Fathers Day, a day set aside to honor and acknowledge fathers. It is a joyous occasion to celebrate fathers. Yet this day sometimes sparks sadness for those who do not have dads that are active in their lives. This may be due to death, divorce, abandonment or other reasons. It may also be a hard day for dads, if children are estranged and no longer in their lives. Such occasions usually spark feelings of sadness and regret. It is a bittersweet day for many.
There are also many fathers who may not be biological fathers, but fathers nevertheless for the time and care they provide to children. I believe that a supportive, caring individual who makes a difference in a child’s life, in the absence of a biological dad, is a father in the true sense of the word.
For those who mourn the loss of a father on this father’s day, I am sure your fathers would want you to be joyous and not sad. Try and think of the good times you had with your dad and talk about that. If you want to honor his memory, visit a senior citizen who may be yearning companionship, or a child in need of a loving family. Make the best of the day.
My father passed away many years ago. I wish to honor his memory with this article.
My Father: Rughunandhen Sewpal: 26th September 1906-13th August 1989
My father was the eldest of 8 children. He grew up in Stanger, Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa on a sugar cane farm. His grandfather had who had been an indentured laborer from India, came to South Africa in the 1860’s. After serving his indentureship, and working for white farmers, he managed to save money, purchased land, built a school and provided for the less privileged in the community. This school still exists in Nonoti, and the land was distributed to his descendants.
My father was a school principal. He began his teaching career at the age of 14, when he was in standard 4. We were told that since he was one of the smarter students, he was asked to teach the lower grades, while he continued to be a student as well.
My father was not a perfect man and he had his share of family upheavals and conflicts. These differences eventually resulted in my father leaving Stanger and donating land that he had inherited, to the community, to build a school in Lot 14, Stanger. He settled in Durban, beginning, a new life with his wife, my mother, and his children. Years later the family did re-connect, and we all enjoy a great relationship with the extended family.
When he was around 50 years old he became deeply religious and tried to spread the Hindu religion far and wide, by delivering talks, slide shows and volunteering hours of his time to the spiritual organization. He also supported this organization financially for many years.
There were also other interesting characteristics about my father. What I remember most about him was his wonderful sense of humor. Although my father passed away in 1989, for my siblings and me, this facet of his personality, stands out the most. He was sort of lackadaisical about discipline, strong in some areas and none in others. His daughters were not allowed to have short hair styles, wear pants or shorts. Yet we could read comics or books that many parents objected too. In fact my father himself used to read comics.
He was an avid story teller and often told us stories that were really funny and often related to someone who had to pee very badly or had to crap urgently, the circumstances around that and what happened afterwards. They were always hilarious.
My younger brother and I were also told that we had “big fathers” who were very wealthy and had huge farms. We were told these tales separately, with details of the adventures of these big fathers. We always listened intently.
He did a similar thing, when he was much older, with 2 of his grand children, my brother’s sons. When they asked where this person lived, he would point with his hands, and say, “over there.” A few years back when I asked my nephews about their big father, Haria, they laughingly said, while pointing, “He lives over there.” The “there” was sort of stretched to indicate it was far away.
When we recall these big father stories these days, my brother and I both said that in our minds, as children, we accepted this as reality and had visualized this vast land that belonged to our respective big fathers. I don’t think my father realized that we children took all of that literally.
Another thing that I remember was his clever response to me. When I was in high school, I really wanted short hair, and thought I had the perfect argument for making my case. I told him that the prime minister of India, at the time, Indira Ghandi had short hair; therefore I could have short hair as well. Without a moment’s hesitation, he told me that when I am prime minister, then I can have short hair as well. I could not respond to that.
When I was in the first and second grade, I used to attend the Manor Gardens School in Cato Manor where my father was principal. A few years later, my younger brother did the same. Both of us recall that when we arrived home after school, the other siblings asked for sweets or some kind of treats from him. He never had any. But he told them, that all the shops were burned and he could not buy any.
None of us questioned this. I knew that I did not see any shops that were burned and my brother reports thinking this as well. He used this excuse all the time and even my siblings, who expected the treats, did not question this.
He was also an expert at organizing arranged marriages because he knew the community so well. Our house was often the venue for prospective brides and grooms to meet and do the traditional serving of tea, giving the couple an opportunity to view each other. A cousin, whose marriage was arranged this way, celebrated her 50th anniversary in January 2013, acknowledging my father as the person responsible for her marriage. Unfortunately none of his children met their spouses in this style.
My father was special to us. I wish we had asked more questions, but we also grew up in a time when children were seen and not heard. I hope to record some of his stories so that future generations will remember his comedic side.
He will always be remembered with love.
Wishing all fathers everywhere a great Fathers Day.