Lessons learned from my dad

I remember being 3 years old and riding on the lawnmower (well sitting on the red hood of this yellow bladed contraption after my dad finished cutting the grass and was taking it back to the garage). That simple little thing- my dad probably didn’t even think about it twice- but that is one of my favourite memories of all times! I loved just being with him, racing him to the fridge when he went to get a beer after spending the whole day outside in the hot sun; him letting me position the sprayer in the middle of the garden and opening the tap as I was still standing next to it so that I can race the stream in an attempt to stay dry, ironically the same stream I will get totally soaked in the next 10 minutes while my dad watches over me. From these tiny little moments, I learned that you don’t have to take your kids to Disney World for them to have a good time; all you have to do is be there.

 

I remember being 4 years old and my mother was in hospital on bed rest before giving birth to my baby brother and my dad and I were staying at his parents’ house so that I would have someone at home when I got back from school. It was cool to get to hang out with my dad and talk to him about my homework because before I would always step aside so that my mom could talk to him when he got home but she was in hospital so we had some time alone. I also got to see the side of my dad that was still a boy and needed his mommy as much as I needed mine. And when my brother didn’t make it, it took a lot for him to be strong and not breakdown in front of my mother. This thought me that we sometimes protect those we love by not sharing our true feelings because it might hurt them; I also learned from the days to come and the support I had to give my mother that she felt he didn’t care because he didn’t cry in front of her; so ultimately I learned that when we lie about our feelings to protect others, we end up pushing them away and hurting them even more.

 

I remember being 5 and learning to ride a bike. I really wanted the training wheels off from the first day! I wouldn’t stop bugging my dad about it until he finally gave in and took them off so that I could take my first step as a big girl. I remember being on our lawn, the same one I use to sit on the lawnmower and all of a sudden it felt so small, like that tree was so close. My dad was right there to catch me and motivate me and after a few tries (no more than 3 because it was one of those old kiddie bikes where if you stop peddling it’s the same as braking and it was difficult for my little girl legs to gain any momentum) we went out to the road in front of our house. Still not sure why we didn’t use the drive way, maybe because it was only 2 narrow strips of concrete slabs I probably wouldn’t not have had the aim at that point to stay on course. So there we were: outside with half of the neighbourhood kids and parents watching as my grandparents and mother walked to the front of the house leaving the braai in the back garden and I took my first pedal and I was off! I was off and I only looked back once, causing me to lose my balance in that split second. Wherever my head went so did my steering wheel. I tried again and it just got better from there. This monumental moment in my life that most see as a right to freedom from their parents and their independence taught me that sometimes you have to leave the safety of the grass and risk it on the gravel; it taught me that it’s not failing unless you stop trying; it taught me that you shouldn’t look back unless you plan on going there and that I could always come back home when I was tired of riding.

 

I remember having heated debates about racism and judgement with my dad at the age of 6 and even though I was terrified that my dad would stop loving me for having a different opinion to his, he didn’t. He also didn’t treat me like a 6 year old during these discussions: he didn’t just back down or sugar coat it or say ‘because I said so’ he actually took the time to listen to my view and go through all of the facts… it took years of us having this same debate until one day when I was 11 and we were driving in the car and my dad got frustrated at a stupid driver swerving in front of us and made his usual judgemental comment and just as I was about to defend this fictional character my dad was being prejudice towards, the words came out of his mouth. That was one of my proudest moments, knowing that my dad listened to me; that he was willing to change his mind based on the facts presented even though it came from his own little spawn. It thought me that you should never let pride get in the way of the facts; you should always stand up for what you believe in even though it’s hard and that my dad would love me forever no matter what I might do in the future to disappoint or hurt him.

