A tribute to my father
It’s been a week now. A week since my father passed over to another dimension. A week of extreme grief and tears enough to fill a small dam. A week of memories, good and bad. A week of regrets and if only’s. The first week without the knowledge that my father was not that far away and would most probably have come to help me had I asked.
He has always been there for me one way or another throughout the past fifty-three years. For the past twenty or so we spent every Sunday and special day together – my parents, my daughter and me. We lived in other towns for a few years but for most of it lived quite close together, within visiting distance. They came to retire in the same coastal town where I worked a year after I relocated. They have always wanted to retire in the area but I think my siblings blamed me for being there first and thus ending up living closer to them, having more of their time. They even lived with me for a while until they bought their own house.
The problem was, during the past few years I did not feel free to ask for my father’s help anymore. Time, circumstance and other bad influences (siblings again) created a divide between us which we were both too proud to cross. I was definitely not the preferred child and was told that I was of lesser importance to them. Yes, actually told that by my mother, that the happiness of her other children came first. That was the day I realised that I have been living in denial. I thought a parent’s love was unconditional. Apparently it is not.
My parents were married for 57 years and celebrated the anniversary a week before my father passed. I admire them for staying together for that long. BUT they used their union to gang up on me though, me having nobody in my corner to have my back. They looked down on me for being a loner. For being different. For not fitting into their perfect world. Even though I helped them with their church functions and community things I was not good enough. Because I did not believe in their god anymore. I was a shame, a single mother. Had my husband died I would have been accepted with open arms but he didn’t. He divorced me instead. So according to their church rules I was persona non grata.
I loved my father but was never a ‘daddy’s girl‘ being the middle child between an older girl and younger boy – just a stepping stone in the quest for the required son – I suspect.
I doubted my mother’s love from an early age, ever since I overheard a conversation about me, but strangely enough not my father’s, until a few years ago. Being born with defects did not help much I guess. I was flawed. But I always loved my father and mother and looked up to them. I did get quite a few traits from my father, hardheadedness being one. Tenacity, not giving up. Inventing things for your specific purpose being another. Getting all teary eyed because of beautiful things or too many happy emotions, another. He loved his dog Whitney who was a gift from me and was so sad when she died that he did not want another pet.
We shared a love of books, especially those by Clive Cussler and Wilbur Smith. Music – except for opera! With his feelings so close to the surface, strangely enough he was never one to say I love you to my face or show affection. He rather did stuff for me, fixed stuff, gave stuff, helped with stuff to show his love. That changed when he met my daughter though, but more about that later.
My father and me in 1981. My father and my daughter a few years ago. See the difference in body language
We disagreed vehemently on many things, politics, animal rights, vegetarianism, religion, language of education. How I lived my life. That did not change the fact that I loved my father but I think it changed the way he perceived me. I think he loved me less as I became my own person. Less than he would have if I were more typical, conservative, religious, married and Afrikaner-like as his other children turned out. He saw that as lovable. Not the person inside me. He said once ‘where did we go wrong with you?’
I always slyly disarmed his mouse traps until he found me out and hid them better. I made him a bird feeder once for the wild birds at his home and he took it apart. He believed that only certain birds should be fed. His favourite robins and wagtails who greeted him and called for him to feed them. Not the rabble, the finches and doves and other seed eaters. He was quite adamant about it.
Once when he was sick in bed I made him a very involved invention for a book to rest on so he would be able to read his beloved Clive Cusslers in bed. He dismantled that as soon as he got better. That’s how I knew he was better.
I went to huge trouble and embarrassment to get a T-shirt signed by the national rugby team in 1999 (I absolutely hate rugby but he was a fan and they visited our town) and framed it. This is me with one of the Springbok National players I begged for a signature, I didn’t even know who he was.
Next thing I knew, he gave it away to my brother’s kids. I was furious because I did it for my father. Not for these kids who had no respect for animals like their own father. Cruel little monsters who caused the loss of my beloved guinea fowl twins. Who were racist, who hunted and killed innocent animals for fun and heckled animals on the way to slaughter. Who I am ashamed to be related to. It was such a slap in the face.
