3 min read

My two dads

My two dads

On this sunny dad's day, I am in that squeezed-in/no-home place that comes with between moves. That place-no-place we all know - perhaps this in-between place is the new domain for a reluctant illustrator. I'd use the word liminal, but that's for more magical experiences.

Dis-something-or-other seems appropriate.


With the fracturing that often comes with these kinds of tectonic shifts, an underlying geological substructure is revealed. Crevasses open up, landslides, earthquakes, shifting ground gets shifted, a bit of liquefaction here and there, a couple of new sinkholes, and new water features spring up. A shaking up of the geo-morphology that reveals secrets – and coughs up hidden treasures.

A mixed media collage of reprinted maps of Kenya, collected papers, fabric scraps, chocolate wrappers, a bluejay nest, cedar shingles, AM radio
Hanif Janmohamed. Ho(me)nest. 2013. Mixed media (reprinted maps of Kenya, collected papers, fabric scraps, chocolate wrappers, a bluejay nest, cedar shingles, AM radio.

The exposed archeology of a lost domain.


On a road trip a while ago, I stared across the void below, to the opposite wall of the Grand Canyon. I realized that what I was seeing wasn't geological – as in the structure of the earth – it was historical, as in a record of time. Life was inexorably and repeatedly being compressed and crushed by gravity. A vertical timestamp as it were. I could see that all the muchness of our collective lives was the thin scrabble sprinkled on the surface. It was like a future history, soon to be manifesting as another thin line of sediment in the vertical timeline below. Or not.

The revealed repetitiveness of a sedimentary existence.


On the topic of stone, in my packing/unpacking, I found an artifact. It unearthed itself. A big, beautiful carved stone mortar and companion wooden pestle. It is ancient. This came from my childhood and it has travelled through homes and storage bins and moves of many dislocations.

Growing up in Kenya, when I wasn't in boarding school, I loved to hang out in the kitchen whenever I could, I loved all the activity and knew in my heart this was the heart. The cook used this mortar and pestle every day - green chilli paste, green chutney, garlic paste, ginger paste, crushed greens, and crushed roots - all freshly mashed as needed. I can still hear that daily sound, thum, thum, thum, thum - it was a heartbeat.

I dearly loved the cook Nzibe - he was a lovely, devoted, and kind man, who was full of curiosity and loved to laugh. He was a huge part of that fabric of a domestic domain, that felt like it stretched from below our feet and out into the world like a low, flat, even plain. I looked up to him in the attuned way that kids do when they are in the presence of love.

The other face of the canyon.


I discovered another artifact in the mix. It was a ring. A thick, hefty, gold ring with a square pale amethyst stone set in an impressive ziggurat. It was solid, big-symbolic, ostentatious, and iconic-powerful.

I also saw it ubiquitously, growing up as a kid - I loved seeing it on my dad's finger. He was a successful, charismatic, powerful, diplomatic, aloof, unavailable, unreachable person. He inhabited a lofty domain, and I looked up to him in the disconnected way that kids do when they recognize they aren't really being seen.

Funny how both these things were handheld on a daily basis and resurfaced.

And the valley between?


the move.

Those were my two dads and they embedded in me divergent forces that have been at work my entire life. Like tarot card #7 – The Chariot exemplifies, two divergent forces - the black horse and the white horse. They will always want to go in opposite directions. The task of the charioteer is to work with both so the cart can move in a generally forward-moving direction. Mixed results so far - a work in progress and still, much to unpack here in these exposed landscapes of the soul.