Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In memory of Kpakpo Mensah, my wife's father

Sad week in our house. On Monday morning we learned that my wife's father, Kpakpo Mensah, had died in Accra, Ghana. He was 78 and will be sorely missed.

I still have a lot to learn about him, but in a way that is a good thing. It doesnt mean I wasn't interested in him, it means he never presented himself as a problem. He was always highly positive and pleasant to me, and in our visits home to West Africa I was content to leave it at that.

By the time Kpakpo and I met one another, he was through with making whatever trouble he made for other people in his life, and I also was a reasonably settled and mature adult. Never did a son in law endure less macho guff from a father in law than I did with Kpakpo. He was pleased his daughter had found a husband, and he shared his pleasure freely with us.

There is a crosscultural pattern in play here that my wife explained to me. "In Africa, when you go to America and marry a white man they think you are a prostitute," Karley explained. "Unless you come home and marry in the traditional way. Then people accept you and your marriage."

I used to study and teach African material, and I remain a passionate amateur scholar and armchair cultural anthropologist in the field. So of course I was really eager to get married in the traditional way.

I enjoyed buying the gin for the old men and seeing the haggling that remains as a contemporary vestige of bride price. I loved being handed the beads from the village with the old juju spirits in them - as evidenced by the church ladies needing to pray the old spirits out of the beads!

I didn't know that my interest in and affection for tradition would make me and my marriage more accepted back home, but I wasn't surprised either to find that was the case. Since we got married on our first trip home, this eased the way with Kpakpo and me, and the way stayed easy.

I know a bit more about him, and will learn and share even more later, but for now I am just cherishing one of the relationships in my life, in our lives, that was never anything but positive and pleasant. In a life that is full of conflict and struggle, we never struggled. I loved Kpakpo. I will miss him terribly.

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