“I thought that writing my story was going to help me put the past behind me. But it made it all very fresh. It’s almost as if it happened just the previous day. But at the same time, I found that writing my story gave me some release. It heals me having to talk about it so often to so many people since the book came out.” McIntosh Polela
My Father, My Monster is a story of survival, growth and education. It tells a tale of McIntosh Polela’s upbringing, what he went through during his childhood, how he acquired his education which further shaped how he got to where he is today.
McIntosh Polela has one hell of a tale to tell. His journey through life begins in what he remembers as a five year-old’s peaceful existence in a township near Durban, until he and his younger sister are unceremoniously uprooted, chipped off to live with their unknown relatives for a more Hobbesian existence way upcountry.
Life as Polela knows it comes to an abrupt end when he and his sister are handed off to their unknown relatives in a place called Pensivia, in KZN. His life goes from being pampered with gifts, love and comfort to being the object of scorn in a rural area. The adults – and, most specifically, his parents, despite his increasingly urgent, ardent prayers - never reappear to set things right again. They can’t, of course, because his father has killed his mother.
Staying in rural areas he is subjected to not only a different environment but different way of living. His relatives were impoverished, to eat breakfast he first had to milk the cows and get milk. No one was there to guide him and his sister, he had to fend for them both. Their clothes were given to charity and they were left with only rags to wear. He got through high school by working as the school’s carpenter to pay for his fees.
But at crucial moments along Polela’s journey, like a real-life Oliver Twist, Polela gets unexpected help from people he meets along the way – black and white - who take Polela under their respective wings at devastating moments in his life. This is presumably because they see the possibilities of the finished sculpture lurking within Polela’s as yet unshaped clay. At one point, a white couple running a trading store in the rural KwaZulu Natal hinterland offers help to Polela and his sister with a form of adoption. In another moment, a nun warms to him (and he to her) when he helps her find her way and she compliments his English. In this she restores his confidence in his ability to become more than just one more aimless township youth.
While he was at Durban University of Technology (DUT), as things looked at their bleakest for him, individuals reached out with financial help. There were also crucial bureaucratic interventions as he found his way through an education at the Durban Technikon and the London School of Economics. Opportunities arose in the world of commercial television news. When he was exposed to the world of news and commerce he changed his name to McIntosh Polela, in fear that his father who he has come to fear might come and look for him.
Learning the things his mother endured and that of the siblings he never knew existed, he finds comfort from his step mother and the truth about his father, his monster. Having gone through life the way he did, it becomes easy for him to get through life challenges along his way.
Most recently, Polela has moved on to become spokesman for the Hawks special investigative unit of the police in South Africa. Except for the fact that there really is a McIntosh Polela, given the many turns where so much might have gone wrong but didn't, one might even be willing to believe the whole thing was made up for the sake of narrative sizzle.