Friday, October 22, 2010

Things my father taught me

Today would have been my father's 70th birthday. Except that he didn't even live to see 60. He committed suicide when he was 57.

I have no illusions about the kind of man my Dad was and I am not superstitious enough to 'not speak ill of the dead'. I am honest with myself and others about my father's failings.

He was no manner of Dad, really. He longed for, but never received his own father's approval. He was still too desperately waiting for his Dad to say "You done good, kid" (or some South African equivalent thereof) ever to be able to look beyond himself and build us up as children. After our parents' divorce when I was 6 and my sister just 2, we saw him increasingly rarely. He chose not to be involved in our lives and then cast himself in the role of victim when he wasn't involved in our lives (if that makes sense).

But he did teach me a few things of value.

He taught me that you decide whether or not you like a food by tasting it. No other criterion counted. "If you want something that looks nice, go eat the Mona Lisa."

He taught me that nature should be valued and respected. "People go around shouting "Africa for the Africans." Well, reckon it should be "Africa for the animals." It's the people who *&^%$ things up. They should force all the people out of the continent and leave the animals to get on with it." I pointed out that that would mean we have to leave, too, but he wasn't interested in minor details.

He introduced me to Victor Borge. We didn't have television in South Africa in my childhood, but we had vinyls of several of his shows. We used to sit in my grandparents' lounge and laugh uproariously. The link is to one of my favourite clips.

But most of all, he taught me about love. Sadly, not in any positive way. He taught me that love can be measured in inconvenience. Hear me out.

You can tell your kids "I love you" with every breath you take. But they will never believe you if:

  • you don't pick up the phone when you receive the copy of their report
  • you don't contact them when they get selected for the first team, or cast in a lead role
  • you don't keep your promises
  • you don't know what things matter to them
  • you don't occasionally make a long journey to surprise them by pitching up at prizegiving (or some such event)
  • you criticise them for the lack of closeness in your relationship
  • you refuse to attend a landmark solo performance in your own city because it takes place in a church... and you're an atheist
I still believe that if you love someone, you put yourself out for them from time to time. You do something inconvenient to yourself to support them or to make them happy.

This is why women like to get flowers from their partners. It's not the flowers. It's the out-of-the-comfort-zone effort.

Strange as it may seem, I am grateful for this lesson. So, in memory of my Dad, I am putting aside a pressing job to take my younger son out to his favourite restaurant for lunch (fortunately, this is the reasonably priced Nando's!), and I am going to get up at 8am tomorrow morning to skype my older son in Australia (I don't normally surface until 11 on a Saturday).

Can I challenge you, on this Friday afternoon, to do something inconvenient to show someone else you care?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice piece Karyn. I don't usually dwell on the past but "In the Living years" (M&theM) is approp in my case. We move on and try to avoid the (mistakes, not really the right word) of our parents, but I think I made as many myself, both as a kid and as a grown up. this "having only one shot at it" is a bit cr*p. I'm doing lasagne tonite for the fam, my contribution for today. (Billy)

Karyn Romeis said...

Thanks, Billy. And, if you're the Billy I think you are, then your lasagne will have been delicious.

...and your kids are a credit to you.

Anonymous said...

THanks so much for this piece. My father is an awful man and was (and still is) a terrible father. I do just what you do for my children in the same way you do. Partly because i know how awful it is to have neglectful parenting, but also because I can't imagine NOT doing those things for the children you have and love so dearly. So thank you for sharing you personal and heart felt story. Best wishes. Jacq. xo

Karyn Romeis said...

@Jacq Thanks for your comment and sorry to hear you've had a rough ride. If you did a bit of digging, you'd probably find that your Dad had/has damage of his own to deal with. Perhaps he has never achieved your level of self-awareness to be able to move on from that. My Dad certainly didn't.

We almost certainly need to acknowledge the role of our various childhood experiences in the people we become, but I guess at some point we have to stop saying it's because of this or that thing, and play the game with the cards we hold.

Dean Shareski said...

Thanks for sharing Karyn. While I only know you virtually, I can sense from what you've shared of your life you've learned these lessons well and more.

Karyn Romeis said...

@Dean Thanks. I guess we do the best we can with what we have.