The sun was setting across the horizon of the 1970s African sky. In the coolness that followed the scorching heat of the mid-afternoon, children gathered on the quiet street in front of a large block of single room apartments in the Ash Town neighborhood. This area of the city has several of such buildings serving as rented apartments for the mainly working class families that live here. The landlords who owned these buildings each provided accommodation for roughly twenty households. Asokwa is one of such landlords. In his early seventies at this time, his children were middle aged and no longer lived in the neighborhood. He was a difficult man and not particularly liked by his tenants. His children, when they used to live in the neighborhood were not favorites either.
In my childhood, I lived with my family in the Asokwa house. We would play soccer on the pavement in front of the house, something which Asokwa frowned upon. Not infrequently, we would be chased from this 'soccer pitch’ when he approached with a cane in hand. Playing on the street in front of the house kept the notorious landlord off our backs, the drawback being that the game would be interrupted by the occasional passing vehicle.
Soccer on the street was an exciting event and this evening was no different. But as we played this particular evening, we could see the silhouette of a man against the backdrop of the setting sun approaching the house from the street corner. As he drew closer, we could tell who it was: K-Duro as we called him, Asokwa's last born son. We remembered him when he used to live in the house, a young man, grumpy most of the time who seemed to think life ought to treat him better. He did not get on too well with his father either and had left the house in anger one afternoon following a messy confrontation with him. This was not the first time he was returning after that unpleasant departure, seemingly to visit family. This time however, he had a mean look on his face as he glanced up the third floor balcony where his father usually sat at sunset with a clear view of the pavement and street below.
He disappeared into the main house as we continued our soccer game on the street. Not long afterward, we could hear father and son arguing at the top of their voices. The commotion that accompanied the argument caused a virtual standstill and soon people gathered on the pavement in front of the house where the noise was loudest. Suddenly, to everyone's horror K-Duro emerged from the inner rooms onto the balcony in a tussle and tangle with his father, the son making every effort to shove the older man over the balustrade. Bad as this was, the real crisis point came when K-Duro managed to hoist his father onto the balustrade, the older man clutching at him with all four limbs for fear of tumbling down onto the pavement below. We all held our breath at the bewildering spectacle: we were about to witness a son murder his own father in living color. But for the quick thinking and timely intervention of some men inside the house who were responding to the unusual commotion and noise emanating from the landlord’s room, the story would have made headlines the following day.
It’s been more than three decades since this event, yet even today I get goose bumps just thinking about it. We never really got to the bottom of what the disagreement was about. But as you would expect, the old man was never the same again; he was really shaken and thoroughly shamed. In his anger, many foul words were uttered to describe the son, who we never saw again. We heard later that he died violently in a foreign land a few years after this incident.
As we celebrate fathers’ day, I imagine that most of us will remember the commandment that says ‘Honor your father and mother that it may be well with you…’. What the commandment does not say but is probably implied is that if you choose not to honor your father, at the very least do not dishonor him. I have often wondered why the commandment did not go something like ‘Honor your good father…’ But clearly, there must be important benefits to derive from simply honoring your father regardless of his approval rating. I suspect the benefits of doing so are both natural and spiritual. But though it cost you all you have, do not dishonor your father.
As I have grown, I have come to realize many others who have infamously disregarded this intuitive commandment, to their regret.
God himself asked his priests:
"A son honors his father, and a servant his master.
If then I am your Father, where is My honor?
And if I am your Master, where is My reverence?
“You offer defiled food on My altar,
… when you offer blind animals as a sacrifice,
… animals that are lame and sick,
Is it not evil?
Offer it then to your governor!
Would he be pleased with you?
Would he accept you favorably?
You also say,
‘Oh, what a weariness!’
And you sneer at it,”
“And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick;
Thus you bring an offering!
Should I accept this from your hand?”
Says the Lord.” Malachi 1:6-8, 13.
Or consider Reuben, Jacob’s first son, who went in and slept with his father’s concubine. Arguably, this was not out of lust, as one could clearly see the woman must have been some 15-20 years older than him. Some believe, and I’m inclined to agree, that he did this in anger and out of spite against his father for preferring Joseph, the last born, to him who held the rights of the firstborn. This conclusion is easy to make when you read the account of Jacob’s line up of his family (in Gen 33:1,2) to meet the combatant Esau he had outmaneuvered in his youth. At the time of the incident, Jacob made no comment but finally, on his deathbed and Jacob’s pronouncements made it clear the firstborn had sold his birthright in his anger! (Gen 49: 3,4; 1 Chr 5:1) For this is how the Chronicler recorded the event: "Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel—he was indeed the firstborn, but because he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel, so that the genealogy is not listed according to the birthright.” 1Chr 5:1
Along similar lines we remember the example of Absalom who decided to make himself a stench in his father’s nostrils by lining up his ten concubines and sleeping with them in the full view of all Israel (2Sam 16:21,22); what dishonor! It’s as though he declared an eternal war on his father, a war which was not winnable.
There are others who dishonored their fathers in other ways and paid the consequences: Noah’s youngest son Ham discovered his father drunk and naked in his tent and went broadcasting the headline news to his brothers without. When Noah awoke and found out what Ham had done, he promptly cursed Ham’s youngest son, Canaan, whose descendants became subjugated as a result; Simeon and Levi took no regard for their father's predicament when in anger, they attacked and annihilated a whole tribe whose prince had defiled their sister, forcing their father to pack bag and baggage and flee the region for fear of reprisals from stronger neighbors. They were bypassed on the day of blessing and the scepter went to Judah instead (Gen 49:5-7); Esau who knew his father’s contempt for Canaanite women but went ahead and married them anyway incurring his father displeasure; Hophni and Phinehas priestly sons of Eli who showed no regard for their father’s hard-earned reputation when he complained about their bad behavior and immorality as priests of the Lord. They ended up dying for their corrupt ways, ending a whole family line’s blessing.
So here are the takeaways:
Frank is a cardiothoracic surgeon practicing in Ghana. His work involves mainly pediatric cardiac surgery. Apart from children's health, he's also passionate about lifestyle modifications to promote health.