 

I remember being 7 and my dad having a conversation on the phone with one of his old friends about the threats our family were getting simply because of my dad’s job and the decisions he had to make. I remember the fear in his voice muddled up with the excitement of talking to his long lost friend who hadn’t grown up yet. I remember the concern on my mother’s face about our future and I also remember the way my dad comforted her and restored her trust. I remember going to look at storage containers and freight trains and trucks and trying to figure out how we would fit our entire lives into one of those. I remember that my dad was as sad as I was to leave my little dog with his parents while we packed up everything in what felt like overnight and moved to the other side of the country where sarcasm was the general tone of voice. I remember the fights I had with my dad and his money concerns and that no matter what; he wanted me to be happy. I learned that home is where your family is; I learned that it’s not always easy to make a drastic change but if it’s for the good of those you love you don’t mind doing it; I learned that money causes more problems than it fixes and that you can move to the other side of the world but it won’t change who you are.

 

I remember being almost 8 and trying to settle in to our new lives. I remember cancelling my birthday party because at that age your parents invite those who have invited you and if I invited everyone, they would have to invite me and I would never really know who wanted me at their parties. I know it sounds insane but I’m paranoid that way and growing up with parents who were willing to answer every question I had, made me question and over think everything. Instead of my dad freaking out, he bought me this awesome game book with Disney games in it and yes, it was huge and yes it was colourful and amazing but my favourite thing about it was the electronic dice. And my dad appreciated that, my dad sat there for hours with me just trying to figure out how the electronic dice work and going in detail with the entire math criteria involved. He also got me a really cool tent and other camping stuff which lead to so many great memories, the first being my mom and dad sneaking out the night before my birthday to set up the tent in the garage and even though I didn’t know what they were doing in there, I took some comfort in knowing that they couldn’t really surprise me. I learned that my parents would always put their differences aside for my happiness; I learned that my parents accepted my insanity and even though they didn’t understand my reasoning behind cancelling my party, they trusted me and just went with it; I learned that maths and algorithms are really fun and I learned that camping is a great way to get a break from the stuff in your life that is overwhelming.

 

 

I remember being 9 years old and watching my dad as he washed his car. He’d start by checking the oil and the water and changing the spark plugs and then he’d spray off the wheels and mix his precise measurements of soap into hot water with a touch of cold water and then mix it until it foams. He’d go over every single corner and scrub it and dry it, sort of reminding me of ‘wax on wax off’ from Karate Kid and obviously he’d go all out with the wax: not too much, just enough. Standing back after the hard labour and admiring its beauty. This simple thing helped me realize that we should have pride in the things we own and look after it; that anything can be cleaned no matter how muddy it is and that spark plugs are really fragile.

 

I remember being 10 years old and playing netball on a Saturday morning and my mother deciding that she could make some extra cash on a Saturday by opening a sweet stall in the market so she couldn’t come to my games any more, which didn’t really bother me because as soon as I am on the court, the only thing that matter was getting that ball. So my dad started coming instead. It was really cool to have him there, not only did it give us extra time to spend together as we’d make a whole day out of it by going to the bank first and I got to learn so much about finance while standing in the queue. We also went shopping and it was like a scavenger hunt looking for the butter. And before we’d go to my match, we’d eat sardines out of the can in the car and I’d walk around the entire school holding my dad’s hand and showing him off because everyone else’s only had their moms there. I felt so proud and played some of my best matches simply because I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. This experience taught me that family dynamics change with the times; it taught me that I will always have at least one of my parents there to support me and I learned that omega 3 is really good for brain stimulation.

 

I remember when I was 11 and my dad was making an awesome chicken potjie. We were at my grandparents’ house and the entire family was there. They always disagree which means we end up having several different dishes to make everyone happy but not when my dad made food, when he made it everyone ate. I remember the queue my entire family was standing in to get their food. Looked like a page out of the Lady in the Shoe book. It made me really happy that my dad could go from this rugged guy who can fix anything to this guy who could wave a spoon like a magic wand and present an awesome dish that 40 very different people could all like. It taught me that food can be a great social equalizer; that people can have many hidden talents and that my dad knew every single one of them because he’d been watching and listening even when he wasn’t talking.

