My dad turned 60 today. Born in 1955 at a rural hospital in a small town called Gutu in Zimbabwe. A lot has happened in his life. My dad is not perfect, but he has taught me invaluable lessons about work, marriage, parenting, ambition, practical skills and life in general. Some of the lessons are things he said to me directly, and some are from observing how he lives. I have learned a lot more from him and seeing that he is turning 60 today I thought I’d share 60 things I have learned from him. So here it goes, in no particular order.
1. You can be anyone in life
My dad started out in the army in his early 20s, rose up the ranks to become Major Mutakwa, before retiring. He then joined the corporate world, specifically in asset management, again rising up the corporate ladder, before retiring. He left the corporate world to start his own business which he still operates today. Just from observing his career changes, I have learned that I can follow any career path in life without limiting myself to just one. In the course of my life, it will be possible for my expertise to span across multiple areas and so I should not limit myself.
2) Love, respect and work well with your spouse
My dad once joked with my brother when he said, “Boys if you bring a wife who is not better than your mother, then you have failed. I have done well, you need to do better than me.” My parents have been married for 27 years now. Marriage is not easy, they say, but my parents compliment each other well. What I have observed over the years is that my dad has great love and respect for my mom. That love and respect is something I cannot question. He also works very well with her. All the businesses my dad has started, he worked with my mom, each of them drawing from each other’s strengths. I know these are important attributes of any marriage, but just being able to see it first hand makes a difference. When I get married in the future, I will do the same.
3) Be on good terms with your spouse’s family
Most relationships with in-laws are difficult or ‘awkward’. My dad is on great terms with my mom’s side of the family. They respect him and enjoy his company. My dad has done so well in this regard sometimes I get confused on which side of the family some of our relatives come from. Again, when I get married in the future, I will do the same.
4) Enjoy life
My dad enjoys his life. Always happy, jovial and the joker in the family. I have learned from him that I must enjoy my life and this has worked well. I hardly ever find myself in a bad mood. The picture below is him at the age of 58 dancing at my graduation dinner celebrations in Cape Town. I think the picture says it all, I don’t need to say more.
5) Love and help your parents once you make it
After my dad joined the army and started making some money, he built a house for his mother and moved her to a better area. When he moved to the cities to work there, he constantly visited her on weekends and helped her with anything she needed. Parents make a lot of sacrifices for their children. Once the children become successful they should reciprocate this. I have made sure I am doing the same for my parents since I started working.
6) To help out family and friends
My dad trained some of my friends’ parents when he was in the army. He helped some of my cousins get their first jobs after they finished school. My dad has always been willing to help out his family and friends. Its a great attitude to have. It has started to pay off as some of these people have returned the favour later on in life. I believe most of our happiness is derived from helping others. I will always keep my eyes open for opportunities to help out family and friends.
7) To be ambitious, he joined the army at 25
My dad joined the army at a very young age. I don’t know if I could join an army right now. The discipline and training in the army is not easy. He could have opted for much easier jobs, but he went for the challenge and what he believed in. That for me is an example of some ambition. Anytime I doubt myself, or start to procrastinate on a project, I realise I need to be ambitious and go for it.
8) To drive
My 1st driving lessons came from my dad when I turned 16. We had an old Mazda pick up truck and he taught me all the fundamentals. By the time I went to a driving school instructor it was just a matter of revising and polishing up.
9) To change a tire
An important skill to have if you are ever stuck and you need to change your own car tire. I got to practice this enough times. Due to the nature of Zimbabwean roads between 2005 and 2008 we had quite a number of tire punctures on various trips. Again, my dad taught me the basics and made sure I could do it myself.
Growing up I knew I should not break the house rules. Like any kid, I knew what would be considered mischief and what was acceptable. My dad is not a strict dictator, however I knew what behaviour would get me into trouble with him and I made sure I avoided it as much as I could. Through this I believe my discipline was built.
11) To take care of pets
We had a lot of pets as we grew up. My dad got dogs, rabbits, hamsters, parrots, fish, ducks, guinea fowl, and a whole lot of others. Learning to take care of pets teaches you responsibility. You have to feed them at the right times and keep their environment clean. I have not had a pet myself since I started working but I am sure it will happen as soon as I have an environment that supports it.
12) Shield children from ‘noise’
I am still not sure whether this is a good or bad thing, however, I like to believe as kids my siblings and I did not turn out too bad. My dad shielded us from a lot of things that kids should not necessarily know about. So if there was some extended family or friends drama happening amongst the adults, as kids we were not involved. Those conversations happened behind closed doors. The way I see it, we were shielded to protect us, and as a kid there are just some things that will not make sense at that age in any case.
