Father was the Family Supreme Court

By Gregory Gondwe

It is strange to imagine that my father has over the years turned from a very strict disciplinarian to a very good friend and influential mentor.

I intend to equate how I view the kind of parenting that I underwent to the judicial system.

This is because in the course of growing up, my siblings and I committed lot of offences within the household, which necessitated that we be taken to book within the house.

So, my family was its own judicature because this is how I reminiscent how my father and mother raised the seven of us; four sons, three daughters as well as our cousins, numerous aunts and uncles who we rightly regard as our sisters and brothers or ‘young fathers’ or ‘young mothers’ in respect to our extended family tradition.

The justice system was funny. I remember that when we were below the age of 12 our father never used to chastise us much every time we went off the mark.

Our mother was the one who used to act like a juvenile court where she could whip the senses back into us every time she judged that we had lost some of it.

Without sounding cynical on the abilities of women, I discovered a shift of ‘judicial authority’ in the house the time we had hit adolescence.

This was mainly because we could stand shoulder to shoulder with our mum by sometimes holding on to the cane she intended to use on us, thus disabling her administration of justice.

Because of the defiance, our case shifted to a higher court-, no offence intended to my lovely mum.

From their on, there was something which we dreadfully resented; we used to call it ‘rubber’. It was fulfilling the Biblical warning ‘Spare the cane spoil the child’.

Our father used to whip us with this ‘rubber’, which was a special coiling cord, which had no any other purpose in the house apart from that.

The offences that could make one face this rubber included absconding from classes, petty thieving like helping ourselves to a pot of relish, using abusive words, which we had newly acquired from peers, refusing to perform chores like farming, cooking and drawing water. Sometimes a brother or sister could seek redress when wronged by a family member.

The law in the house was that there was no boy or girl and therefore the chores were supposed to be performed equally.

We used to travel long distances sometimes to draw water, which together with the sisters we could balance pails full of water on our heads on our way home. There was also rote timetable, which used to say whose turn it was to wash the dishes.


The time for administering justice was the same; when it was bedtime. Our father could summon whoever had committed the offence that particular day and first ask why she or he had decided to disobey the law of the house.

“I hear this is the second day that you have not been going to school, why are you doing this?” that would be the entry question.

We rarely answered defensively as the ‘rubber’ would be placed in front of you and therefore reduce any skills to defend yourself beyond reasonable doubt.

If the answers were unconvincing then father would tell you that he was going to whip you for a specified number of times so that the pain should remain a constant reminder of what to expect next time an inkling to abscond classes offers it self again.

This kind of justice nurtured into something else when we had reached a secondary going age.

There was no longer corporal punishment; our father now started using the power of words to guide us to become responsible children. Whatever offence one could commit there could be a face-to-face meeting with him.

At such meetings, father and child would reason together and establish a better way of how the mistake should be avoided next time. Sometimes during such meetings, our father would say ‘sorry’ if it were established that he was in the wrong. He still does this.

When I was in form three, I was involved in a misdemeanour that forced the school to expel me. Knowing how justice was being administered in our family, it was so hard heading home. However, I decided to take chances and went home hoping to face the music.

My father patiently listened to my lies on why I had been expelled and never said a word until a year later when I went back to him to ask if there was no longer education for me.

His response was that he was glad that the year that I had spent outside school, at home, had taught me something. “I hope when you go back to school you will realise why you are there, ” he had said and I still consider this as one of the most painful punishment ever meted out on me.

Looking at this judicial system where at one time we thought our father was a cruel supreme court, we appreciate that it shaped us into some responsible members of the family and the society.

There is no doubt that our father stamped his influence on all of us from tender age. One interesting aspect is that since his names are Vivian Remigious William Gondwe, which we fondly called ‘VRW’, he decided to name all of us by starting our names with the letter V.

The first-born was a set of twins he named Venetius and Vibian; both now deceased. He called the second set of twins Virginia and Vincent. Then I followed as Vitus-Gregory, then my young brother Valentine was followed by kid sister Victoria before our last-born Victor.

If he left no impression on us I don’t think any of us his sons would have continued what we now call the ‘Vs’ legacy where we have called our children names like Vita, Vinjeru, Vikilirani, Virginia, Viweme and Vinandi.