From baba to daddy; the epic transformation of our time

Luke Tamborinyoka, a citizen from Domboshava, is an award-winning journalist and ardent scholar of political science.

SUNDAY was Fathers’ Day. In our days, the father in the home was called baba/ubaba. Today, the children call him daddy. They also call me daddy in my own home but I grew up in the era when the father was baba, a powerful, God-like figure who strode the homestead like a Colossus and bellowed out instructions in the home like an oracle.

In our days, baba/ubaba was an institution, a mighty institution for that matter. There has been a serious transformation and today in most homes, there is this powerless, highly accessible and affable creature they call daddy who the children find not so terrifying, probably an unfortunate creature the children can even take to court for child abuse if he as much as pokes them on the back for not doing their homework.

But first, maybe a bit of background is important.

Founded in Washington, US, by Sonora Smart Dodd the first Father’s Day celebration was held on June 19, 1910. Sonora’s father, civil war veteran William Jackson Smart, a single parent, had single-handedly raised his six children. Sonora thought her father needed to be celebrated, giving birth to what was to become a global celebration.

Father’s Day is a day that celebrates fatherhood, paternal bond and the influence of fathers in society.

In Africa, Father’s Day is rooted in the culture of the Bantu people. By culture and tradition, Bantu Africans hold in high esteem and great respect the father figure who is regarded as the head of the family and has final say on all matters in his household.

I wish to state from the outset that there is a difference between a man and a father. A man is a condition, a biologically sexual condition while a father is a far much higher cardinal that denotes honour and responsibility. There are many men out there but very few fathers.

Today we are celebrating fathers, not men.

Dear reader, I take the opportunity on this year’s Father’s Day to look at how the father in the home has transformed over time. The transition from baba to daddy has not just been a change of labels or nomenclature.

It has also meant a change of habits, traits and behaviour as baba and daddy appear to be worlds apart in every respect. Time and the law have conspired to erode the father’s once mighty powers that he had in the olden times, powers that others may justifiably deem to have been too excessive and too authoritarian.

There is probably no proper distinction as the modern father may exhibit the characteristics of both baba and daddy depending on what is convenient for him at any given time.

But for purposes of this article, I have decided to separate the two just to provoke discussion and debate. And I will leave it to the reader to make their own judgment on which one between the era of baba/ubaba or the era of daddy was a better generation for society and the children.

Baba was fearful while daddy is generally affable and not a figure to be afraid of. Or was the father just stern? In our days,” baba vauya” (father has just arrived) was often a phrase that would leave everyone from the mother to the children scampering for cover.

In the round, grass-thatched kitchen hut in the rural areas, everyone would troop out to go and sleep upon the drunken father, usually singing, announcing his entry into the compound.

Oliver Mtukudzi’s epic song, Tozeza baba is probably an apt summation of the eerie atmosphere that crept into the home compound when baba’s arrival was imminent.

But baba was not always a beast that would send everyone scurrying for cover. Sometimes he would bring sweets and goodies and would be in a good mood. You just didn’t know which of his many characters would pitch up on any given day!

But daddy, the modern father, appears to be a charming man from whom both the mother and the children can make all sorts of demands.

In our era, most of the time you petitioned and spoke to the father through the mother. Nowadays, a child can even say daddy zvamuri kuita zvakadhakwa (dad, you are being silly). And the father can just smile and not take offence at the snide remark.

Daddy can be free to discuss with his own daughters their boyfriends and courtship matters, taking over what used to be the role of the aunt (tete) during the baba era.

Some, and not all, of these modern fathers are now taking advantage of these loose systems and lack of durawalls across relationships to sexually abuse their own daughters, even as they claim that baba was too aloof. Indeed, cases of fathers abusing their own children, a rarity in the era of baba, are now rife in courts.

In the olden days, baba was the only figure with a pair of trousers while mummy was always conspicuous in her long skirt. In the morning with her wrap-over, she would sweep the yard. But the mother is now trousered and goes to work.

In our days, the only professions for women were teaching and nursing and it was the nurses you would find dressed in their crisp-white or blue long pants, like men.

Baba was austere, maybe stingy is apt, while daddy’s children like him because he is generally generous with money and trinkets, at least when it suits him.

Baba instilled discipline and would beat us up when we misbehaved while daddy, the concept and the person, has been seriously curtailed by both the passage of time and the law, the latter of which could result in him being locked up for beating up his own child.

