Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Memory of my Dad, on His Birthday

Today would have been my papa's 71st  birthday. He died when I was 12. That is the year I turned

30. I wonder what life would have been like for us or who we would have become if he had lived.

This year I had the transformative opportunity to go back and meet the 12 year old girl who had to be

 abandoned and replaced by the 30 year old woman, who had not cried enough. This is why I am able

 to write about him.

My father was handsome fellow, tall,   caramel skinned and in possession of a killer smile.  He dressed in fine sports jackets and smoked cigars and Kingsgate cigarettes. He wore gold cufflinks and drank Gerac Stein and Don –Juan-old brown- sherry. His shiny ox-blood shoes made cliketty clak sounds on the kitchen tiles and he whistled ‘Coz I’m Black and still in Chains” by John Holt . He had the most beautiful hands I have ever seen. Large yet elegant, with fine long fingers that tapered. At each finger tip were perfectly manicured finger nails, cut short and blunt and very clean. I would watch mesmerized as he picked up a goblet of his favorite intoxicant and follow his hand as though my life depended on watching him take a quiet sip. He would turn the glass around as though trying to figure out how such a simple vessel could deliver such a wonderful elixir. He would then put it down with a contented sigh and settle himself comfortably into his leather arm chair. My father had come from very humble beginnings. So humble in fact that I often wondered why people use the term “humble beginnings” where there seem to be no beginnings at all. He sought to surround himself with all things fine. His appreciation for fine clothes, good wine expensive furniture and cars were the hallmark of his short existence. He also loved books and was passionate about education. He was always studying through some correspondence college- Rapid Results College, UNISA- or reading a novel. As a 6 year old not yet going to school, I would watch him sitting on the verandah the French doors thrown open while he blasted Richard John Smith’s ‘Tomorrow girl’ and ‘Jimmy Cliff’s Follow My mind.’ The obligatory goblet would be next to him on a small side table and he would nod his head and whistle to the melodies pulsating from the Sony stereo. I would silently pull up a garden chair next to him, not too close as to irritate him and get sent marching to the kitchen, a place I loathed with everything in me.  I would get a book, cross my legs at the knees and tap my foot in time to the music. What I felt at these rare moments was a fierce pride. I was proud of my father’s achievements. I was proud that he had moved from Sugarcane- Triangle to Sindebele-Luveve, bought a brand new Datsun 120Y sedan and finally moved us to Isikhiwa-Killarney, all in the space of 2 years!
Dad lived his life at a frenetic pace. He was driven, as though he knew that he had limited time and that he had to make provisions for his young widow and 4 young children. He worked hard and he saved and set up all sorts of insurance policies and funds that I had no understanding of at age 9.
This man was larger than life to me. He was God. Whenever we gathered to say night prayers and uttered the words ‘Dear God, a picture of my dad would appear in my mind as naturally as a rainbow appears in the sky after a summer rain shower. His death was a sudden blow that left me numb for many years. But I would thaw eventually albeit very slowly. Now I have the immense joy of seeing his delicate shadow in the twins' smiles, or hearing his voice in Chi-Chi's dry rejoinders and her incessant tuneless whistling, or take in his radiance in Kai's beautiful skin with its copper undertones. I can see him and experience memories of  him without the once before searing pain and anger that would bring tears to my eyes. One day I shall tell his story as a way to complete my own.
Happy birthday dad!
As I was about to post this blog my twins called me to see this spectacular rainbow over our house! What a gift!



  1. A fitting tribute . Amazing how you all coped and have done so well . Your father would have been so so proud of you .