My father called me a few days ago. When I put down the phone I felt yet again the resentment, sadness and frustration which so often marks our conversations.
It’s as though there is a constraint between my father and myself, something which prevents me from relaxing and simply being myself when I speak to him. I feel awkward, I feel he is gauche, and in the end we aren’t ourselves, we don’t manage to bridge the gap.
I talk reluctantly, I pepper my sentences with reassuring words. From “I’m very well” to “don’t worry”.
I have the feeling that our relationship is a big failure. Catastrophic even. Because we do love each other but can’t manage to express it naturally.
My father and I, we don’t hug each other, we don’t kiss, we keep our distance. We will always treat each other like respectful strangers. All the same we laugh together, we speak. But not really about himself, nor about myself. Or very little. We reveal very little to each other…
He told me once that I was like him, that, like he, I don’t express my feelings much. It’s true, I know that well, but I can never change this state of affairs with him.
Besides, it probably won’t happen, it won’t ever happen. I believe it’s too late.
These stiff and awkward encounters, they are those of a general and a soldier, who, when there isn’t a war, are embarrassed and simply don’t know how to speak to each other.
My combativeness, my values, I got those from my father. All my childhood was nurtured by his disgusted speeches about the place given to woman in Senegalese society, by the scorn he felt for those who don’t try, to those who don’t fight, for those who let themselves be victims. And also by the necessity for truth, justice and honesty above all, by the contempt for all cheating or all lying, which he professed non-stop.
My father wanted us to study well, my sister and me. He wanted us to be independent, self-sufficient. He kept us well away from the male chauvinist Senegalese circles. He repeatedly told us we could do as well as men. He wanted us to become strong women, proud women.
And why wasn’t he able to prevent our circumcision? Did he want to arm us so that we could defend ourselves the next time we were confronted by a threat, of whatever sort.
Basically did our circumcision have an influence on the way he educated us?
I don’t know, but I am certain that without him I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Without him, I wouldn’t have read, observed, listened, thought, and considered the world the way I do today, totally free.
Without him, I wouldn't have aspired to excellence, the only possibility of claiming respect legitimately. Without him, I wouldn't have set the bar so high, I wouldn't have been so demanding of myself. Without him, I wouldn’t have choked back my tears, I wouldn’t have gritted my teeth. Without him, I wouldn’t have built my armour. Without him I wouldn’t have become a warrior.
I am sure that, had I not doubted his love for me so much all these years, if I hadn’t so violently wanted him to love me, I wouldn’t have been able to keep to the road that I am following so far. I wouldn’t have become a soldier of whom he could be proud.
Today I feel a mixture of gratitude and resentment for what was imposed on me out of love for him.
I realise little by little the price I have paid. I realise that I have sacrificed intimacy, confidence, simple love. I have hidden my vulnerability from him for so long that I can’t reverse it.
I believe I have spent too long in my armour. It has rusted. And now, in front of my father all I can do is a military salute …
[Original in French]