My Dad was there for me though when I got married, chaperoned me on the road trip when I moved a few thousand kilometers away, even wrote a story about everything that happened to us on the disastrous trip, was supportive when I had my precious child and was an amazing grandfather to her for twenty years. He obviously had more time now that he was retired. My parents had a B&B in the town where I lived and incorporated my young daughter in their lives while I was at work. I really appreciated that. The only time he complained was when he had to assist with potty training, he did not feel comfortable with that. But he was great with her. Together with my mother, he shared all her special milestones which bonded them.
When we needed assistance of all kinds in all the weird and wonderful places we got to live, he was there. Put doors up where there were none etc. I always thought that he saw me as a child again after I got divorced, he thought that he needed to direct me, and sometimes that rankled. As a mature single mother with a good job I managed many people and projects at work but in my personal life, well I was seen as insufficient. ‘Look at what a mess you have made’ was the message I got. ‘You don’t have a husband so you need no privacy’ was my worst.
‘You need instructions in everything plus in raising your daughter’… but that is where I put my foot down. I raised my child the way I always wanted to be raised, with lots of freedom and a shitload of love. Away from the confines of extreme discipline, religion and conservatism. I gave her all the attention and assistance she wanted with school projects, activities and interests. I love my animals, and she grew up with cats in her bed, dogs in the house and birds in the lounge from birth, not locked in an outside room for the night while she sleeps alone like I had to as a child. She is so compassionate as a result.
Message to all parents : she has no allergies thanks to that! – whereas I am allergic to everything. Just shows.
I tell her that I love her every single day, show my love every which way I can. I never want her to doubt that like I have.
Growing up I could never understand why people actually had children, well more than one anyway. It seemed such unnecessary work and caused so many small (- to big admittedly) daily problems. From the expenditure for clothing and food and multiple child visits and holidays which overwhelmed the poor hosts, to sibling rivalry (very bad) to varied transport issues for various educational and other activities to medical issues. Yes, and also to deciding who gets love and who gets to feel left out.
From left : favourite, eldest, me. Ps. I hate wearing primary colours.
Life would have been so much better for my parents and for me had they stopped at one child. Not me, I’m not that arrogant, my older sibling of course. I should never have been born really. Or given away at birth to somebody who wanted a child, a daughter. Only one. But I guess then I would never have known or loved my father.
He did activities with my daughter, gave her attention and she always helped him with his technological issues.
Growing up, one of our family friends had a daughter my age. She was an only child. Oh how I longed to be her. You could see that her parents adored her, gave her everything she wanted. Same income as our family, but fewer people living off that income so they seemed rich by comparison. She received all their affection, all their attention, the same from her grandparents on both sides. What an honour. I was so jealous. She was a child who grew up secure in the knowledge that her parents wanted her. They did not have another and another child just to see if they could do better. She was made to feel special. She did not have to fight for anything or fear that she was loved less than another. The most important was that they both had TIME for her. Time to spend with her alone, talk about her hopes fears and dreams. Undivided attention. She was not spoilt in a bad way, she just never felt unloved or unwanted, ever.
I think that is the best thing you could ever do for your child. To give it security, love, a place to belong whatever happens. Parental love should be unconditional.
Home is where the heart is, and it does not matter if the place changes regularly. My daughter believes that wherever I am, that is home. Not a place where we once lived. We moved around so much during her lifetime, about sixteen times in twenty years. While I was pregnant with her I had to move twice due to the nature of the seasonality of accommodation in the holiday town where I worked. I will never forget carrying boxes, falling over things, being pregnant and in pain and so alone. I had my animals with me but no human support. My father could not do it for me but helped me when he could though. I will always be grateful for that. It meant so much to me.