 

I remember being 12 and talking to my dad about my future and how all of my friends wanted to go to Stellenbosch University and when I asked them what for they had no clue but felt that they had no choice, they had to go there to fit in… I remember telling him that I wanted to be a movie director and expecting him to shoot me down but instead he told me about his dream of being a gymnast with such passion. And I found it strange that he could have that kind of passion for something he wasn’t doing anymore. He explained to me that we can be dead sure that what we want right now is something we will want forever but sometimes we’ll find something more amazing that takes its place so even though he was passionate about his art & sport, he liked mechanics more. With this little talk I learned that my dad would always support my dreams; my dreams may change but my passion will not and that going to a University just because everyone else is going there, is not sensible.

 

I remember being 13 years old and almost ready to go to high school. I was having a difficult day at school and the pressure was getting to me and I was just really, really angry over things I didn’t even understand and had been holding in for many years. And I can’t really remember what exactly was said but my dad was a little upset with my mom and I was just angry in general so I went with it and somewhere in my rant I called my mom ‘she’ for the first time. Just to clarify in Afrikaans you refer to your mom as mom, never as you or she or her but always as a version of mom. So this was quite big and shocked me as I heard the words coming out of my mouth and then my dad stood up for my mom. Even though he was mad at her, he still stood up for his wife. In that one sentence I learned that I don’t want to be that kind of kid who yells at their parents; I learned that I need to talk to my mom about our fighting and the anger; I learned that my dad still loved my mother and would still be there for her even when I couldn’t be.

 

I remember being 14 years old when my dad let me in on his new passion and allowed me to share mine with him too. I got to help him work out fundraising projects and I loved how he would listen to me when we were at the venue setting up and everyone would chime in with their ideas but he would listen to mine and not judge it as the view of a kid but rather the opinion of someone who has given it some thought. 99% of the time, he actually took it and stood by me even though it meant he had to explain it to the rest of the committee and it helped that I had good ideas but I’m sure that my dad would have trusted me even if they sucked because he wanted to give me the opportunity to try it. I learned there will always be someone willing to give you an opportunity to try out your wild ideas, you just have to keep looking and that age doesn’t equal wisdom.

 

I remember being 15 and my depression starting to get the better of me. I wouldn’t leave my room over the weekends and I wouldn’t sleep and wouldn’t want to talk to all of the strangers/ friends in our house, I would much rather just hide in my room and write or draw. It was around this time I started realizing that my anger towards something that happened in the past was getting me down and actually starting to affect my regular life. I didn’t laugh out loud any more. I was actually one of those people who said ‘That’s funny’ instead of just laughing. I was withdrawing and I’m sure my dad saw this and when we were at my cousins wedding with the rest of my family camped out all over the place, I had a dream in the 1 hour I actually slept. I told my mom about this dream that scared the crap out of me but I did not tell my dad. I still regret this. My mother said all the right things to comfort me back then but it’s no use right now. The next day my aunt had organized a spit braai but didn’t quite think it through because as it turns out no one (out of 60 people) had ever done one so as usual my dad stepped up and made the most amazing meal ever and all without using the actual sauce because my aunt forgot to give it to him. It was exactly like my dad to be the one who steps in when no one else wants to. I learned that sometimes you have to stand up and do something scary that you’ve never even tried before simply because someone has to step up; if you don’t try something new, you’ll never know if you could have done it and that you should not leave things unsaid.

 

I remember being 16 and having my first real boyfriend. Once again I opted to not have a party for my birthday but rather have one with all of my grandparents and my parents and my boyfriend. It was relaxing but my dad was so proud of me because I hadn’t changed simply because there was a new guy in my life and I was happy at least to some extent. And my dad told this story of my birth. It probably sounds weird but my birth was not exactly easy… Besides the fact that I was two and a half months early, we also lived on a farm. So my mom was rushed to the hospital and pretty much made it in the nick of time. The hospital was a university hospital which means that people still learning how to be doctors were in charge and since I was early; my mom’s doctor was also on leave. The positive part of the university hospital was that they specialized in premature babies so that probably saved my life, however the intern doctors and young nurses over dosed my mother so she doesn’t remember a thing until my 3rd day. I turned out fine, even though my parents had no say in my name because my grandmother picked it out (which I really prefer to the alternatives). The best part about this story is that my dad always told it and got teary at the end. From this I learned that it’s okay to show your emotions and that moments we remember that make us feel something are the ones we need to cherish forever.

