First things first, every elder was a parent so you were expected to tolerate lectures on how to live your life without question. Dare have an opinion and the story of how rude you are would spread throughout the community, other families would warn their children to avoid you, the petulant ingrate but that was not even your biggest worry.
You were mainly concerned about embarrassing your mother who always gave you specific instructions not to embarrass her when you went out. What you wore, what you said, whether you greeted people, how you laughed in the street and probably how you breathed was of interest to your mother.
It is necessary at this point to just point out that laughing too loudly, laughing too often and laughing when no one else found what you laughed at funny reflected character especially for girls. The bad reports of how she laughed like a prostitute in the streets would get to her parents. When any report of bad behaviour got to your home, your father would disown you and suddenly you were a miracle child born of immaculate conception. You became your mother’s child alone!
The need to prove how great at parenting African parents were would often make its way to your school. They would come and tell your teachers to beat you up until you behaved. In addition, they promised to also beat you up at home for bad behaviour at school: a double jeopardy. Teachers often exploited this need to prove parenting prowess during Consultation days at school when they would suddenly start bringing up things you did at the beginning of the term. I mean, lost pens and pencils would earn you a good beating, what more reports of misconduct?
Education was right up there with religion and you could not afford to have anything but good news from church and school. In church, parents got to sit and hope the pastors preach about stubbornness, bad-manners and laziness. They would always spot you and give you the “You hear that? You are going to hell look.” Every kid got the hell threats at a tender age. If one was to pick between getting a beating and hell, the beating sounded like a huge favour especially with the stories of how the fire in hell could burn you so bad that you would change to different disgusting animals in pain. Welts over changing to a chameleon any day please!
Your parents had everchanging moods and jokes were not to be lightly shared with them without first rigorously processing them to remove hints of obscenity. Make the mistake of sharing a bad joke and the story of how wicked you have become would be a prayer point at the next ladies meeting at church. Moods were everything. If your parents were in a good mood, you had to quickly come up with those requests you had kept shelved up for a day like this.
Nights out were to be requested on days when your people were happy but even then, you never got a straight answer. The confirmation would come after much deliberation in the out of bounds bedroom. They would reluctantly agree if you claimed that wonderful friend of yours they trusted more than you would be there. They would also claim they planted spies to watch you the whole time and they would hear about the slightest misstep.
Interestingly though, almost all African parents tried to avoid sex and relationships though all their machinations were meant to prevent you from having either. Sex was taboo. Dating was taboo until a certain age which was never clear but something along the lines of the “When you stay under your own roof” age. Elders would gang up on those indulging and it did not matter who had caught you but that person had a right to beat you into repentance. There was no “talk” or lecture about the inner workings of sex but instead, you had to figure it out on your own. Little books on puberty and sex would be left in convenient places to make sure you saw and read them. Another tactic was to use the examples of those caught in the act and make bold declarations like, “If I were the parent, I would murder both of them.”
Yes father, we get the message loud and clear: No sex until we are thirty-five!
Growing up in an African home is an experience that cannot be traded for anything. Discipline was obviously a major point with almost anything that can cause momentary pain usable to get you back in line. I have friends who dodged pots thrown at them and others who ran off for a night from a hard beating only to come back tomorrow with double the problems. While onlookers would think African parenting is terrible and abusive, we are grateful for the discipline; it made us the responsible men and women we are now. Respect for authority, self-control and responsibility were inculcated in us from tender ages.
Help us celebrate our African parents by sharing your funny childhood memories which we know you are not short of.