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[OPINION] Fathers and daughters

I was raised as the eldest of four daughters. Our parents married very young as I made my way into their world before they had chosen to marry. My mom was 19 and employed as an administrator at the law firm where my father was doing his articles as a young attorney.

Back in 1968, it was taboo to have a shotgun wedding or a must marriage! A scandal of enormous proportions, my four grandparents managed the situation lovingly and without shame. My parents had a wedding in a church, everyone dressed up and celebrated them.

My paternal grandfather embraced my mum and said:” Come and live with us, you will be one of our children!” This turned out to be a great advantage for me as they adored my baby self and made me feel very welcome on earth! My gynaecologist always said: ”There are no unplanned babies, only unplanned pregnancies!’ It is true. With hindsight and the quality of their marriage, I would like to assume they were destined to be together anyway. This is my version and as they have both passed, I am sticking to it.

Was it easy, no. Were they committed to making their marriage and our family work, yes! By the time my mom was 27 she had four daughters under the age of 10. It was busy.

My memory without filter was that my father was involved, connected to and unconditional in his love and support of us as young girls and secure young women. Our mother was a child herself. He loved her with all the insecurities mothers sometimes feel about a bond between their daughters and her husband. With hindsight, the value my daughter has is that I am her dad’s wife and she is his daughter, we each have a role and a place.

Our father worked hard and never made enough money to retire well but he secured us a lovely home and a great education. He taught us how to value ourselves as equals to anybody and to respect the value in people in around us, especially if they were not perfect.

He offered us protection. I really never liked telling him about any of my social struggles with mean or bullying girls. He would be on my side 100% before asking what happened. If I was in the wrong he would coach me to see that but if I was right, he would be quite harsh in his criticism of whoever did what they did to me. It was awkward as I would always forgive and forget in my childlike way, something he taught me but struggled to do himself if any of his children were impacted. It was cute.

As an adult, I understand now how important it is for children to feel safe to tell their parents anything. I just managed to let my four children make their own decisions about whether they kiss and makeup with the perpetrators of pain and offence. Hurt people hurt people, I teach them.

Our father made important value judgements which were in our interest even if we didn’t agree at the time. He sent us to a private multi-racial school because he believed after the struggle our country was going to need educated people. Our introduction to the school was exciting and intimidating at the same time. We came from a rough, tarred playground to lush green rolling fields, tennis courts, swimming pools, hockey fields and equipment that worked, classrooms that were inviting and colourful and education was fun times!

As we started at the school our dad lovingly explained that he wanted us to have a great education, that this was a multiracial, not a non-racial school, we were there as coloured girls on a permit from the apartheid government. He said our aim was to get educated and if we made friends great, if not we didn’t go to a private school to make friends. We entered the school feeling like equals and unafraid of anything or anybody. His coaching and mentorship led us throughout that experience.

The way we were raised during apartheid, with hindsight appears to have been a protected way. We didn’t realise until we got to the new school that we had a little relative to most of the people in our school. We didn’t feel it, we always felt we had enough while growing up.

Our dad instilled in us values around materialism and its insignificance in the bigger scheme of things of life, how to be our own brand and not rely on fashion fads to keep us relevant and he role modelled to us the value of empathy, work ethic and integrity. He did this seamlessly and effortlessly. For us, this became the norm of our expectation of boys and men.

It was useful and telling through our youth choosing boyfriends and husbands. Usually, your same-sex parent has the biggest influence on you. Certainly, our mother did. In the back side and forefront were a gentle and strong father and a husband who led through how he lived.

Our father died of a massive cardiac arrest on 22 August 1994. He worked tirelessly for freedom on our country, spent a few weeks in detention but years and years keeping others out of apartheid jails by representing them in court, hiding them in our home and fearlessly taking an uncomfortable and unsafe position publicly and privately to ensure fairness, justice and equality.

If a father can leave his daughters with this legacy, he has served his purpose even if he passes at the age of 49.
At the end of women’s month, I implore all of us to look for great male role models and celebrate them. We know how we don’t want men to be, let us agree on those who set a great example for our sons to follow and our daughters to choose.

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn.

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