Baba was firm while daddy may have trouble in putting order in his own home as relations have become generally loose while hierarchy in the modern family has been knocked down by the notion of equal rights.

Baba was the ultimate authority in the home whereas today, power in the household is shared between the father, the mother and social media. Yes, social media has become a deity of sorts in certain homes.

Baba, with his straw hat and bell-bottom, was a figure of authority who often sat in the same chair while daddy, particularly young fathers born in the late 80s and 90s, is all over the show; a powerless creature spoting a pair of torn jeans and a trimmed box-cut, like a teenager.

Daddy can even be locked out if he comes home late while Shewe (My Lord), as baba was known then, would never be asked about his whereabouts even if he pitches home after a week.

Indeed, fatherhood has undergone massive transformation in our society. Baba was an authority while daddy has become a hapless figure to be pitied.

The notion and reality of the mother too has changed. The mother has evolved from amai with her trademark doek or traditional head-cover, to mummy, the modern, trousered woman who can do anything and everything that only men would do yesteryear, such as mining and driving cross-border haulage trucks.

Whereas amai was generally a conservative creature who liked their faces and appearances as God created them, the modern mother has become viciously angry about the way she was created.

She has raised the middle finger to the Almighty by blasphemously seeking to recreate herself—in her own image.

The modern mother, mummy, is so highly manicured and pedicured in a manner that one could conclude to be a huge statement of disdain to the Creator himself that He did a shoddy job in the way He created them.

Yes, mummy is that modern woman, the daughter-in-law who can even give her father-in-law a hearty hug. But that is a story for another day. For the story of the epic transformation from amai to mummy is probably a story that I could share on the next Mothers’ Day.

But the beauty parlour is no longer the preserve of women, today both daddy (who could be wearing earrings as well) and mummy could both go there to have their hair tinted and their nails and toes done.

Coming from the same salon or beauty parlour and sporting the same “carrot” hairstyle, mummy and daddy in some homes have struck an astounding similarity.

There may be little wonder therefore that daddy has lost his power and authority at home because physically and conceptually, the man and his wife are the same!

Daddy takes his children for holidays, a task which baba never did. I am still unsure whether I am a baba or a daddy but I took my family to their first vacation to Mwanga Lodges along the Shamva Road some 14 years ago and we enjoyed elephant-riding and other games. But back in the day, the average baba would take you hunting or ploughing the fields.

We grew up well after the era of dare, the outside fireside lounge that was strictly for men and the best my own father did was tell us folklores and fascinating stories from his past. The only “holiday” or vacation I ever knew was to go to my mother’s area of Makumbe village, by foot, in the same Domboshava area.

Here, we enjoyed ourselves as we were the son-in-laws’ children. Vana vevakwasha . No hustles. We received preferential treatment as the daughters’ children. My mother had a sister, auntie Sophia and the two had eight brothers. So the daughters’ children were special as they were only two of them in my mother’s family.

It was at Makumbe where we would see movies, what we then called ” mafirimu ” (films) at what was called the sanatorium, a TB complex at Makumbe hospital where patients could be detained for years as they recuperated.

We would leave the village every Friday night to join the inmates in their entertainment session. Because of their long stay in hospital, some of the TB patients were now tilling gardens in the nearby villages and would “escape” from their confinement for the traditional beer drinks in the village.

TB patients stayed for long and the government hospital, when we still had a government in this country, every Friday would show movies to these patients. Those from the village were allowed to come and watch.

The movies man, Mr David Tepa, baba vaEsther, would use a projector to show movies on an erected canvas. It was there at Makumbe hospital in the 1980s, that I first watched Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan when baba sent us on vacation to my mother’s village.

In the olden days the father, baba, had authority and was respected. It was unheard of to shout out your father’s name (or even your mother’s). You even pretended you didn’t know it. Daddy is less fearful and some children can even shout out daddy’s name on his birthday. ” Happy birthday Goddy , happy birthday to you ” has been heard as children sing the birthday chorus for their dads. I didn’t even know my father’s birthday. I only knew it far much later, in 1987 as a form one kid when by “mistake” I curiously peered on his national identity card.

In our days, in the days of baba , we pretended we didn’t know our father’s first names, let alone our mother’s names. Even when writing a composition titled ” My father ” you pretended you didn’t know his first name, as I did as a grade five pupil under madam Nyamayaro at Tsatse Primary school in 1984.

