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

Men's Health (South Africa) - - HEALTH - BY KIERAN LEGG • PHO­TO­GRAPHS AUBREY JONSSON

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.

NUR­TURE AM­BI­TION

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.”

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