13) Take risks
In the year 2000, at the age of 45 and after working his way to senior management levels in the corporate world, my dad assessed the Zimbabwean economic situation and decided to leave his comfortable job and start his own business. It was a risk, losing all the corporate benefits, but in hindsight it played out well. That business he went on to start put me through high school and university. Meanwhile, quite a large number of corporate employees were retrenched as the Zimbabwean economy started to struggle post 2005. From all this I learned that in life you should just sometimes weigh out your options, take risks and see what happens.
“I am sending you to school to be an employer, not an employee.” Those are words I heard from my dad multiple times as I grew up. The underlying lesson from that statement is that you should be ambitious enough to take the lead and be a producer as opposed to just consuming what others have created for you.
15) Computer Science
The first computer I used was a 486 machine my dad brought home, and from there my journey to becoming a computer scientist began. My dad also signed me up for computer lessons in primary school, and I will forever be grateful for that. At the time those lessons were just for a select few, and not many kids my age were getting access to computers.
16) Make time for your children
My dad always took time out to ensure we were entertained as we grew up. He made an effort to attend all the important school events and support us. If I have kids one day I do not want to miss out on most of their life because I am busy with work, I will be there for all of the important moments. My dad set the benchmark, I will aim to surpass that.
17) Sacrifice for your children
They say you only learn about sacrifice once you become a parent. This is true, however, as a child if you are observant enough you can also learn from the sacrifices your parents make for you. To put it simply, my dad could have had a better life with much more luxuries, but he cares about his children’s happiness and well-being more than he cares about his own.
18) Respect your elders
My dad taught me to respect my elders. This is more stressed out in African culture but still a very important lesson. Every time I broke this rule I was corrected immediately. To this day, I still respect the elderly and make an effort to treat them well.
19) Ensure important tasks are done
If some important task needs to be done, I can bet on my dad to accomplish it. It may be a function of the army experience, but my dad will make sure important tasks with a high priority are planned and executed properly. I learned this from him, and I avoid procrastinating on important things at all costs.
20) Appreciate the countryside
When my dad left the corporate world and started his own business, he started this business in the country side of Zimbabwe. As children we had no option but to leave the city life and migrate with our parents. Over time, I began to appreciate the country life, and even today one of my goals is to eventually leave the city and live on the countryside once I can afford it. There is a certain peace and beauty that you get on the countryside that city life struggles to provide.
21) Appreciate old music
Every time we had a long journey in Zimbabwe and my dad was driving he would play his own music. This would mean we would either listen to old Zimbabwean classics such as Leonard Dembo, System Tazvida, Oliver Mtukudzi, and many more. If he wasn’t up for local music that day, he would play some of his favourite foreign music such as UB40, Don Williams, Credence Clearwater Revival, Neil Diamond, and many more too. Listening to this music so many times eventually got me appreciating it myself and I still listen to most of it to this day.
22) Admit mistakes
I remember growing up my dad told me multiple times that it is ok to admit that you have made a mistake. That I should not be embarrassed or cover things up. Admitting to have made a mistake is taking responsibility and the route to getting help. A very important trait to carry with you.
23) Solve issues by communication
Every time we had an issue to resolve be it a problem or coming up with ideas for something, it was done together via direct communication. To this day my dad still calls me to discuss some important ideas and get an opinion. It is the same thing with my mom. I think one of the reasons their marriage has lasted for this long is that they communicate well and often together. Communication is the key to most things.
24) Care about the right things
If I had to think about what my dad cares about most, the list would include; family’s wellbeing, relationships with his friends, work / business, hobbies and other interests. In a world with many distractions and potential activities to use up your time, it is important to decide what you care about, and you need to make sure it is what makes and keeps you happy in the long term.
25) Don’t fear change
Through his life my dad has lived and worked in a lot of cities and towns in Zimbabwe. I changed primary schools 5 times, just to show the amount of times we moved. Each time we moved represented a change in my dad’s life, however each time he did not fear the change, he just got in and did the work that needed to be done. Within a few months of moving to a new place it would feel like home and my dad would have found his productivity. In life we often fear change, but from observing my dad, I can say wherever you end up you will adjust and you can start making a difference.
26) Education is worth pursuing
If there is one thing my dad values it is education. He never went to university himself but he did ensure he pushed us through all the way to university, a level further than he did. Education for his children was a priority in his life, and last year when my younger brother finished university, that long journey was completed for my dad. My dad always made sure he sent us to the best schools he could and ensured we understood the importance of working hard at school and getting a good education.
27) Express gratitude
As we grew up my dad always told us to be grateful for what we have as some people do not have the same privileges or opportunities. That gratitude also taught me to try and make use of all the opportunities I receive in the best way I can.
28) Have an opinion
A man who used to be in the army definitely has an opinion and my dad is no different. You need to have an opinion and put your point across. You cannot just live blindly and wait for other people to direct your life. Of course the opinion needs to be well researched and evaluated, but what is important is you need to have an opinion.
