by Carol Ava
Memories of my Dad who passed way.
|I have put off writing about my Dad because I was afraid of dredging up very painful memories of his passing. It is, to this day, the most devastating loss I have ever experienced.
Added to this I did not wish to idealise him which would have been to dishonour him, since his most endearing quality was his deep humility and humanity. The credo by which he lived was: “Never judge another until you have walked in his shoes.” And I can honestly say that I never heard him speak badly of anyone unless this was well founded. This is not to say that he was without judgement because he was always very critical of bureaucracy and injustice and even as children he would encourage us to think and engage with these issues.
This often took place around the dinner table or whilst washing up and tidying the kitchen. He would have his arms in soapy suds in the sink, Mom would be drying and I would be packing away the dishes. We would argue, of course, but this was more in the form of debate: he taught me the merits of being impartial and logical: always respecting another point of view.
But I’m getting ahead of myself….Sifting through photos of my dad I’m struck by his tall slender, build and good looks. The strong jawline countered by his gentle demeanour. He was quiet, possibly somewhat of an introvert and he hated confrontation. He was a listener who would thoroughly digest what was being said before speaking. And when he spoke, people would listen.I remember as a teenager having a party at our home and being very upset because all the “cool” guys were outside talking to my dad!
I don’t remember my parents ever having a heated argument although I do recall my mom becoming seriously angry with him…even throwing her shoe at him once! I never understood what it was that got her so upset but in hindsight I think I can now understand: It seems to me that I’ve inherited his trait of becoming quite reclusive at times. And thinking about it I can imagine my mom feeling cut off and dis-connected when this happened. I know I can disappear into my own bubble without even realizing it. And judging by my husband’s reaction …..!
But this is not to say that he was in any way anti-social. He could never pass a hitch-hiker without picking him up and in no time they would engage in conversation. If you were in any kind of trouble my dad was the “go to” person because he would understand and know what to do.
One of my fondest memories was going to work with him for an outing during school holidays. We would catch the train to Johannesburg where he worked as an estimator for the Anglo American Mining Corporation.
Our first stop was at a little coffee shop and the owner would call out: “Hello Alfie….the usual for you and what will the little lady have?” And as we approached the office building, it seemed to me that he knew and was greeted by everyone. (When my dad was diagnosed with cancer there was an outpouring of concern and sympathy from many of his colleagues across the board from management to cleaners).
It was evident to us that he loved his work and I remember him saying: “If you are going to spend a lot of your time doing something (for example schooling) for your own sake make it enjoyable.” It can be boring and tedious or interesting and rewarding…..Your choice.”
Both my parents were avid readers so we grew up with books. As small children a visit to the Library was an absolute treat! We could choose our books and afterwards we would stop off at the café to buy our sweets.
Then as I grew older he would give me books which he thought would challenge and broaden my thinking. Having read them we would discuss them which made me feel terribly grown up and sooo clever!
He once gave me “The World of Suzie Wong” (which was banned at the time because it was about a prostitute!) And later put me onto Ayn Rand’s books: “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged.”
But this is not to say that he didn’t enjoy the outdoors: He built us kites and soapbox carts; taught us to ride our bikes (no three wheelers in our day!) He was a wizard on roller and ice-skates giving us some pointers on these skills.
And he was a mean snooker and darts player which he jokingly attributed to “his misspent youth.” He also loved to go fishing. This amused us no end because he hated harming anything! So he would go to great lengths to carefully remove the hook and let the fish go free.
There were no mouse traps in our home. Mice were caught and taken in a shoebox to the nearest veld. Spiders too were taken outside even big rain spiders which we hated, fearing that they would find their way back into our bedrooms!
Other passions which he passed on to me were chess, crossword puzzles and the movies. How he loved the movies! There were Saturdays that we would go to a Tearoom Bioscope and watch a double feature. Other times we would go to a matinee in Benoni and another movie that night in Johannesburg!
And music….Satchmo and Ella Fitzgerald are still home to me; as well as all the big bands and Cole Porter. Living on the mines their friends would come over and they’d try out all the latest dance moves.
But his primary concern was always family: he was devoted to my mother (to the point of being too forgiving, I thought.) And he seemed to have radar when things were amiss in our lives.
One of the endearing images I have of him is sitting on the side of my bed; especially if I’d done something wrong. My mom could shout and scream at us with little effect. But being confronted by my dad knowing that I’d disappointed him was unbearable! It wasn’t about what he said…..I don’t recall him having to say anything!
When he got cancer he approached his dying with the same quiet grace and dignity that characterised the way he lived: never complaining and always trying to protect us.
Writing this I have come to realize that his spirit is still very much with me…..that I haven’t lost him after all. He continues to be my mentor and role-model: a shining light in all that I strive to be.
In some space in time he continues to sit at the edge of my bed: a loving and forgiving presence. And I still yearn for his smile of approval that says “my daughter that I’m so proud of.”