 

I remember being 17 and my dad calling me a bitch. Yes, this one is very different from the year before and he didn’t really mean it and all that jazz but it still hurt, even though I pretended it didn’t. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even do anything to provoke him, it was just one of those long days where he was tired and had a migraine (signs of his high blood pressure that we missed) and it just came out. As shocked as I was, I had had years of practice with my mom on how to handle insults you never saw coming and how to save face without making it worse so I pretty much responded in a humours way with “Yeah I’m playing a female dog in the play at the end of the month”. I guess what I learned in this moment is that words can hurt; that these words can come from the most unlikely sources; that parents lose it sometimes too and that I can handle a shocking moment without losing my temper.

 

I remember being 18 and feeling like I wasn’t going to make it to my 19th birthday. I couldn’t explain it, it was just a feeling I had and this feeling resulted in me doing absolutely everything. I was 6 years ahead in my 8 year plan. I even took on a large chunk of our senior yearbook when it was in total chaos and I had to get companies to advertise. I got almost enough but I just needed a few extra bucks to put us solidly into the black. So I pitched it to my dad stating how their company support all the other schools every year but have never supported ours and that this is great advertising. He just smiled and said: “Good point, make the ad and place it”. I was still prepared to fight for it but he could see my determination and knew that he raised me not to give up, so it would be no use resisting. While all of this yearbook chaos was going on and we were getting closer to our final exams, we had a final dance to prepare for and my amazing long distance boyfriend was flying down for the week. We had this whole perfect 80’s movies Grease kind of summer fling that automatically became something more. Time apart didn’t change our feelings and it was really amazing to see my dad with someone I loved and know that my dad trusted my judgement and would accept my choices because he knows that he raised me well. I learned that loving someone means loving the people they love for their sake; I learned that I can accomplish anything and that movies can reflect real life if we pause long enough to let it.

 

The next year we went out to lunch on 7 May 2006 and it was great and even though I wasn’t a kid anymore I still collected all of the kid’s toys at SPUR because we could buy it. This time it was a movement generated torch (could also run with batteries) I got a blue one. When we left the restaurant and were walking out of the mall my dad pointed at a clothing store and said: “let’s go and pick out your birthday gift”. I hate gifts but I love the thought behind it and this was pretty cool. I got this brown jacket and my mom wanted me to get it one size bigger but I wanted this one, even though the button was slightly dented and my dad agreed that it looked better so we got it but I didn’t wear it until 2 days before my 19th birthday, May 30th 2006… to my dad’s funeral.

The day after my dad bought me the jacket, he had a stroke about 30min after getting home. I walked in after feeding the dogs and saw his face was slanting. I told my mom to call one of my dad’s friends and get the next door neighbour to help carry my dad to the car while I grabbed our phones, medical insurance card and jackets. I called the emergency room and we went to the hospital. Shortly after getting there my dad had another stroke. I spoke to him a bit after wards and all that he kept saying was that his head hurt a lot and that he was sorry. And before I could even think or respond I heard myself say that he should not be afraid, that everything will be okay, he just needs to rest. Several operations; run ins with respirators and 16 days later my dad died 2 min before 8pm. We were standing next to him and the voice in my head kept saying: “I love you and I know that you love me. Don’t be scared. You are not alone.”

 

It’s been 6 years since that day and it does get better, in general, dealing with that loss but every year during May and June it’s like a rest button that takes me right back to that place. But I have learned so many lessons from my dad and every decision I make is based on some small act of kindness or moment of strength that I experienced in his presence so I know that he lives on in me.

 

On this day, Fathers Day, I just want to say thank you to my dad for being there all those years and for fitting a life time into such a short period so that I would be able to live the rest of my life feeling his presence with me forever. And to everyone else out there who started this day with hesitation and everyone who misses their fathers, I’m sending you a hug and want to remind you that they too live on in you, simply because they shared a life with you.

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