A tribute to my dad

My earliest memory of you probably occurred when I was around 3 or 4. You stood next to me while I was on one of those mechanical ponies that go up and down when you put money into them. My next memory is of us at the park. Someone was on a swing- I ran past them and the swing hit my head. You had no idea what to do, so you took me to the tap and rubbed water on my head. Water was your solution to everything- be it a bruised knee or a stomach ache – “drink some water, you’ll be fine.” I remember you being so angry whenever I fell or got hurt. You never wanted anything bad to happen to me. You were angry with me for hurting myself, if that makes sense. 

 

Growing up, everyone said I was the apple of your eye. I remember receiving love in abundance, and getting most things I wanted. You fetched me from school on the days I had extramurals, and often I’d opt out of my mom’s food and ask you to stop at KFC or Nando’s- you never said no. I tried to keep my requests reasonable because I knew they wouldn’t be denied. You were the dad everyone wished they had- all my friends would always tell me how lucky I was. 

On Sundays, our ritual was to go to our local shopping mall, Greenacres. We’d hold hands and head to our first stop- the arcade, where we’d play a game or two of pinball- you’d always win. Next, we went to Milky Lane and ordered two milkshakes- I always chose chocolate while you’d alternate between vanilla and strawberry. Our last stop was CNA, where I’d get a new book every week. I went through the entire Enid Blyton series, and then moved onto Sweet Valley.You nurtured my love of reading. 

You’d wake me up every morning singing “wake up, wake up, it’s a lovely day… Rainbow Bright, from Sweet Valley High.” You were the cool dad. You never got angry, never raised your voice. Thank you for teaching me how to control my temper. You were so easy to talk to- I could tell you anything, without fear of being judged. You were incredibly proud of me, which only pushed me to do better. You taught me how to feel. Your heart was soft, and you’d cry easily during family speeches at weddings and birthdays.

Me saying a speech at your 60th birthday
And at your 70th birthday..
Every day, after lunch, you’d break a Kit Kat in half and we’d each gobble down a finger. You loved chocolate- Cadbury only. Still, a meal for me isn’t complete until I’ve had a block of chocolate. 

You were a go getter. By the time I was born, you had travelled the world, and you made my dream of going to Disney World a reality, instilling my love of travel from an early age. You always used to tell me about your business  ventures – you had owned everything from an ice rink to a nightclub. 

You let me be who I wanted to be. You never forced me to do anything. You didn’t care about what was politically correct, and you made no apologies for who you were. Thank you for teaching me how to be an individual, how to go against the grain and how to think for myself. 

When I went off to university, you had complete faith in me, and on my graduation day your pride was tangible. A few years later, on my wedding day, you walked me down the aisle, your face tight with emotion. I could do no wrong in your eyes. You defended me and supported me throughout my life- even when I controversially decided to keep my wedding intimate and didn’t invite most of my family, which inevitably upset people close to you. You didn’t care- I was your number one priority, and as long as I was happy, no one else mattered. 

At my pre-wedding function (saatak)
My formative years were spent knowing that one person loved me more than anything else in the world, unconditionally. As I grew up, my focus became leaving you, and PE, for JHB. I travelled, worked hard, studied, and didn’t spend as much time with you as I should have. I wish we had gone on one last family holiday together. 

Certain memories of you will always be imprinted in my memory – a huge grin on your face, plastered against the glass window at airport arrivals. You always picked me up and looked forward to my visits. I still look for you when I get off the plane. 

Your eyes would twinkle and turn into tiny slits when you smiled, mine do the same. I would lay in bed with you, my head on your chest and your arm around me. 

You loved music. The Beatles were your favourite. You also loved food- and my mother made sure that you had all your favourites each day. I inherited both traits from you. You taught me to believe in myself. You had such faith in me, and my self-confidence grew because of that- I know now that once I set my mind to something, it gets done. Whenever I was stressed about an exam, you dismissed my complaints, quietly saying “you can do it. you’ll be fine.” 

You taught me to love animals. We had pets for as long as I can remember- hamsters, lovebirds, puppies, goldfish, even a rabbit at one stage. You always let me stop at the pet shop when we were at the mall- we used to ogle over the puppies, knowing my mother would kill us if we brought one home. 

You had a thing for cars. Some Sundays we’d drive past the Mercedes dealership and admire the cars- always Merc, never BMW. 

Because you were 50 when I was born, I knew that I didn’t have long with you. Growing up, I always thought you’d be gone by the time I was 23 or 24, because your parents passed away around the age of 73. When you didn’t, I felt as though you were invincible and took it for granted that you’d always be around. 

About a year ago, you started complaining of severe backache. Nothing helped- you tried a chiropractor and a physiotherapist. In January this year, someone noticed a lump on your back. When you had it tested, we found out it was cancerous. A few days later, we discovered that you had stage 4 lung cancer. I knew what the statistics said, and I prepared myself for it. You were 77 and had lived a good life. I knew that it couldn’t last forever. I was strong. I visited a month later, just before you started chemo. You were angry, and in pain. 

You hated chemo and the side effects that came with it- vomiting and exhaustion. I came to visit again over Easter weekend- you slept most of the weekend away and I was bored and frustrated being in PE, but still strong. Being the control freak I am, I processed this whole death thing in my mind and let my mind rule over my heart. I convinced myself that I was fine. 

Slowly, you started losing weight. The next time I came to PE, you were in hospital because you were too weak to move. It was my first time seeing you like that- you didn’t belong there. I got back to JHB, went to work the next day, still not feeling too much emotion. That night, as I packed the dishwasher, I couldn’t control the tears, and I had no idea why I was upset. I thought I had rationalized this whole thing in my head and figured it all out. I then realized that it was time to start the grieving process, because losing you started months before you passed away.  I knew you as a strong, bulky man with a beer belly, and at the end you were reduced to nothing but skin and bone. I came to visit two weeks ago, and you were unrecognizable. Your face was gaunt, your hips and ribcage protruding out your body. My heart was in my chest, but I kept smiling, pretending as though everything was fine. You struggled to talk, but you asked me about the Singapore grand prix, making driving gestures with your hands. Your last words to me were “see you soon”, and you waved with both hands as I left your bedroom. 

 

I drove back home from the airport trying to see the road through my tears. How did the father I knew turn into this? You were like a baby again, bedridden and completely dependent on others to feed, bath and turn you. The final two weeks were stressful- I knew it was the end, but that didn’t prepare me for how I’d feel when it actually happened. Last Friday, I heard things were getting bad, so early that morning I booked a flight to go to PE that night. Just before I got onto the plane, I phoned home and found out that your pulse was weakening. The flight was delayed, and just as it was about to take off, I was told that you had passed away. When I saw you in the coffin, you weren’t my father anymore. My father left a long time ago. I kept looking back and forth between the framed picture of you and your body in the coffin, in disbelief that you ended up that way. 

The funeral was a really overwhelming day. Mostly because it was my first time at a crematorium. All our happy memories seeped through my mind during this day. You gave me so much, most of all, self worth and self confidence. Because if my father thinks that I’m the most successful, beautiful, intelligent person in the world, why should I care about what anyone else thinks? Thank you for giving me so much of yourself, and I’ll always remember you just like this –with your Ray Ban sunglasses, Pringle shirt and hiked up pants. Goodbye Daddy, I love you.