Sunday Times

Parenting the 70-something sparring twins


My father passed away two weeks into April last year. This was two weeks after President Cyril Ramaphosa had imposed a nationwide lockdown in response to the Covid-19 epidemic. Flights were grounded, so the missus and I had to brave the six-hour drive to the Valley of a Thousand Hills for the burial. It was surreal. We were coming across other vehicles at a rate of one car every 15 minutes. We felt like Will Smith and his dog in the post-apocalypti­c movie I am

Legend. Me being the mutt, of course, in this analogy.

We were hardly a quarter of an hour into our eerily quiet journey when we were stopped at a roadblock. A beetroot-faced South African Police Service warrant officer yelled at me for sitting in the front passenger seat “in contravent­ion of the law” and instructed me to get in the back. As soon as they were out of sight, the missus stopped the car and I went back to the front passenger seat, muttering, “Uthi lesidomu siyazi nje ukuthi senzani ebusuku embhedeni?” (Does this moron know what we get up to in bed at night?)

After the missus regained her breath, we spent the next five hours deep in conversati­on about life in general, with my recently departed father featuring prominentl­y.

My father possessed a myriad qualities that made him always stand out in any crowd, including his flamboyant personalit­y and impeccable dress sense. But he was also an archetypic­al specimen of township men of his generation.

This meant he hardly spent any time at home. He was a gregarious social butterfly who attracted attention and forged friendship­s easily.

After his retirement from four decades of teaching, all of that changed almost overnight. All of a sudden, he seemed permanentl­y rooted at home. All the time.

This was the first time I witnessed my parents joined at the hip 24/7. And man, were they inseparabl­e! When people spotted one of them, they started looking around for the other one. I remember arriving with my mother at a function, circa 2015, and one of my aunts asking her, “Hawu, uphi uWeleh?” (Where is your twin?)

My bedroom at home used to be right next to theirs before my mother turned it into a shrine to Mary, the Virgin Mother of God. When I visited them for the weekend, I would be woken by noises at 2am — the two of them having a biscuit and tea party, skinnering and giggling , about me, in all likelihood.

The unintended consequenc­es of this, especially as they approached their septuagena­rian years, is that they very quickly regressed into perpetuall­y squabbling siblings. Oh, their feuds over the most inane of things were the stuff of legend.

Ordinarily, my father would refer to my mother as “Mamah” or “Icherry yami” (my girlfriend) when he was in a good mood. However, when there was trouble in paradise, I would receive a phone call from him that typically started with, “WeNdumiso, awukhuze umawakho la.” (Ndumiso, you need to talk to your mother.)

As soon as she stopped being his girlfriend and became my mother, I knew there was a serpent in the Garden of Eden.

If you think that these were fundamenta­l disagreeme­nts, you have never parented two 70somethin­g-year-olds. More often than not, it would be some misunderst­anding about my mother waiting for him to pick her up from the KwikSpar on Old Main Road in Hillcrest while he waited impatientl­y for her outside Richdens Spar, 1km down the road. I would ask the stupid question, “OK, why didn’t you just call her and tell her where you’re waiting?” This would set him off on a delicious rant about how she never answers phone calls!

And he was right on this one. Once, while clearing her full voicemail box, I came across a 90second long tirade my father had inadverten­tly left after failing to reach her. He forgot to drop the call and left a voice message that started, “Hheyi, uyahlupha nangu umfazi!” (This wife of mine is a problem!)

This past Friday was a year since he’s been gone. My brother and I are at home to be with her. She misses her boyfriend and sparring partner badly. And she can’t wait to rejoin him so they can bicker about the fact that he’s wearing his sweatpants back-to-front yet again.

Man, were my parents inseparabl­e! When people spotted one of them, they started looking around for the other one


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