29) Invite others
A lot of my dad’s family and friends would be invited to visit our different homes as we grew up. To this day almost daily a friend or family member passes through his business to just chat to him or have a few drinks. What I learned here is that you need to open up your home and invite people you care about, that is how you keep connections and build great relationships.
30) Side projects
While working his 9 – 5 jobs, my dad (partnered with my mom) always had multiple side projects / business operations on the side. Some of them failed, other did very well. I am not surprised that I have done the same from the year I started working myself. Side projects allow you to learn a lot outside of daily work.
31) Be open to learning from others
A lot of the things my dad knows he learned them from other people. To be able to learn from others you need to have an open mind, willing to learn and you need to be humble enough to go and ask how something works. At 60, I am glad to say my dad will still ask if he does not know how something works. I hope to keep my hunger to learn from others for that long too.
32) Live within your income
My dad has always lived within his income. Things such as moving to a bigger house, buying new cars, going on holidays, only happened if we could afford them and all other priority costs such as education had been covered. A great lesson on managing your finances that I learned from just observing.
33) Overcome difficulties
Everyone has difficulties in their life, and my dad has had them too. His dad (my grandfather) passed away when he was just 3 years old, so he grew up without a father figure. He joined the army at such a young age. He never had an opportunity to go to university. There have been many more difficult times in my dad’s life like most people’s lives. However he pushed through the discomfort and took any of the positives that come out of these difficult situations. The obstacle is the way.
34) Remain honest
My dad told me multiple times as I grew up, “Lying is not tolerated in this house, you should always be honest. Tell the truth.” I don’t need to go further to explain the importance of this lesson.
35) Rise early
My dad is an early riser. Every time I go home for holidays, he wakes up before me. By the time I get out of bed I see he is already getting some work done. Even if he has had a few drinks the night before, I still wonder how he does it. Rising early helps you get some productive work done before distractions of the day come through. It is one of the known productivity hacks.
36) Create employment & help the community
Having started his own business, I have seen first hand the employment creation and impact my dad has on the community the business is setup in. Most of the time, setting up your own business allows for the opportunity to create employment for others.
37) Value family
As we grew up we visited family often, and we were also visited by family often. Family tends to be a major support during times of hardship, and family is genuinely happy during times of celebration. The high number of family interactions we had as we grew up taught me the importance of placing value in family and always keeping communication and interaction lines open.
38) Work hard
I have learned the value of working hard through observing and listening to my dad. Each time a new school term was about to start he would sit down with us for a chat and would encourage us to work hard as education is important. Listening to him speak to his employees he also encouraged the value of working hard. Observing him working, through his career and running his own business has been a great example of the benefits of putting in your best effort and hard work.
39) Never give up
My dad has had his own fair share of failures. Some business ideas he had did not work out well and ended up being closed down. I am sure along the way he has applied for jobs that he never managed to get into. However he did not let this failure define him and stop him from progressing with his life. In fact he is who is today because of all the failure points he had in his life. Never give up and keep going, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.
40) Be an explorer
We travelled around most of Zimbabwe as we grew up. As a result I have been to most of the beautiful parts of our country. My dad has an explorer’s mindset so he enjoys travelling, discovering and learning about new places. This is a great mindset to have and is something I have been trying to grow myself. I should definitely be exploring more of the world, but starting with Cape Town of course.
41) Be willing to give out wisdom
One thing that is certain is that my dad is always willing to share some of his wisdom. As I mentioned earlier, each time before the school term started we would get advice on how to tackle the new challenges coming our way. Even to this day, over phone calls I still get some essential life advice from him. If you want to be a person of value, you should be willing to share what you know with others. I have made it one of my life goals to always share things I know that may help other people in their lives.
42) Start a fire and make a braai
My dad always used to be the one who started the fire and did all the work for family braais. As I got older I’m sure he saw the opportunity to pass this responsibility onto me, so he taught me a few times how to start a fire properly and make a good braai. A vital skill to have if I am stuck in the bush one day.
43) Avoid using abusive / rude language
Using any abusive language while talking would land me in a lot of trouble as I grew up, especially in our native language Shona. It was a punishable offence and as a result I learned to be respectful and keep my language clean. To this day I still have this and its only on rare occasions that you will find me throwing in the odd bad language when speaking.
44) Value your culture, the Zimbabwean culture
There are some things unique to Zimbabwean culture that I learned from my dad as I grew up. How to respect the elders, how to greet people properly, how to thank people, and many more unique ways to do things in Zimbabwean culture. Even though I am more of a diverse individual now that I live and work in Cape Town, every time I go back to Zimbabwe, I know how to appreciate my culture properly.
