Tag Archives: Family

The Father’s Day

This Sunday, the 18th of June 2017, will mark my first Father’s Day without being able to speak to my father. I’m still my father’s son, but he’s no longer here. The next twelve months will see a collection of experiences for me that will no longer include him. This is the first one.

In recent years I spoke with him less and less. I think I let the minutiae of everyday life get in the way of the important things. It didn’t happen all at once though, it was very gradual. I see now that one can let almost any eventuality occur if it happens slowly enough. I regret that now.

If you’re lucky, you are born into a family that planned for you, loved you, nurtured you and guided you to adulthood and beyond. Again, if you’re lucky, you will have your parents with you on your journey for most of the way. That’s me. I was that lucky. Looking back now I realize I always assumed that when the day finally arrived for me to say goodbye to one of my parents, I would be mature enough or grownup enough and as such, it would be less painful.

The truth is though, I’m just mature enough and grownup enough not to show how painful it is. Nothing more.

My father was an introverted, playful and generous man. In these last few years, he dealt with illness compounding on illness in an uncomplaining, brave and steady way. He loved his family and always had a special place in his heart for his dogs who, as far back as I can remember, were treated as full siblings to my sister and I.

It wasn’t all perfect though, no family is. There were times that I clashed with my father. There were times when he had to be tough on me, to try teach me a life lesson, to break patterns of destructive or antisocial behavior that I was displaying. But it was done to try make me a person that could prosper in this world. There were times as a teenager that I would be brooding in my room, angry at everyone and everything, where I blamed and berated, said harsh things and felt misunderstood.

I wish I could go back and clamp my grownup hands over my adolescent mouth and whisper into my deaf ears…’be quiet now, say no more.’

That’s the life lesson though, isn’t it? Most of us are given a full measure of life and how we use it is largely up to us. The trick I think is to try to limit those moments that you may later regret. To check yourself.

This Father’s Day, my boys will no doubt burst into my room with open arm hugs and hand-made cards and will plant kisses on my cheeks. They will be loud and playful and carefree little creatures and will delight in the novelty of the day.

That will make it a little easier for me to resist the urge to call my Dad. A little easier deal with the absolute finality of the fact that I can’t speak to him anymore.


The Memory Lane

How is it that some events make their way into our permanent memories, where we are able to immediately access them and play them back in full HD, while others just seem to vanish from our consciousness like mist in the midday sun? And it’s not an indictment of the memory either. It could actually be an important memory, of a special occasion or a life milestone. It could be an entire chapter or a page or even a single line from the book of our lives and without even knowing it, part of our story is gone.

It is true to say that some memories would be better off  left in the recycling bin; for instance I could easily ditch the memory of the smug face of the delinquent bully, several years older (and heads taller) than I who bashed my face against a pole, snapping one of my front teeth in half when I was in primary school. Or indeed the horrific afternoon spent dry-heaving against an empty stomach due to a poor decision, taken a couple of hours before, to try and consume a full bottle of whiskey in a Guinness record time with two equally misguided friends. We even crushed the bottle cap to show our commitment to the foolishness. Yes, I could easily forget those two wretched memories.

But forgetting something is not quite as permanent as say, dropping your iPad into a swimming pool without an iCloud backup. There is a way to bring those memories back to life, to rescue them from the abyss.

The secret is family.

Recently I’ve been reminded of parts of my childhood that I’d all but forgotten. It’s not that I was just sitting around self indulgently fretting about my lost memories, actually I was none the wiser. I had no idea there were pieces missing. But then circumstance brought my nuclear family, previously spread out across the globe, together again in a single room and then as if by magic, somewhat dusty boxes full of memories from my youth were opened and lovingly unpacked. Even things I thought I had a clear memory of were given a new spin just by having them narrated back to me from another perspective.

As I watch my two little minions learning, making memories and experiencing the wonder of the world they live in, I can’t help but think that in any given situation, they are both seeing the same thing, but are taking away from it different memories. Even this blog, which I originally started so that I could record the day to day antics of of the little guys, is merely a perspective from a single vantage point, my own.

I resolve, from now on make an effort to see their days through both sets of eyes. To ask them each to tell me about their day at the beach, or in the park or on their bikes or simply sitting in the living room surrounded by a mirriad of lego creations and pieces. They will, in each instance, come away with different memories of those days. I would like to try preserve as many of those days for them as I can.

I also resolve to encourage both my boys to keep a journal. That is what this blog amounts to really. It’s a journal of my sons from my perspective, until they’re ready to write their own stories.

Speaking of journals, they’ve come a long way since the black leather bound book with the year embossed on the front where a small padlock guarded the pages. Now you can use an iPad (and spellchecker) to upload your thoughts to the cloud. You can blog (or vlog) them into the ether for everyone to see or you can encrypt them in a 128-bit vault where only the most determined NSA cryptographers can get a peek at them.