I never wanted children, I had other plans for my life. After I got divorced I wanted to make something of myself, by myself with no hindrances. Then at age thirty-three, recently divorced and well on my way to a great future, I got pregnant by mistake. Yes, it’s actually possible. It can and does happen. Birth control fails. When you least expect it. Hot blooded and in the prime of your life, these things happen. I had a hard choice to make. I had many health issues and did not think the pregnancy would go the whole term anyway. Because I had a good job and medical benefits I decided to go for it, give it a try but I instructed the doctor that if it turned out to be a boy, to take it away for adoption. Immediately. I did not feel up to raising a boy child on my own. Due to the huge fibroids sharing space with my unborn child we could not determine the gender before.
So as the stars would have it, after a pregnancy from hell, my beautiful daughter was cut out of me at the earliest opportunity. I begged to be released from my suffering. I am thankful to this day for her being in the wrong position and being in distress because they performed a ceasarean and I did not have to suffer the humiliation of childbirth on my own.
That was the day though, an autumn day in 1997, that my whole life changed course. Of necessity as she was now my first responsibility. Gone was my social life, gone was my career – being single breadwinner and single mother changes your employability. No husband or partner by my side, no father for her. It changes everything, even your social standing. My boss at the time shouted at me for being so irresponsible and for having the audacity to become pregnant while unmarried and in his employ as a senior manager. People in the small town whispered behind my back, taunted and degraded me. It did not help that my boyfriend discarded me. Invitations to social events ceased. Everything changed.
When I went back to work after a meagre six weeks of learning how to be a mother, my parents said that they would look after her when I was at work until she could attend a day school, but they absolutely refused to look after her for any social events. I was trapped. I could not afford a nanny and had no other choice. I also breastfed which made long hours away from her extremely difficult. I became single forever.
My daughter, now 20, knows very well that she is loved and adored and treasured beyond anything in my life, her happiness comes first. But she also knows the price of having a child. She does not want it for herself. If you are not a princess in a castle with nannies and tutors and maids and chauffeurs and a husband to provide for you, your life ceases to be your own. That is of course if you care for the child, if you want the best for it. If not, well you are not fit to be a parent anyway. You can’t expect to have children just because you can and carry on like nothing happened…or you actually could- if you are a man. That is the way society works unfortunately. The man walks away and lives his life and the woman is left with being a mother.
On the plus side though, from being a blue baby with skew feet and a cord wrapped around her neck, my daughter turned into the most loving, gentle, kind, amazing, clever, beautiful girl and now woman.
She became like a tonic for my father. If he was down or feeling bad, she lifted him right up with a smile and a hug. He smiled when she was around, he was happy. He found it really hard to show affection to me the way he was able to do for her. With me he was harsher, a bit colder. A bit less happy to see me. Much, much more critical. It was like ‘oh hello sweetie, how are you?’ hug-hug-kiss-kiss for my daughter when we visited and like an aside to me ‘oh hi’. Almost as he was saying ‘are you also here?’ His father was the same apparently and he came from a large family, five children. I guess it must be tiring to be affectionate with so many people. My daughter is one of five grandchildren and got his full attention when the others were not around which I was extremely grateful for. He filled a void in her life left by her absent father.
The only problem was that my parents wanted her for themselves. They actually tried really hard to get me to go to some strange far away country to work…and leave my child with them. Made me feel terrible for not being able to provide for her when my career bombed. That made me think…made me wonder about their feelings towards me. I felt like the unwanted child again. Good enough to create this beautiful being but not good enough to raise her. Well, I proved them wrong. With very little left of our material possessions we made it work, and now my daughter appreciates everything others take for granted. There is some good which came from our hardship.
Yet another reason for my no children or if you must, only one child vision. So many happy and secure children can become happy and secure adults if they have all the love from their parent/s. Maybe the world will start settling down then. Nobody will have to fight for love, fight to be noticed, suffer from inferiority complexes or even fight for food as there will be far fewer people to share resources with in the world. Then we may just make it as humanity. I disagree with Stephen Hawking, we don’t need to colonize any more planets. We need to decolonize this one. Starting close to home. By stopping this astonishing need to breed. Make fewer people but better ones. Concentrate on quality not quantity. Do your future kid a favour. Be an attentive and loving parent. Leave a legacy of love not heartache. Or maybe just don’t have any children.
I loved you Dad, unconditionally. I will always miss you. So long and thanks for the good memories.