My dad turned 70 yesterday. My mom turned 70 three years ago. Here are some other numbers:
- My mom had me when she was 43. My dad was 40.
- My mom had been married once before but her husband died 6 months after their wedding.
- My dad had 2 daughters before he married my mom.
- My dad has 4 daughters in total. I grew up with only 1 of them.
If I look at the numbers I see that my parents had entire lives before us. Before each other. They loved and suffered and experienced things. Then they were just my parents. Until about 5 years ago when I started growing up and and seeing them as real people. I started to imagine what it must have felt like to lose the person you love and have to start again. Or to have a child out there who doesn’t know that you’re her father or one that doesn’t want to know you at all.
I think this is a common phenomenon for us children. To gradually have the veil lifted and see that our parents are more similar to us than dissimilar and that we are more similar to them than we realized. Ten years ago, I saw a lot that I thought was wrong with my parents. Five years ago I was actively aware of the traits I’d inherited from them that I did not want to display. Today, I’m focused on how I can be more like them and emulate the characteristics that I love and respect in them.
Like my mothers curiosity and resourcefulness. She once flew my sister and I all the way from South Africa to Wimbledon where we slept on the rock hard pavement with only a borrowed blanket from a B&B so that we could get tickets for Center Court and see my idol, Steffi Graf. People told her she couldn’t afford it but when we got home she rented out our house and we spent the summer holidays in a Caravan Park down the road. She even let me paint our gypsy caravan my favourite colour, turquoise, and wasn’t embarrassed when we set up camp next to the sleek motor homes with satellite dishes for their TVs. Now that’s the kind of person and mom I want to be.
Or my father’s creativity and gentle nature. While my mom is more conservative, my father would sketch nude hippes in the Knysna Forest back in the day. I think the stillness and focus of drawing must’ve appealed to his nature. I’ve never seen him raise his voice unless unduly provoked. When he said no, it meant no. ‘Finish ‘n klaar!’ he liked to say or ‘Finishinkla!!! if exasperated. He was a quiet but not a passive leader, making his voice heard when it was important. I think it must be thanks to him that I’m attracted to the quiet confident types (or type) now.
It has taken me years to learn that I want to be more, not less, like my parents. They learned lots of lessons for me before I was even born and right now, they are still here to teach them to me, for which I am very grateful.
A selection of my mother’s favourite mantras, etched in my brain for life:
You’re Face is Your Fortune
Where there’s a Will There’s a way
Never Give Up
There’s no such thing as bored
Sunburnt Little Girls Make Wrinkled Old Ladies