I must say that, as I type this, I’m eager to see what my boys will say in their very first journal entries. I’ll ask if I can read them of course. What will I find out about them? Will one of them confess to eating all of the Nutella? Will they reveal the location of the spare AppleTV remote?

Perhaps. But it’s far more likely though that all I’ll find out is that they wipe freshly picked boogers under the kitchen counter when we’re not looking.

The play station

So as a bit of preamble to my story today, let me tell you about the time I acquired a PlayStation console.

My company rewards performance using a number of channels; one of which is a point-based system where points are awarded that can be accumulated and later redeemed against an online catalog. The catalog hosts everything from toasters to helicopter flips.

One year, I decided to redeem my points against a PlayStation 3 console (PS3). Now this seemed like a perfectly logical choice to me at the time but, hindsight being what it is, I will admit that it probably wasn’t the smartest move.

You see my wife and I were the proud parents of both a newborn baby boy and a very spirited two year old toddler. Our toddler had just been moved from his cot into a big bed and putting him to sleep at night was a like patting a ball of cotton wool to sleep using a Velcro glove. Every time we stepped away from the bed he lept out of it. Our newborn was also having trouble at night with reflux and was understandably quite grumpy about that. We spent night after night, patting his back, doing laps around his room with him over a shoulder getting dizzy staring behind us.

In short, life was busy. There was, as I recall, not a great deal of sleeping going on in our house in any bed. We all felt a little like we were living out an extended episode of the Twilight Zone.

Still, while browsing the company online catalog one day I saw that a PS3 was on offer and suddenly visions of lazy Saturday afternoons lying on the couch playing some kind of shoot-em-up against aliens or driving a Ferrari around a virtual Nürburgring flooded my mind. So I redeemed my points against the promise of escapism into PlayStation land.

Yes, true story. This to the raised eyebrows of my wife who couldn’t see how I was going to find the time to play with it enough to justify even spending the virtual currency of my points on such a frivolous thing.

A week or so later, my brand new box of wishful thinking was delivered to our door and that first weekend, I went out and bought a couple of games, games that cost a small fortune I might add. I rationalized my purchase of the games by telling myself that I got the console for ‘free’. This of course is the very same sort of thinking that people do when they see something they don’t need on sale and then buy it and tell everyone how much money they ‘saved’.

That day, my wife took our two precious boys out for the afternoon to visit her parents (who live about five houses away from us) and I got a comfortable seat on the couch basking in the glory of the big screen television as I hit ‘play’.

Then three hours vanished into the ether without so much as a blink of an eye getting squeezed in. It was like time travel into the future where you arrive at your temporal destination with nothing more than what you left with but you’ve lost a decade. I lost a afternoon and was only pulled out of the void by the arrival home of my wife with baby and toddler and pram and bags in tow.

And immediately, there was a problem.

My wife looked, shall we say, a little piqued. I could only imagine the afternoon she must have had looking after the boys given her fatigue and persistent lack of sleep and I of course didn’t improve the situation by continuing to recline on my couch in a very Roman sort of fashion with the PS3 wireless controller in my hands.

Now I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t just switch everything off and leap into action to take over from her. I can only assume that the few hours of PS3 that I had imbibed, had somehow blunted my capacity to recognize a potentially hazardous situation and take corrective action to avoid it.

Inevitably over the course of the next thirty minutes or so my wife, quite justifiably, boiled over and the net result was that the PS3 was closed into the cabinet under the television and was not touched (literally) for four years.

Time passed and our situation changed where we now have two little guys aged six and four who are always looking for new and interesting forms of entertainment. Their grandparents, having recently returned from an overseas trip to visit my brother in-law and his wife and two children arrived home with literally a suitcase full of Lego and PS3 accessories and games in tow.

Yes. True story. PS3 games.

It seems though that I still haven’t learnt anything. Immediately I went out and bought more accessories for the PS3. My boys and I played the infernal thing for four hours straight this past Sunday and this time when we time-travelled, because it’s winter, we arrived at our destination in the dark.

The difference now though is that my wife understands it all. She understands the promise of PlayStation, where our boys can play together (literally side by side watching the same split screen) without uttering a single clamorous shout for Mom or Dad to do anything for them. She understands the giggles and yelps of excitement as lightsabers and Wookiee’s and Droids do battle. She understands the quirky little shuffle the little guy does while standing up with the camote trol (remote controlin his hands and running on the spot to speed up the superhero avatar he’s playing on screen. She understands that this is what I got a glimpse of four years ago.

