I started reading McIntosh Polela’s autobiography My Father My Monster mainly because my director had been prompting us to read more, just to expand our minds she said. I had also heard about it from a friend of mine but was not entirely sure what it was about… I committed to reading at least one book every three months (time allowing); okay I’ll make the time!
I found the title alone rather interesting; to my mind it didn’t give much away, just speculations of what a monstrous father could be. I had no idea of the enormity of the monstrosity of this father. The title, for me rings true of the statement about not judging a book by its cover.
Once I started reading this book, it became virtually impossible to put it down to read it later on. I was captivated! My Father My Monster had my undivided attention (well I had to put it down at work). I became an ambassador of the book much to the irritation of whoever I came across during the time I was reading it and for a while after I read the book. I highly recommend it.
In My Father My Monster, McIntosh paints a vivid and emotional picture of his painful childhood. My Father, My Monster is a non-fictional story of the survival, growth and education of two siblings who had to endure the horror of growing up without parents. The book is about McIntosh’s life after he and his younger sister Zinhle are left to be taken care of by their mothers’ unfamiliar relatives. He recalls how at the tender age of 5 and 3 they were abruptly uprooted out of their normal life as they knew it. Their lives are literally turned upside down within the blink of eye as they find themselves being moved from their home in a township near Durban. They find themselves having to adapt to the very strange and poverty ridden way of life with their unknown relatives in a very rural part of KwaZulu-Natal. McIntosh and his sister endure brutal abuse from their relatives. To add to the pain of the abuse; throughout the time they spend in this rural countryside, they never get an explanation of why they had to be dumped with such uncaring relatives. No one ever cares enough to explain to them what had become of their loving parents as they had so fondly remembered them. McIntosh reminisces about times when he would escape reality and daydream about their affectionate parents and how their parents treated them like royalty.
McIntosh feels as though he is trapped in this rural town of Underberg having to deal with all sorts of hurts and inexplicable obstacles. As the two grew up, they were faced with more challenges; they struggled with things such as clothes and worried about how their school fees would be provided for. Added to that, they were faced with having to come to terms with the source of their pains and troubles- their father who murdered their mother. When he finds out that his father is responsible for the death of his mother, McIntosh is gutted and is out to avenge himself and wants to make his father pay. In his teenage years, McIntosh became a sort of a rebel. Due to his inner struggles he rebels against everything and everyone. But because of his strong will and the person that he is and the promises he had made to take care of his sister he finds a way to bring himself back.
As fate would have it there was hope for the future for McIntosh and Zinhle through the people they meet through their Catholic schooling and some of the family members. McIntosh later realises that there are some people in his life who would actually like to see him prosper. At a later stage in his life it’s as if the heavens conspire to make his dreams of going to tertiary and becoming a journalist a reality. With all the good Samaritans coming together to help him in the realisation of his dreams, he works hard in order to try and achieve his goals and not to disappoint all the people who had so selflessly given him so much to assist him to achieve his goals. McIntosh goes through a sort of coming of age where he realises that there is good in human beings and adopts the notion of paying it forward.
McIntosh’s memoir of their scarred upbringing is so painful I can remember crying a couple of times while reading it. His narrative draws you in so deep into his experiences that you almost could have been there. It makes you want to meet him and hug him almost. My Father My monster is a poignant reminder of the reality of the brevity of life. It presses emotional buttons and is sure to make your eyes well and send a lump into your throat. The essence of this book echoes a pain so deep and emotionally taxing stories. I take from this book the importance of forgiveness, to forgive not for the sake of the person that does you wrong, but for your own wellbeing.
My Father My Monster’s emotional truth resonates long after having read the book. It is truly a good read.