My Daddy and ALL My Children

My first memory is of myself lying alone in a hospital room. Bed made of metal, lying in a slightly cold wars all on my own. Then my daddy (and mommy) walks in and with a satisfied grunt at my being awake post anesthesia, he picks me up to hold me in his arms. Except I’d just had surgery on an umbilical hernia and lifting me by my upper half meant that my lower half dangled and pulled painfully at my sutures. I uttered a quick cry at the agony, he understood, and folded me properly into his safe arms where I felt loved. I felt as if he was so happy that I was well.

I was three years old.

My daddy was my mommy. If I didn’t feel fine, even if I suspected a UTI and was burning down there, in my childish seSotho I would tell my dad, not my mom, that ‘my bum for peeing’ with was sore. He’s the one I told some of my troubles to. He’s the one who noticed my period had arrived when I was 12, nobody had ever spoken about it nor told me what to do.

My daddy used to make me dance with him by making me step on his feet, one foot on each of his while he held my hand, and he’d sing in seSotho as he danced me around the kitchen, “Hata mo ke hatileng teng, helele!” (Step where I’ve stepped, la la la.) I felt so happy in those moments. My daddy also made me feel happy when he’d sing random songs. But first he’d irritate me because early in the mornings while I’m happily in dream land -as you know from previous posts, I used to hide my night muscle cramps and abdominal pain so never got full rest- he’d start energetically shouting, “Rose!!” (One of my other names.) “Wakey, wakey!” He would be unfailingly cheerful and I’d wonder why he delighted in torturing his precious little girl. He would whistle to wake me up, shout in a sing song voice, while to put me to sleep, he’d rock me in his arms, singing a lullaby in seSotho telling me to “sleep sad his his mother denied him sheep’s ears.” Or, that’s what I and my younger sister understood!” As I said, my mother spoke isiXhosa to him and to us while he spoke seSotho, so language stability when I spent all day speaking English wa..unstable! For someone whose mom denied him sheep’s ears, he was always very cheerful with this little ditty. He carried me on his back while singing, or in his arms

My daddy was a recording fiend. We had a an audio cassette tape in which I was asking him around age five, who was fully Tsukudu (his surname, and who was “a little bit Tsukudu.” I maintained that because I was much smaller than his tall height, and I was made of only HALF of him, I was only “a little bit” of Tsukudu. He can be heard disagreeing with me. Then I told him, “Then mom isn’t a Tsukudu because she’s not your child! She’s a little bit Tsukudu because she took your surname but she doesn’t have your blood!!” Made logical sense to me! But he insisted that she was a full Tsukudu. The genetics didn’t work for me! I never accepted it. Only my dad’s sisters and brother and sons and daughters were full Tsukudu because we had his blood coursing through our veins. Did I mention I was stubborn like he is?

When I was told that I had low iron chronic deficiency anemia, he made it a point to feed me liver 🤮every single day. Didn’t help. So into iron supplements I went. Didn’t help either -my digestive tract does not absorb iron

My dad baked muffins and stove top bread. He made us hot chips for Sunday breakfast and vetkoek to eat. He made us porridge and oats. He bought intestines from the door to door salesmen, made me empty the stinky intestine contents, and cooked it for us.

I seem to recall it being my dad who asked what I wanted to eat when my throat was sore from a repeat tonsillectomy, and him begging me to eat anything, even just jelly and ice cream. Begging me, even as I wept from the pain. (They had not fully removed the tonsils the first time so they apparently grew back.)

My daddy loved my dark skin. He called me his Black Beauty, his dark mahogany child. Always with love. I felt my skin colour was beautiful-till I went to school.Yes, he caned us extremely unfairly. He only made ME do the dishes at exam time even though my sister was free and able. He was no saint.

But when we adopted… During the screening process, the psychologist asked how excited our parents are to be gaining new grandchildren. Trying to gage how much support we had. My husband and I told her that we had not told our parents yet, especially as our mothers did not approve of every single choice we made. We didn’t want them spoiling our excitement We’d gone to Tanzania on mission work. Only our fathers were happy and encouraging. Sadly, father-in-law died the month we left.

When we got our adopted angel and took her to my parents to visit for the first time, this angel who was a long term goal for us- our beloved daughter who we would cherish and was meeting her grandparents, the first question my mother asked when we walked in was, “Where’s her mother? Where is she from?” I told her that I was her mother and she was from foster care. Period. She then tried to ask where her home was. I replied that her home was wherever I as her mother would be. I reminded her that legally and emotionally, I was her mother now! (Deliberately being obtuse. I knew what she meant. It’s the kind of questions we fellow adoptive mothers ask. But never in front of the children and we never refer to where their biological mother came from as “home.” Home was with us. As for the mothers, we usually ask what led to the child being placed for adoption. And if the race or heritage was known.

On the other hand, my dad took to her immediately as his beloved granddaughter.

For us, “adopted” daughter (or son) means that we don’t share the same medical and genetic history. My parents’ hypertension won’t spill to them. Their biological parents’ illnesses meant that for us, “adoption” meant that we loved a child into our family, but not conceived on one into our family. It was a form of becoming a parent. C-section, natural delivery, adoption. It was natural to him. The day I announced we were expecting twins, my dad’s first question after expressing congratulations was, “Who is carrying them? You? Or someone else?” Ie. Am I pregnant, or were we about to have adopted twins from some desperate mother of unborn twins? Adoption was a normal and valid way to become a grandfather! He asked for her photo and our adopted son’s photo too, so he could put them with his other grandchildren’s photos.

As we know, babies do cute things and grow fast. Many of my WhatsApp status profile we photos featured the babies of the family. My daddy was NOT one of those who irrationally accused me of “loving the adopted ones more than” my biological ones. 🤦🏾‍♀️My adopted even when not babies, were going to the closet and wearing their dad’s biggest pair of sneakers, looking funny with their little legs and big shoes. Of course I’d take photos! The biological children weren’t steeling Sudocreme and smearing it all over their faces with pride. Secondly, he wasn’t even watching what or who I was putting up as my profile picture ANYWAY. So he never asked like the other person had, “Why do you love your adopted children more than the biological kids?” Weird question, actually.

My dad was full of servant-like love. I had a new girl join our high school and after I told my parents how poverty-stricken the family was, he insisted we buy them food. And while visiting their dying mother, my daddy took their dirty blankets and washed them in the bath tub for them.

We do not see eye to eye on raising our children. And so it means my children don’t get to know my daddy the way I knew him. He tells them how bad our parenting is and how they should not be homeschooled etc. But unlike others, he has never mocked the one whose special needs jumped out immediately. He never told me multiple times to “Take him back to foster care and get a normal child..” He never asked as if it was an impossibility, “Do you LOVE Jim?”

Sadly, one day, when my dad got too old and frail and almost dropped my five year old daughter and looked like he was breaking his arthritic back when trying to greet her by picking her up, I had to stop him picking up my adopted five year old who he was trying to pick up and sing his famous lullabies to.

Any body who loves ALL my children, is a star. His star might be dimming in his cantankerous old age, we butted head a lot of times, but I will never forget his selfless love for all my children, and his tender care when I was a child. He has feet of clay. But none of his less than stellar behaviour has ever been to despise my children who are so despised by others.

I have him to thank for my tender heart (He can cry at the drop of a hat) and headstrong nature that doesn’t shy away from speaking his truth. His is the kind of nature I want to have, and only to improve upon.

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