And she looked upon the PlayStation and saw that it was good.

The grands

Grandparents. The word alone should conjure up memories in anyone’s minds eye of silver haired smiles, of being spoilt or comforted, of wrinkles and spots and grey hair, of quiet afternoons and the tic toc steadiness of time spent with them.

I have a number of clear memories of my maternal grandfather. He was an avid lawn bowler. Quite a good one at that. I remember some afternoons spent leaping through hedges at the Sturrock Park Bowling Club where both he and my grandmother (Grannypie) played. His picture was on the wall at the club, above the big doors if memory serves. I remember the parking lot for the club being on the opposite side of a railway and I, for whatever reason, decided one day I wasn’t going to cross the bridge over the tracks. I’d been to the bowling club before and since but on that day I remember him having to try convince me that the trains really weren’t going to run over me. I remember he was a quiet man, a gentleman and he loved to wear hats. He passed away when I was quite young after a long illness.

My paternal grandfather was a real family man that loved a big party. He worked well into his retirement years and I remember his love of animals (dogs in particular) and his parrot (Popeye). He had four boys with my father being the second youngest and then thirteen grandchildren. Yes, thirteen and I was the youngest. He drove a red beetle and when that little car made its way into our neighborhood, every dog for four blocks around would make a beeline for our house so that they could claim their little treat which he always seemed to have handy. As I cast my mind back, many of the memories I have of Grandpa were at family gatherings which he’d orchestrated. Actually, my memories of him seem to jump from one family party to the next at one of my uncle’s homes or ours. I remember a few holidays he took with my grandmother (Nanna) where my father was tasked with caring for Popeye the parrot. Popeye, by the way, grew up in a home of four boys that loved Elvis and as such was a big fan of 50’s music and of ‘the king’ in particular. He absolutely adored my Grandpa. He’d pine when he was away and literally do loops on his perch when he came home. Grandpa also passed away when I was quite young after a brief illness.

My Nanna was a free spirit, not in the new age sense but rather in the fact that she seemed to rediscover her youthful exuberance long after most grandparents would be zimmer-framing from the kitchen to the lounge. She actually stayed in her own apartment in Braamfontein and would zip around the country on a whim to visit a casino without even having to ask anyone to so much as give her a lift. Her disappearances always caused great concern among my father and uncles. She was loving and fun and I get the sense that had she been alive when Facebook started, she’d definitely have had a page with great stories on it. She’d probably have had a Twitter handle too and I expect she’d have had a huge following of people admiring a granny with such a young heart. I was on holiday when she passed away.

My Grannypie, so named by my sister, was a Dame. She really was. She was one of those people who would pat the seat next to her to indicate you should sit down to speak to her. Very proper. Very steady. She loved to listen to the radio. She had a great sense of humor and she almost closed her eyes when she smiled. She lived with us for the last years of her life and she had one drink a day which was a tot of Gilby’s gin, a tot of lime, two blocks of ice and water in a short tumbler glass. I made one for her almost every day before I left home and eventually spread my wings. At my 21st birthday party, her and her two sisters all managed to make several trips to the gents restrooms, completely in error of course. None of them questioned the row of urinals or the stick man on the door. Much mirth followed when it was finally explained to them what they’d been doing that day. My Grannypie lived a full life and passed away quietly at my family home. I arrived a day late.

My paternal Grandparents were often backups when I was not well enough to go to school as a pup. I have memories of doing ’rounds’ with my Grandfather in his building in Johannesburg where he was the caretaker. They lived on the top floor and going there was always a treat. I’m pretty sure I slowed him down on those days but he never once made me feel like I was a burden. I do remember him having to take a nap on the odd occasion that I was visiting in order to recharge though.

For a few years after I learnt how to drive I would fetch my grandmothers on a Sunday morning and bring them home for lunch. They were never back seat drivers but my mother always cautioned me to drive sedately with them, though I’m not sure I always did. All of my Grandparents played a role in my life and all of them have special nooks in my mind where I can easily reach them.

I wasn’t there when any of them passed away so I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. Each of them just disappeared one day and life sort of moved on without them. Everything pretty much the same, just a little emptier. So I encourage those among you who have grandparents to take time out to sit next to them, to listen to their stories. Today. Now.

I guess what I’m trying to say, in a very roundabout sort of way, is that I’m almost 43 years old and I still miss my grandparents.

The dog arrival

Our new family member has finally arrived. We have been looking for someone like her for quite some time now and finally the stars all aligned ‘just so’ in order for her to fall into our laps.

My wife has been actively scouring the animal shelter web sites, trawling through classified ads and referrals and the like searching for that one special creature that would fit our family like a lycra batman suit on a fat toddler.

