Shaken Foundations and the Challenge of Single Parenting


As we parted ways, the Old Man (my boss) told me that I “should not beat up the children. When they are wrong, you can make an angry face, but no beating. Once in a while, you may raise your voice.” I nodded in agreement but still asked to reply. I confessed to him that some of his advice had been overtaken by events.

For example, I grew up when parents (and schools) fully subscribed to the “spare the rod and spoil the child” mindset. I had already made use of the same prescription in my parenting.

Consider this advice: Parents, teach your children that knowing when a job should be started is just about as important as knowing when it should be completed. A child’s favorite response to a command is often I’ll do it in just a minute. Don’t buy it, or you’ll be paying forever. Teach your kids that now means now and finish means do not turn the TV back on until the job is done. This is an important truth because as one leader said, when you do what you have to do, when you have to do it, then you get to do what you want to do, when you want to do it.

“Make an angry face”

I admit that I have never really been convinced of the benefits of corporal punishment. On the contrary, it leaves me conflicted. I often find myself trying to explain (and justify) my use of “the rod.” So, while having used corporal punishment on some occasions, I agreed with the Old Man’s doubts on the efficacy of spanking children. However, my other problem is that I do not know how to “make an angry face.” I believe if I should ever try it, my children would have a blast, and lambast my efforts at comedy! While I can raise my voice, I simply do not find it appealing. The Old Man listened; he still insisted on the “angry face, no beating!”

Parenting was sudden and unplanned

It was one more lesson in my difficult transition to single parenting. I call it difficult because it was sudden and unplanned. It was a gut-wrenching change that would leave me with many periods of mental and emotional anguish. I must, however, point out that referring to disciplinary matters in my opening sentences is not to suggest that I have a major problem. Rather, it is to stress the single father’s difficult and changed perspectives on providing guidance, emotional support and discipline in the family.

I lost my wife on the morning of September 11, 2006. She succumbed to pulmonary embolism. Her collapse at home, the Emergency Rooms tests confirming deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, her admission and treatment with heparin, and her eventual passing on are still the four most harrowing days in my life. Priscilla was a loving, sensitive and dependable wife. Like other young couples, we agreed that I would be the breadwinner while she concentrated on our young family. With stories of child abuse pervading and littering our communities, we thought it best that she would stay at home until the children reached a certain age of responsibility.

In the end, her unexpected loss left me with three children, aged 10, 8 and 5. After laying her to rest, family elders agreed that my wife’s young sister would help in looking after the children. She was a natural choice because she had been part of our family for seven years. She had come to Harare in order to re-attempt the Ordinary Level subjects she flunked. After that, and having successfully completed a secretarial course, it was felt that Harare still provided better chances of finding a job.

I simply broke down

Fadzayi graciously took up the challenge of caring for her niece and two nephews. After the month-long compassionate leave provided by my employer, I returned to work. I could not complete the day; I simply broke down. I was given another two weeks off. In that period, I would lock myself in my bedroom, and try to seek understanding of my situation, while confident in the knowledge that the children were in Fadzayi’s loving care.

At the time of my wife’s passing on, I worked in a sensitive government office. Because of this, Priscilla’s funeral wake had a ceremonial clout to it. I interacted with relatives, friends, and work colleagues who came to condole with my family in a programmed way. I could not spend as much time as I wished to with friends. My sleeping programme was monitored. On the night before my wife’s burial, I was given a tranquilizer because those tasked with my care did not want me to break down at the cemetery.

They came to extend their condolences but failed to do so

I felt the full weight of my changed and changing life after the “ceremonies.” I do not wish to criticize the arrangements that were kindly and thoughtfully provided for the family in that time of need. My concern is that while protocol sounds like a simple, helpful word, much like housekeeping matters, it may also easily affect established human traditions. I am still overcome by sadness when I meet people who say they came to extend their condolences but failed to do so. Fadzayi’s presence helped me to spend some time alone. But it would not last.

My wife’s parents divorced in 1986. Both re-married and had other children from their second marriages. Somewhere along the way, my late wife’s biological father asked why Fadzayi (step young-sister to my wife) should look after the children. He argued that he too had a 23-year old daughter who could look after the children just as well as Fadzayi. He turned down advice that introducing the children to someone they barely knew could negatively affect them. I was caught up in a world of (family / marriage) politics that I did not know about. While I was born and raised in Zimbabwe, I still do not fully understand all the traditional practices and beliefs.

It suddenly was a lonely world

When my father-in-law raised objections to Fadzayi’s stay with the children, I could not challenge his views. I had lost both my parents then. It suddenly was a lonely world. My sister-in-law, Fadzayi, was a Godsend. However, she feared the worst from the family politics. She understandably decided to leave us. I reported these developments to the od man and he flatly disagreed with my father-in-law’s argument. He emphasized that it was important to shield the children from needless trauma. Most importantly, the old man declined any suggestion that a nanny could look after the children. I was then forced to separate my two sisters; have one remain in Bulawayo while the younger one would move to Harare to help with the children.

My employer was kind enough to provide a car and driver for the children’s use. It is important to emphasize that I valued all the support structures which were availed to me because I still needed to come to terms with my loss. This was not easy as I still had to attend to the task of managing daily, weekly, monthly and annual schedules for my boss. I am taking time to break all this down in this (boring) manner because I later realized that I would have avoided some of my pitfalls and challenges if someone had talked to me about grief management.

No one did. After we laid Priscilla to rest, and certainly when people had returned to their homes, I felt the truth of the following words:

The most painful part was not in losing you, but learning to live without you.

Elsewhere, Anne Lammott says “time does not heal wounds. The wounds do not get better; they become different.”

This argument is fully examined by CS Lewis in his book, A Grief Observed. In the hard-hitting book, Lewis writes about the loss of his wife. Here are some of his observations:

The death of a beloved is an amputation

No one told me that grief felt so like fear. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. The death of a beloved is an amputation…the same leg is cut off time after time. An odd by-product of my loss is that I am aware of being an embarrassment to everyone I meet. At work, at the club, in the street, I see people as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll say something about it or not. I hate it if they do, and if they don’t.

I have been a single father for close to eleven years now. I failed to control my anguish, and paid heavily for not having grief counselling. By the time I finally consulted a specialist, I had suffered quite greatly. I had to accept medication as part of the recovery process. I can hear you asking; what about God?

What about God?

I had too many questions. I felt “robbed.” I was not listening. One pastor advises that “we should not waste our pain. Rather it should be used to reach others who may be hurting.” I hope I will find the grace to apply the lesson.

God remained faithful. He is faithful. I received an SMS shortly after news of my wife’s death was made public. It said: When you are ready to talk, let me know. I also lost my spouse unexpectedly.

It took some time to meet the person. We had both worked at the same corporation. As we talked over coffee, her heartfelt appeal was, “whatever you do, never lose sight of your children.”

That appeal, prayer and 2 Corinthians 4: 16 – 18 (The Message) keep me standing; and pick me up when I fall.

So we are not giving up. How could we? Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see will last forever


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