It is my hope that putting this voice out into our world has value, not only for me, but for others, as well. I admit to sometimes entertaining dreams of it going viral, of infecting the world with my vision. But most of the time I am content to be motivated by Gandhi's assertion: whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

For my Father on his 80th birthday

Ernie didn't want gifts. He doesn't need things. But as his son, I wanted to give him something. I wanted to give him something that is worthy of this milestone, and worthy of this man. And it couldn't be green bananas. What I decided on were words. And so I have written one of my pieces for my dad, for this day. That is my gift to you, Ernie:

The day after my birthday this year, I stood on top of Little Lion's head with all six of your grandchildren. The shadow was already being drawn across the Hout Bay valley. Llandudno and its surrounding mountain side glowed in the rich, late light of a beautiful, bright, winter's afternoon. And it glowed too in the light of my memory.

You were not with us. Not because you would not have loved to be. But because that is how it is. What I was able to appreciate though, looking down upon where you were sitting in your wheel chair in front of the fire that Zulpha had made you, looking down on the Llandudno that was my childhood home, is that you had been there with me before, many times. Klein Leeukoppie was probably the first mountain that I loved, on family weekend trips to the top, the excitement of the rock scrambles near the end, the anxious whining of the dogs, and then the achievement of that definitive little summit in the centre of my world.

I was lucky enough to grow up in Llandudno with a father who was around, who had a workshop and a garden, who was there to fix my bicycle, who mowed his own lawn, walked on the beach with us, ate evening meals with us, who sat around the radio, Friday evenings, listening to Squad Cars and sharing the treats he brought home for us.

When I think back, I remember the things that I think we both loved best: time spent at Sani, boats and sailing, weekends to Matroosberg, when we left the city in the dark, full of anticipation of snow. These were the things you loved to do with friends and with your family. Both Sani and Matroosberg were shared with a community of people with a common enjoyment and appreciation of the place and the activities. Sailing, walking, diving, skiing, being outdoors in the wilds.

I remember too the garden on weekends, you tinkering amongst tools in your garage, the sound of the mower, the smell of cut grass, the fire burning garden rubbish, smoke rising into a blue sky.

You had your favourite old clothes that you gardened in. Wellington boots much wider than the legs below your short bottoms and your purple Makhita cap. Image did not matter. Fashion never counted for much. In the childhood I remember, it was things of enduring importance that mattered.

You socialised through activity and place and family. Around the table at Matroosberg and Sani. I remember being squeezed next to you on the red plastic cushions of the Matroosberg bench. I was of that age when fathers are still invincible. I liked being there, snug beside you, and surrounded by the warmth of jovial adult conversation. Outside darkness was settling and the snow crunched underfoot.

There were so many long evenings around the big, cement Sani braai. Sometimes with the combi seats drawn close to the fire and the big, heavy doors rattling in the north wester. Mostly they were open and we drifted between inside and out. Expeditions took us wood collecting on Duckit's Beach and along the endless 16 miles of beach, before there were roads that could take us there.

There were family braais at Llandudno, the round cable-reel table, that you painted green, the large, rough granite boulders containing the fire, rolled into place by you long ago. This is the world that you built for us. Common to all of it is a choice of lifestyle, a willingness to seek it out, the warmth of community and an understanding that what is good in life is not a commodity of a consumerist society.

We spent many hours on your Hobie together, just you and I and the expanse and beauty of the Langebaan lagoon, flat, blue water and the low, pale, calcrete landscape beyond. In your yellow sailing jacket and bleached, salt encrusted hat, you took me beyond the range of where I could explore on my own. We ventured up the lagoon to what seemed to me like distant shores, Oostewal, Postberg, and out towards the mouth beyond Salamander Bay, with the huge swells from the open ocean sweeping across it. It was in those times that I learnt about balance and how to respond to the wind. I remember you showing me how to determine a collision course, when the land stays still behind an approaching boat.

Later when I was older, and Sani was no more, we explored many other places together. We hiked through the Riet River and Fish River Canyons . We encountered the thrill of leopard up close in the grassy foothills of Cathedral Peak. In your combi we explored Namibia, the soaring granite of Spitzkoppe. We cycled down the winding passes of the Baviaanskloof together, and savoured the wilderness solitude of Rooihoek. We roamed the wilds of the Botswana bush and the islands of the Delta. And even after your accident, we took your combi into the Richtersveld. These are things of value to have done together.

Time reverses roles. You must now lean on me. And it is I that can encourage you out beyond the limitations that are imposed on you, up Constantia Neck, along the Rocket Road, to the natural history museum. These too have been good times, though we go much slower than we once did and we stay much closer to home.

When I visit with my family, we still sit around the same stinkwood dining room table that I sat around almost every evening of my childhood. But it is higher now. You have put blocks under the legs. And now I sit in what was always mother's place.

By example you and mother taught me to love and value what I now love in life: unpretentiousness, uncomplicated warmth of a close community of friends and family, the simple pleasures of life, a love of adventure in the great outdoors, and a willingness to go beyond the places where others crowd, to find the Sanis, Matroosbergs and Riet River Canyons of life.

That morning in Tokai Forest, doing what you loved, your life changed very suddenly. You have way surpassed my expectations in adapting to that change and making a different life for yourself, with what you now have. You have never dwelt on what was not to be.

By not being with us on Little Lion's Head you have taught me this: to not be trapped by what is not, no matter how much you might want it to be, but rather to embrace what is.

There is an uncomplicated stability to our family that is admirable. For me it has always been there and endures. I will do what I can, as you did, to ensure that it endures another generation, and another.

All these memories and the thoughts and feelings they invoke, all this is really a long way of saying simply: you have been a good father to me, and it is the certainty of that that I celebrate today.

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