Lessons from Mandela: It is a far greater joy to be the father of a family than to father a nation
Amidst all the eulogies that have poured forth on Nelson Mandela, I’m not quick to forget that the best lessons in a man’s life are not usually in his strengths and triumphs but in his weaknesses and failures. For this reason, I’m studying his regrets as a deliberate attempt to manage my times better and drawing crucial life lessons from those who have gone ahead of me.
Mandela chose a noble path to follow but nonetheless it came at the expense of one of the greatest joys of human experience – the joy of a rich family life. In his book ‘A long Walk to Freedom’, He described how his first marriage to his first wife which was blessed with four children disintegrated and led to a total break up. He described further that the breakup of a marriage is traumatic especially for the children. “Our marriage was no exception and all of our children were wounded by the separation”, wrote Mandela. He described how Makato, gentle child, a natural peace maker tried to bring about some sort of reconciliation between him and his wife, the emotional reaction of his last child and how Thembi stop studying and became withdrawn and would frequently wear his clothes in reminiscence and longing for his father’s presence.
Mandela described a painful break up with his long term wife Winnie Mandela who stood by him in his years of incarceration, who at age 55 got involved in a relationship with a young lawyer, who already had a child with another woman. On April 13, 1992 announced in a press conference his separation from Winnie. In the book, he mentioned that he and his comrade Monzamo had contracted their marriage at a critical time in the struggle for the liberation of their people. He said “owing to the pressure of our shared commitment to the ANC struggle to end apartheid we were unable to enjoy a normal family life”.
He lamented how his role blinded him to fulfilling his responsibilities to his wife and children. He mentioned at his daughter Zindi’s wedding “It seems to be the destiny of freedom fighters to have unstable personal lives. When your life is in the struggle like mine was, there is little room left for family. This has always been my greatest regret and the most painful aspect of the choice I made. We watched our children grow without our guidance.”
He also mentioned his children saying after his release from prison, “We thought we had a father and one day he will come back. But to our dismay, our father came back and he left us alone because he has now become the father of the nation. To be the father of nation is a great honour but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a joy I had far little of.”
Mandela is a noble man in admitting his failures despite a saintly accord by the world. He communicated the truth that above all things, family is king. He refused to celebrate a lie, bringing home a lesson that no height of human achievement can make up for failure in the family. He knew this clear in his conscience and if he could live his life over again, he would do things differently.
To repeat his own words, “To be the father of nation is a great honour but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a joy I had far little of.”