, unbeknownst to me, would be our last.
He told me about his upbringing and the struggle that comes with chasing dreams in an oppressive and racially segregated Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe. These were stories I had heard before but never with such detail and emotion. I knew my grandfather was one of the first African natives to thrive with his variety show act—television sketches, tap-dancing performances and singing engagements—but as a child you are spared the darker stories that come with navigating through oppression’s many hurdles and setbacks. But he made it, made it as far as the glass ceiling would let him, and with his talent, experience and knowledge, went on to mentor and open doors for many more icons that would follow: Thomas Mapfumo, Safirio Mukadota Madzikatire and others. And he spoke with passion about the power of the arts and their capacity to be a medium through which we can celebrate love, promote togetherness, call out injustice and inspire change, it hit me, I could see a lot of my grandfather in my mother, and by extension, a lot of my grandfather in me.
I had an epiphany as I listened to my grandfather share his stories. Who we become as parents not only passes on to our children, but into our children’s children. How we raise them. What we expose them to. How we teach them. It all, to a great extent, defines who they are and will become for better or for worse. So the question I pose to you as a parent or someone that hopes to be one is, who are you raising your children to be?
You could raise your child to be the next Greta Thunberg, William Kamkwamba or Malala Yousafzais, which would be incredible, but that kid that stands up for a bullied classmate, gives their last dollar to the homeless man standing on the street corner, or calls out bigotry when they witness it is just as amazing. Point being, our children are very impressionable, and because of this, what we instill in them—beliefs, morals, values and virtues—can shape who they will become in this fractured world of ours that is in desperate need of more people striving to do good in their communities or beyond them.
So again I ask you, who are you raising your children to be? And as a follow up, who are you raising your children to be to others and the world?
This New Dad,
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