I spent the better part of my youth in an Indian township south of Johannesburg, so this feeling of community and familiarity with your neighbours was something that I enjoyed well into my twenties. I miss those days a lot and still find myself struggling to find ways to bring back some of that old school wholesomeness. Despite being withdrawn and reclusive as a person, I always had a sense of belonging to something bigger than just my family, even though I may not have played an active role in the community. Some of my best times of my life were when we moved out of my father’s house into a rented place in another part of the township. We had less and ate the most modest meals but we felt liberated in many ways.
This newfound sense of freedom was reflected in our lifestyles. We suddenly went from being a highly stressed and restrained bunch, to a group that had boundless energy and time for fun and laughter. For the first time ever we felt like a really close knit family. We played volley ball several nights a week after a hard day’s slog, we braai’d more often than our doctor’s would have advised, and we actively participated in each other’s lives. This was very different from our days in the family home when my parents were still together. My father was often angry and tired, and he suffered from unexplained blackouts. Years later I discovered that the medication he was on to reduce the blackouts also had mood altering effects, and I can’t help but wonder if he wouldn’t have been a very different man if he didn’t take that medication.
His blackouts were suspected to be the result of repeated blows to the head that were sustained when he was playing goalkeeper for the local football team. He also got into more scuffles than most people, and I suspect that some of his anger he didn’t even understand himself. There would be days when he’d be completely delightful, entertaining and fatherly. But those were unfortunately rare occasions. He often seemed easily overcome with the burden of having a big family on a small income. He was a strict disciplinarian with his own family, but seemed to have a very different approach to my cousins. I tried, and still try to understand a lot of his actions because as always, my idealism leads me to believe that no human being is deliberately angry or vicious or malicious, no matter how much they even try to convince themselves that that is who they are.
The more we choose to be that way, the more we’re finding ways to hide the uneasiness of not knowing why we are that way, until eventually we stop questioning or trying to change and we accept it as being our destiny. I don’t believe destiny works that way. Destiny doesn’t dictate our character or personality or choices in life. Destiny, for me, is only the culmination of events that we have no direct and complete influence over. Everything else is subject to the limited free will that we’ve been given. I believe that how we choose to respond to the events that destiny throws at us determines our success or failure as individuals and as human beings. When we give in to the destructive influences that tempt us to take the easy way out, we end up selling ourselves short and losing a part of our soul that will always be extremely difficult to rediscover.
I don’t think my father found enough motivation around him to want to be better than what he was. He was a very intelligent man, but he had no one that seemed to believe in him. There was never a shortage of people to judge him or criticise him, but I don’t recall ever seeing anyone that showed a genuine interest in what made him the angry man that he was. I often think that only when I truly appreciate the influence that my father had on my life, and only when I achieve a reasonable understanding of what made him the person that he was, will I be able to progress in my own life as a better person, father and human being.
An extract from that book I never wrote. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Somehow it feels as if I’m growing closer to the point where the words will bleed easily from my fingers the moment I resolve to do it. I hope that happens soon because I desperately need a ventlet from all the noise right now.