We all want the best for our kids, here’s how to get the best from them
A good dad listens, inspires and empowers. A great dad knows exactly when to let go
WWHEN HE MADE THE DECISION TO PULL HIS SON OUT OF SCHOOL AND take him under his wing, Kutlwano Masote didn’t know what he was getting himself into. He knew that Pendo’s musical ambitions would eventually hit a ceiling within the strict routine of the school calendar. And considering the young prodigy’s aspirations – “he wants to explore the world with his music” – it made little sense for the 13-year-old to squeeze in an hour of violin practice before dashing off to class. At first the teenager was resistant (actually, he responded to the suggestion with an outright “no”). He’s a social kid, and trading break times for breakfast with dad felt like a downgrade from the giant circle of friends he had at school. “But I started to see I could do so much more with my music,” he says. That’s how the homeschooling started, and how Pendo refined his musical skills and began winning competitions, catching the attention of music academies overseas. And for his father? It was a chance to instil in his son the values that have defined his life and forge an unbreakable bond with his flesh and blood.
Even when he was in the womb, it was clear that Pendo was drawn to music. He would move around, kicking and shifting to the sounds of the violin – his small movements synchronised with sliding notes of the violin, as the bow strung together sonorous lows with metallic highs.
Instead of drumming pots and pans – a noisy game all toddlers dabble in at some point – he would mime playing the violin with a wooden spoon. And when his father pooled the money together to buy an old violin, it became Pendo’s favourite toy.
Kutlwano, a cellist and freelance conductor, beams with pride when he talks about those early days. His own father, Michael Masote, had been considered the godfather of classical music in the local community, and watching his son continue down the same path filled him with the same joy he has seen flickering behind his dad’s steely gaze.
When his wife had first told him she was pregnant, Kutlwano knew he wanted to encourage his children to follow their passions – it didn’t matter what it was. For his youngest, that love is sport, and for Pendo it’s music.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
By 2015, the homeschooling conversation had been going on for a while. Father and son rehashed the same script, Kutlwano singing the advantages of a more focused syllabus and Pendo responding with every variation of “no”.
“It wasn’t just a no, it was an outright no. He told me a few times to never mention it again,” laughs Kutlwano.
But that would be the year that the young violinist would have an epiphany. Pendo was taking part in a local competition. The previous year he had bombed, failing to make it to the semi-finals. But this time round he managed to crack the final. “He realised, actually, this is his gift,” says Kutlwano. “If you could practice more – if he could devote more time to this goal – he could do even better.”
Pendo told his father he was ready to escape the school environment, and the father-and-son team shifted to a new chapter in their lives.
REFLECT AND RESET
If you ask Pendo what it’s like to have his dad teach him, he’ll crack a few jokes, playfully punch his dad on the shoulder and shake his head.
“It’s not that great yet,” he laughs. “Slowly but surely I’m getting used to having my dad teach me.”
Pendo has his views on how things should be done, and he isn’t afraid of asserting himself. The pair butt heads; Pendo pushes boundaries, he questions his father’s methods, and they hash it out, in a debate weaved into a full calendar of classes and music practice.
And Kutlwano believes it’s all a vital part of the process. “He’s defiant, but even his defiance isn’t malicious,” he says. “I understand he is someone who just wants to carve out a space for himself, and assert his own identity.”
The experience isn’t just alien to Pendo. It’s a series of lessons for his father too. And not the simple kind. Kutlwano has had a chance to reflect on his own relationship with his father, a passionate musician who was strict on his kids and even harder on Kutlwano. “I think it was because I was the musical one, and he expected a lot from me.”
His family didn’t have much, and they suffered under apartheid. But his father was a proud man with a mission to introduce classical music to black communities, and his son, a promising cellist, became an ambassador for his objectives.
Times are different now, and Kutlwano isn’t as hard on Pendo. That era called for a different kind of strictness, one that Kutlwano still values to this day. “I always say to Pendo: grampa would’ve smacked you by now,” he laughs.
Kutlwano’s old man believed that warriors raise warriors, and that belief hasn’t wavered a generation down. Only the methodology has changed.
LEARN TO LET GO
It’s inevitable that Pendo will one day, and probably soon, step onto a plane and leave for Europe to attend a music academy. “He’s ready,” says Kutlwano. “He already knows everything he needs to know to thrive out there.”
“I’VE TOLD HIM AND HIS BROTHER THAT THE FIRST AND LAST THING YOU MUST DO EVERY DAY IS LOVE IT, YOUR MUSIC OR YOUR SPORT. LOVE THIS THING.”
But it’s still difficult for his father to let go. Like any parent, he still wants one more year, one more month, one more week, a day, a minute – to instil those values, to strengthen that bond, to send a son out there who embodies everything that his family stands for.
“He’s destined for the global stage,” he says. “I look back at myself playing cello, and how late I started, and Pendo is on a different level. He is so far ahead of where I was.”
It’s partly because the money is there, and that the country’s laws have changed and that a world of possibilities has opened up for the young violinist, that his parents don’t have to break their backs to keep their children clothed and fed. But it’s also because his child has something special.
“I’ve told him and his brother that the first and last thing you must do every day is love it, your music or your sport. Love this thing. It’s what you must always do.”
For both his sons, Kutlwano’s principles remain the same. He wants to instil in them the same ethics ingrained in him, and remind them always that hard work is mandatory, not just an afterthought; that they should exude gentlemanly behaviour and take pride in every aspect of their careers.
Knowing that those principles will stick with his children, regardless of the challenges they face, makes it easier for Kutlwano to let go. “I remember the first time I put him down to try and crawl, and I took a mental note that from this moment on, this person is going to need me less and less.”