45) Live for memories
My dad keeps a lot of photos of his life’s experiences. Every time I go home I have a good time looking through all the collections of photos that showcase all the good memories from the past. What I have learned from this is the value of living for great experiences and memories with the people that are most important to you. In my mind, this is more important than material possessions.
46) Save things that are important to you
My dad has a habit of keeping things that are important to him for a long time, almost like a collector would. The radio below was one of his 1st radios from the 70s- it still works to this day! I am not much of a collector myself and I tend to be more on the minimalist side of things. However from this habit my dad has, I can learn to save things that are important to me and take care of them well.
47) Personal responsibility
My dad once told me, “the most important thing you can learn is personal responsibility.” Bad things happen but its your job to overcome them.
48) Never settle.
My dad has changed career paths in his life and has managed to survive and enjoy what he does. Observing this shows me that I should never settle in everything I do in life. Settling is almost putting a stop to everything and getting into a comfort zone. Never settle, not in a career, not on love, not in life. Look for what makes you happy and work for it.
49) My dad is also human
As I have grown older, I have come to understand that just like anyone, my dad is not perfect. He also makes mistakes, he also fails sometimes, he also requires other people’s advice. When I was a kid, like most kids I thought my dad was perfect, a superhero of some sort. What is great about realising that my dad is also human, is that it makes me realise that everyone else is human too, including all the celebrities, presidents and billionaire business people around the word. That is an important realisation because it makes me believe I can be anything I want to be in this world.
50) Must learn DIY skills
My dad is a master at DIY. He has so many self-learned skills I envy him. I think it comes through having a curious mind and always being open to figuring out how things work. I am far behind in this area, however it is something I would also love to be good at over time. I guess the key lesson here is to be curious all the time.
51) Be assertive and make hard decisions
I have seen my dad being assertive and make hard decisions through his life. When a difficult call had to be made and it was the right thing to do, my dad did not hold back. An example is letting go of employees for misconduct. In life it is easy to try and avoid the hard decisions and being assertive. Each of us will face a time when we have to make a hard decision and be assertive, do not hold back because not making a decision is worse than making a bad one.
52) You are never too old to learn
My dad still calls me to this day and asks me for advice on things he thinks I can help with. I am sure I am not the only one he calls for advice on different things. It shows me that learning is a life long pursuit and you should never feel like you know everything and stop learning. You are never too old to learn.
53) Real respect is a valuable commodity
A lot of people respect my dad, his family, his friends, people in the community he lives in and his work colleagues from the past. This respect has got him a lot of help through his life. I have learned from observing this that real respect is a valuable commodity, and it must be earned in the right way.
54) Zimbabwean history
My dad was in the Zimbabwean army pre-independence and post-independence. Due to this, he is a rich source of Zimbabwean history. He knows a lot about what happened, how people lived, and the early days of Zimbabwe as an independent nation. I have learned a great detail on Zimbabwean history over the many chats we have had.
55) Army wisdom
Having been in the army, my dad is also a great source of many army strategies and leadership wisdom that comes from the army. Occasionally he shared some of this wisdom to help me apply some of it in my life. Other times he has shared it over random conversations we have. I find most of that army wisdom interesting and valuable to know, its great to learn it from someone who knows it first hand.
56) Hard work and determination can make up for lack of opportunity
My dad never went to university, but he still managed to make a career for himself and ended up holding important leadership roles through his career. A lack of opportunity does not define you and should not be the end of one’s ambitions. Hard work and determination can make up for lack of opportunity.
57) Be well prepared and focus
This is probably another side-effect of having been in the army. My dad plans important things to the last detail and ensures that things go that way. You can always count on my dad to be well prepared if something is of importance. I find I have also learned this important skill and I treat important things with the intense focus they require.
58) Trust yourself
To be able to make most of the big decisions my dad made in his life, one needs to have some good element of belief in themselves. Doubts were obviously there in everything he did as it involved uncertainty, but it is at these times that you need to trust yourself and hope for the best. I have learned to build this self-belief through my life, and I am not perfect in all areas but I am working on it everyday.
59) The value of humour
My dad laughs often, a great indication of happiness with one’s life. This has taught me life is not mean’t to be so tight all the time, I need to loosen up a bit and enjoy the journey. I try do this every day. Laughter is the best medicine.
60) Be proud of your family and celebrate success
My dad wants to see his family succeed and be happy. We have always celebrated when someone in the family succeeded. My dad is proud of each and every one of us. We would celebrate when my mom got promoted, when I graduated, and in a few weeks when my younger brother graduates we will be together again. I can guarantee you my dad will be full of pride and happiness.
I would like to take this time to wish the old guy a happy 60th birthday, hope you are blessed with many more. Blessed to have you and love you lots!