Lessons from my late father

Saturday January 5 2019



 Moses Khisa

Moses Khisa 

By Moses Khisa

My father, Mzee Hassan N. Wanyera, passed away on the morning of Boxing Day. He was 90. An unfailing pacifist, he died peacefully and was buried in peace.
Born to peasant parents, Mzee’s formative years were in the final decades of British colonial rule. In line with the predominant thinking of the time, his father did not see value in formal education – paying school fees was considered a waste. So after only a few years in school, he stayed home to graze his father’s cattle.
He completed the traditional male circumcision ritual in 1944 and was taken in to work as a domestic servant for white colonial employees at the then headquarters for the colonial district of Bugisu at Bubulo. Later he joined the Ministry of Social and Community Development and became a senior truck driver. He took early retirement in 1975 to concentrate on family businesses.
Like many colonial subjects, he had great admiration for the colonisers. He was fascinated by their work ethics and social ethos. He imbibed the virtues of loyalty and obedience, trust and hard work, faith and fortitude.
In spite (or perhaps because) of his failure to acquire sufficient formal education, he believed so strongly in the value of education.
He saw education as the sure way to social emancipation and developed an unwavering commitment to ensuring that his children attained quality education. As a father, he took his parental responsibilities so seriously and did not entertain any excuses for failure to meet his obligations.
Mzee was deeply religious, but also vastly tolerant. He held fidelity to his faith, but respected other religious beliefs. He believed in God, but did not forcefully foist his views on others. He listened more and spoke less.
Arguably, the most important virtue that he cultivated in himself and imparted to his children was hard work and determination. He believed that there was no shortcut to success - one had to work their way up.
Growing up in his home, you had no right to eat if you did not work. Waking up very early was not a choice. Until very recently, he was consistently up before 6am and started his day with a cold bath.
From the humblest of backgrounds, he acquired modest material resources, became a highly regarded community member and a respected clan leader. He took on a hefty burden of dozens of children and dependants, relatives and non-relatives. He did this because he believed he had a duty to humanity, to be kind and just to others, to do good and own up to personal mistakes, to learn and reform. He gave far more than he got back.
My father saw in life something more important than just material possessions. He was patient to a fault, and found comfort in showing care and compassion. He did not discriminate and treated strangers with as much due respect as people he knew.
My father was no angel, and he would be the first person to concede, but he deliberately strove to do better, to exercise fairness, thrift and probity.
Because he did not have a specific permanent health condition, and given his disciplined lifestyle, we had hoped he was good for a few more years on earth. It appears though that opportunistic ailments, mainly bacterial infections, had taken a toll.
But even when it was time to go, in his signature kindness, he waited for me to make the long trip across the Atlantic and get home for what was a routine visit before he signed off.
He so much loathed inconveniencing anyone and being a burden even though he entertained unlimited burdens from others. He must have requested his Creator to invite him home when we least expected him to depart.
On the morning of December 26, he bowed out following what appears to have been a case of cardiac arrest. As a family, we felt devastated, but also fortunate to have had him for that long. We mourned, but we also celebrated.
I have told this story to both pay tribute to my father for making me who I am, but also to use him to underline the essence of life. Since I came of age, particularly as a university student, I have wrestled with the philosophical question of the meaning of life; the essence of being.
In his own, quite inimitable way, my father answered this question. He had a profound influence on my worldview and on how I see myself as a member of humanity. For the many good things he did, may his Creator meet him with favour!

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