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
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?