I felt that today, on the eve of your 70th birthday, it was important for me to tell you publicly, why I am so glad that you are my Dad.
Although I was too young to recall doing puzzles with you, I am told that we bonded over jigsaws when I was still in nappies. When you sat patiently with me, separating the inside pieces from the outside pieces and, together we built puzzles. It explains why I love puzzles so much. I only wish humans had the capacity for earlier memories.
One of my earliest memories is our family trip to Durban when I was “three and three quarters”. I know I was that age because you had told me so and I, in turn, told anyone who asked. And I told them earnestly and with pride. To this day, your sense of humour and that memory, make me smile.
I recall your being tasked with the job of ensuring that I was warm enough at bedtime in winter – an impossible task as I have never been known to declare that I feel sufficiently warm when it’s cold.
“Are you warm enough?” you’d ask.
“No!” I’d reply.
And you’d fetch me another blanket (one of those thick, old-fashioned, heavy, rug-like blankets). This would be repeated two or three times before you’d say:
“This is just weight now, Natalie! It’s not warmth!”
And I’d giggle in mock protest and insist that I was still cold and you’d obligingly go down the passage to find me another blanket until all of the spare blankets in the house were on top of me. I think about those moments every single time I am cold, in bed and wishing for another blanket.
From Standard Two to Standard Five, for each and every test I ever wrote, my studying process was never complete until you had “tested me”. I still have visions of us sitting on the couch, you holding my school notebook and patiently asking me questions about the subject matter to test my knowledge. Those sessions with you were not only a lot of fun, but they gave me such confidence. It’s probably good that I was forced to go-it-alone at boarding school in high school or I don’t think I would have passed my university degree without you there to test me.
In Standard Five, I came home mortified after my Maths exam. I’d left out a certain number of marks in the paper. It was printed double-sided and I hadn’t realized and had left out an entire page. You and Mom tried to console me. I felt as though it were the end of the world but deep down I did understand that it was just one of those too-bad-so-sad things that happen in life and that I’d need to grow up and get over it. The next day, however, I was called to the principal’s office and there you were, seated across the desk from him. You’d convinced him to let me complete the paper then and there.
25 years later, it’s irrelevant what I got for Maths in Standard Five but what will always stick with me is how you fought for me, without even being asked. I’m not sure that the self-involved twelve year old version of me ever did thank you. Thank you, Dad.
And though I loathed you for it at the time, I respected you for turning the car around with my friend and I inside, when you discovered that we’d rented a 2-18 movie for the weekend. You didn’t have to say much: the mortification of handing it back to the video store owner twenty minutes later, was punishment enough.
But the main reason why I am so glad you are my Dad and one of the reasons why my childhood is so full of such wonderful home and family memories is because you were always there: dropping us at school, testing us, checking our homework, at bath time, at supper time, watching the A-team at 7pm, at bedtime, at sports day (the one time I accidentally made it to interschools), at prize-giving, at Rotary Exchange interviews – you were there, always, loving us and looking after that.
And these are the things I treasure about you, Dad.
Happy 70th birthday. You’re a survivor!