This morning my father-in-law died. He was a very unique man and a great role model on how to age with pride. He made no excuses for his beliefs and he made sure that everyone knew where stood and he was always right (according to him). This makes him sound incredibly tough and hard headed to which he was both but although I didn’t spend a lot of time with him, I realised that he was a very caring man. He took on his responsibilities with pride and a steely determination to do his best whether it be fix someones fishing rod or look after his family, his devotion was the same.
I met him when I was 23 years old and was a little afraid of Nic’s biological father who had been nicknamed as ‘No 1’. They spent school holidays with him and new family so little was known about him by me at the time. My sister-in-law looked wide eyed at me when Nic told her we were driving through to meet him. She never explained the look so I tried to figure out what it meant. On arriving at his home in a small ‘dorp’ on the far East side of the old Transvaal, I immediately felt like I had stepped back in a time zone. Impressions of my childhood neighbours complete with smells and sounds of pressure cooker food made me feel young and shy. I was initially sized up quietly although he would never have owned up to it later, but I was a kind of enemy. I was Engels. Not only that but I was a ‘egter rooinek’ so had to be treated with a little resistance. Ouma and Fransie lived in a small flat attached to the main house where No 1, Poppie ( his wife) and son, Goofy lived. Fransie, was a younger uncle but had Down syndrome so he didn’t really care what language I spoke. He welcomed me with huge hugs and proceeded to show me his crocheting and photos of him and a famous singer. I relaxed with him as Nic and his Dad continued to fight over who was ‘righter’. A task that they never outgrew but it became a form of love language between them.
Slowly, through the years, I became less of an alien to eventually being called – ‘my meisie’ as their English improved and my opinion shifted. He was steadfast in his beliefs, a lot of which, I completely disagree with, however, it was easier for me to suspend mine and learn more about who this man was.
He was devoted to his mother who managed to live a long and fulfilled life yet was concerned about what would happen to her son, Fransie, when she died. She needn’t have worried as her two remaining able bodied sons looked after him extremely well. I remember being so touched by the gentleness No 1 displayed at handling his now, mute brother. He fed him, took him to the bathroom with endless patience and I sat in awe. He took on the responsibility of looking after his bed-ridden wife after a back operation and nursed her back to health. He would brag easily about his latest catch at the freezing winter waters yet we knew that the fishing was more about the fish for him, it seemed to renew his soul. He was devastated when a swarm of bees killed all his birds in his aviary and for a long time refused to keep up his bird hobby. He would tell us stories of the dogs he trained and pets gone before with a love in his eye.
He would call us with his enquiring cheerful voice to check up on us if we had been too quiet and always playfully urged me to ‘ophou hardloop’ after one fall too many. He was enterprising in his tasks at home and never really surrendered the patriarch role which caused a little friction with his son, Nic’s brother, with whom they now lived. In the end, he died as he lived, on his terms. He refused treatment and accepted that he was ready to face his Lord. He tried to keep from burdening his children with worry and fear and would reassure us with a breathless ‘ek is fine’ on the telephone. Stubborn yet passionate, is a trait he passed on to his children but we will remember the tenderness and kindness with a tear in our hearts.