I simply wrote that my father was Mr Gombera. I was fearful of writing his first name, or even divulging that I knew it. It had to take a lot of coaxing from madam Nyamayaro who said I had to be very specific since there were many Mr Gomberas, including my uncle who taught at the school. It was then that I grudgingly inserted my father’s first name, Ernest, in the essay.

Baba would beat you up, as my late uncle Elisha would do to my cousins. If they did any mischief, he would order them: “Kwira mugomo” (Climb the mountain).

For my uncle, kwira mugomo was his own figurative expression which meant touching the floor with your hands with your heels on the wall while he lashed your back hard to his satisfaction.

He could take long minutes executing his whiplash assignment. That was baba for you. And indeed, my brothers grew up a disciplined lot. . Today, I presume my uncle would have been arrested for child abuse. Some. neighbour could even have phoned the police.But we were all game with it during our time.

Today, daddy rarely beats up his children, whatever their transgression. For today’s father stands mellowed by the conspiracy of the law and the passage of time.

Some girl children, after spending the night out with their boyfriends, can even afford arriving home the following day mid-morning around 11am. And upon being asked if they are not afraid of their father’s wrath, they can have the temerity to say: “Don’t worry, daddy muface wangu” (daddy is my friend).

So daddy is very accessible and no longer fearful at all while baba was an oracle, a spirit to whom the children often spoke through a medium called amai.

Daddy is a friend while baba was a God to be both feared and loved. Baba could not easily be spoken to while today, one can tease daddy or even call him by his first name.

One dictum that has been widely shared on social media aptly characterizes the era of baba . It is true that if you were beaten and you didn’t cry, baba would beat you for not crying. If he beat you and you cried, baba would beat you up and ask why you are crying. It was a no-win situation.

I am not sure in my own home whether by habit, I am a daddy , a baba or a conflation of both. I have four brilliant children, two lovely daughters and two heart-warming sons. They all call me daddy. But I have noticed that my daughters feel far much more closer to me than my sons, who appear a little more aloof, if not fearful of me.

The elder of my sons, Lee-Roy, often addresses me by totem. He calls me “Mhofu” and generally appears more cautious, more reticent than the girls. I am not sure if his reticence towards me is because of any crime of omission or commission on my part, real or perceived!

So I am not sure whether to my sons I exhibit the traits of baba while the daddy side of me is more visible to my daughters. Am I both? Or maybe I am a prime example of the tension inside all the fathers of my generation because the transition from baba to daddy has happened in our time. It may not be surprising that we exhibit elements of both worlds.

Sometimes when I look at my sons dancing; when I reflect on their “dropped” jeans, fancy hairstyles and the “weird” music they listen to, I have often wondered what “fathers” our generation will leave behind as the male authorities in our homes and villages.

Will they carry our legacies or we have to accept that times have changed and a new generation is emerging that will create and leave behind its own legacies, far removed from what we grew up knowing a father to be like.

Indeed, times have changed. Lobola ceremonies are being held online, family WhatsApp chat groups have created digital families while video conferences have been a revolution in some families.

The babas of old have failed to adapt to this massive transformation to which a daddy, the modern father, may be more amenable. Save for the fact that as a nation, we have not really embraced the internet and technology so as to accept that they have become a basic commodity in our society in the wake of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

So on this Father’s Day , I have been reflecting on the two epochs and the two generations, the baba and the daddy eras. The baba era is long gone, that period that was characterized by authority, autocracy and discipline while the daddy era is a charming era of laughter and probably lack of hierarchy, indiscipline and chaos in the home. Both have their own lighter and darker sides. I leave the readers to make their own conclusions on which one they deem better between the baba and the daddy eras.

Finally, on a slightly different note, I am of the Mhofu totem and my sisters, aunts and daughters, ana Chihera, have their own reputation in Zimbabwe. I am not sure whether that reputation is real or a myth.

But today, I deliberately choose to go by the myth to say “Happy Father’s Day” to all the Chiheras. I know you are firmly in charge in those affairs and marriages.

Yet let us all remember on this Father’s Day; that ultimately there is only one Father, the Almighty God in Heaven. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory. Amen.

  •  Luke Tamborinyoka, a citizen from Domboshava, is an award-winning journalist and ardent scholar of political science. He is also a change champion in the Citizens Coalition for Change ( CCC ). You can interact with him on his facebook page or via the twitter handle @ luke_tambo.

Related Topics