It wasn't that my father was a bad parent or didn't spend enough time teaching and showing me the ropes of becoming a man. It wasn't that his experience as a seventeen year old Allied troop fighting on the Italian front during the Second World War had left him an emotionally crippled and violent man. It wasn't that I had to bear witness as he beat my mother and my brothers for imagined treasons.
It was that I was never the son he could have had. I was the loner not looking to be part of his history or to carry his dreams of the future he wanted me to inherit, where ridicule of others was part of a process that would bring me closer to that which he so wanted me to identify with.
But this was my life, my time and at sixteen I planned to enjoy its intrinsic rejection of structure and society in general. How little I knew then that things in the future would change so violently for me, that society represented as governments had such absolute control over ones life and how the ludicrous wishes of any government could by decree shape the future of its youth, changing what once was bright and seemingly infinite into a shocking and dark crimson pit.
"Walalapo Tate", Jack greeted me and as is the tradition of the Ndongwa's I acknowledged his greeting with the prerequisite, "Eh he".
"Nawatoo", Jack continued
"Eh he", I replied, and then of course the whole greeting would be repeated but this time as is the custom it would start with me, "Walalapo Jack" and so we whispered our greetings, like two old warriors who had not seen each other for a very long time. We had of course seen each other every day for almost eighteen months but these were the end of days and we had learnt to treasure them as one never knew if you would survive till the next greeting.
It was a special moment, where those who had survived yesterday's battles were shown respect for persevering, for being a brother, for ensuring through your perseverance and presence that you had increased the lifespan of your comrades. And the greeting set the promise and bond between these men for the day at hand.
Death meant a weakness, a weakness of the unit, a diminishing of the life force and therefore death was not revered and respected, it was ridiculed as ones death whilst in the field, put the lives of your comrades at risk. Later at base or once back on the chopper you could then start to consider losses, right now at that time we were considering how to stay a live.
My face was burnt and some of my uniform had been ripped off by the double cheese mine our vehicle had hit, throwing our armoured personnel carrier through the air like a pregnant cockroach.
The flash guard of my rifle barrel had as a result of the explosion dislodged from its housing in front of me and smashed into my jaw, which in turn had snapped shut like a guillotine on my tongue and now it hung by a thread from my blood filled mouth.
I looked across from where I was seated and realised that the vehicle had come to rest on its side. The diesel fuel tank had caught alight and there was smoke and dust everywhere. All my troops looked okay, except for Jack who had a look of terror on his face which I put down to shock from the force of the explosion. It was only as I turned my attention from his face, down to his torso that it dawned on me that his legs where missing. Where his knees, calves and feet should have been were just two bloody stumps dangling with meat splintered bone and sinew, spurting and pumping blood from a heart that in its ridiculously desperate attempt to get blood to his missing limbs was killing him.
I unbuckled my G- belt and headed as fast as I was able to Jack's aid. I created a tourniquet and amidst Jack's screaming and thrashing we managed to hold him down and stem the loss of blood. Jack looked at me and was just shaking his head in silent disbelief his mouth shaped and torn as it mirrored the horror that resided in his mind, the horror of what he now knew to be his new form. He looked to me, the one that should tell him everything was going to be okay, but I wasn't his father, I was just a comrade, just someone who at that time would have gladly swapped places with him just to get some rest from it all, just so that I could finally sleep.
I had to get some morphine into him, I had to stop the shock other wise he would die. I screamed and gurgled from my blood filled mouth at the Medic for the morphine and he replied nonchalantly that we had none. What did he mean that we had none, how did he know with out checking the kit, we always carried morphine? I looked at him and I could see his guilt, see his shame. He starred at me, shook his head and said "sorry". With hatred in my eyes it hit me that Mr. Cool our medic was a drug addict and had used the morphine to dull the shock of his own daily reality. What the fuck we were all dead anyway, it was just a matter of time till the body admitted it and released what was left of our spirits and who could blame the Medic, life was a daily nightmare for an eighteen year old.
A weeks later I attended Jack's funeral, a twenty two year old Owambo man, who having being born at the wrong time, in the wrong place meant he was now lost to the world. He would never live his dreams of getting sweaty for the first time with his Frieda in the local village, where he had spent most of his life.
His father looked at me accusingly and before he could utter a word I held up my hand and said to him through my stitched tongue and bandaged face that the price of our father's dreams was our generation's death. The word stopped him in his tracks and I watched as his shoulders slumped. His eyes reflected his guilt and loss and he replied that the cost was too high for him, even to high for freedom and I replied that I had buried a thousand young enemies and sixteen of my young comrades and I wasn't the father of any of them, I was just a bad brother and a worse enemy.
I looked at him and shook my head and he asked why I shook my head and I replied that I thought that if he wanted his freedom and my father wanted his submission why didn't they fight, why were we here, why were so many young men dead for the dreams of the old fools.
He looked at me and told me I was a good man.
So here in the middle of a war zone, Jacks father told me the words my father never did, that I was a good man. That he was proud of me and that his son loved me like a brother and therefore he loved me like his son.
I wonder if my children one day will write that I was not a bad parent, that I never beat them, or their mother, always put their needs first, even though I was an emotionally crippled and depressed man.
In the background Ken and the Heep, tell me that Jack and I are not alone as he belts out, "Circle of Hands, cold spirit plan, searching my land for an enemy....."