Then my wife spotted an advert online for a puppy, a Basset Hound as it turns out and it was all set in motion. She contacted the seller on the way to work in the car while I drove. She then proceeded to have a fifteen minute conversation with the seller, subjecting her to a rigorous q&a session in order to determine her legitimacy. We wanted to try make certain we weren’t supporting a horrible puppy mill or an unscrupulous breeder.

By the end of that call, my wife was satisfied the seller was on the up and up and I was actually sympathetically sweating with anxiety on behalf of the seller, just having been a spectator to the questions that were asked. I imagine the seller was probably fanning her underarms to cool down after the call too. I have no doubt at all now that my wife could grill a suspect in a crime into confessing whether they’d actually done something wrong or not. 

Later a deal was made and we collected her on the way home from the office. She was wrapped in a brand new green fleece blanket and cocooned her in her new mommy’s arms for the drive home. She was so good, only emitting a few little squeaks here and there but otherwise content to be held while her wet ears were scratched (more on that in a moment).

When we got home, the halflings were at their grandparents so we could acclimate her to her new surroundings in relative peace and quiet and here we got our first real good look at her…

She has short, stumpy little legs and big droopy ears hanging pretty much all the way down to the floor which means her ears also fall into whichever water bowl she’s drinking out of. Ditto for the pronutro she eats. Hence the wet ears. She has a few soft, brown markings on an otherwise white body, one mostly white ear, one mostly brown ear and a little brown spot on top of her head, centermast. She has long toenails which produce a clickety sound as she moves around the house on the hard floors. She also has that universal ‘puppy’ expression on her face which is all at once disarming, sweet and a little worried or sad looking.

In short, she’s beautiful.

The halflings were completely surprised. When they walked in and saw her, the disbelief mixed with delight was only bearly contained as they tried to keep their voices down (the puppy was asleep on my lap). They asked, several times, if she really was ours and if we really could keep her.

And so, we spent that first night watching her bound across the lawn in uncoordinated little leaps and trying to navigate up and down our three small stairs. We must have planted a hundred kisses on her head.

It’s safe to say then that we’re all in love. I love the fact that her ears are always wet and that she smells like pronutro. I love that she trips over those very same ears when she changes direction quickly and can’t avoid stepping on them. I love that she will take any opportunity to snuggle up against us, falling asleep on an unguarded foot or unoccupied lap at the drop of a hat. In short, she has wrapped her cool, flappy ears around us and we’re going to stay there.

Welcome home Bindi.

The virtual family visit

Skype is the modern equivalent of a Sunday visit with your family. When I was growing up, we’d see my grand-parents on Weekends, usually a Sunday and we’d also have regular visits to aunts and uncles during the course of any given month where cousins would catch up and lunch would be a big sit-down affair. These visits usually lasted half the day and then we’d all trundle home, dropping grannies off at their respective homes along the way.

I remember these times fondly but looking back now I realise that I took it all very much for granted. I just assumed my life would be the same when I eventually grew up and had a family of my own. There would be grand-parents and cousins for my family to see each week and it would take no more than a short ride in a car to see them.

However that rose tinted time was in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s and since then, the world has changed dramatically. There has been a diaspora among the members of my generation across the globe and in many cases, family’s have been split geographically across hemispheres north and south and east and west. We are not the lost generation but we are, by and large, alone.

For my children this means one set of grandparents nearby and the other set a plane ride of a couple of hours away. A visit in person with their cousins means an international trip across hemispheres and time zones.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Skype came along and reconnected us with our families in a very real and profound way. Whereas in the past we could always make phone calls with family that lived far away, we would very rarely see them and as such we would miss things like a new hair colour or style, new glasses, new wrinkles, weight loss or gain, smiles and even tears. The age of digitising ourselves into bits and bytes and casting our avatars into the ether changed all of that and now we can once again keep the sound of our families in step with the look of them at a moments notice.

The very definition of the family visit has changed too. We no longer need a car and a thirty minute drive to see family but in the same breath, we no longer need to fly anywhere either. We no longer share a meal and our visits are that much shorter, but there’s a focus to them that perhaps was more diluted in the past when we visited in person each weekend.

This then is the world my children are growing up in. It’s as different from the one I grew up in as iPads and apps are to ring binders and paper. Last night my sister and I skyped and the cousins started presenting their toys to each other from eleven thousand kilometers away. It was almost like real live play except that at a moments notice any of them could step out of frame and become instantly distant again if they wanted to. They even shared some of the same toys except that in this reality, the toys were in duplicate. Played with in virtual isolation.

While it is true that the world is smaller than it used to be thanks to the age of technology we find ourselves in, it is just as true that if you want to give your family an arms full hug, you will still need make travel plans of some sort.

Bon voyage.