I took my eldest son, Connor, who is now 13, to Kimberley in the Northern Cape. Kimberley is renowned for its diamond mines. It is also the birthplace of my grandfather, Robert Meas. At Kimberley’s railway station I showed Connor a plaque that the military had put up. On the plaque are the names of the people from the Northern Cape who had died in the Second World War. And there, right at the bottom it says ‘RB Meas’ – my son’s great-grandfather.
What is significant about my grandfather is how he died in the war. Being a non-white person he was not allowed to carry a gun while fighting in the war and so he was commissioned as a cook. His regiment was then captured by the Italians and held prisoners of war. They managed to escape, and stole an Italian boat to make their way home. While crossing the Mediterranean Sea, they were spotted by one of the Royal Air Force planes. The British plane, taking it for an enemy ship, promptly fired upon the Italian boat, sinking it and killing all the prisoners who were trying to escape. A heroic escape perhaps and a strange way to die, but history nonetheless.
I needed to explain my son’s heritage to him. I needed to explain to him the importance of knowing where you come from, what your lineage is. I always tell him, ‘Connor, you will be the person who does the right thing.’ But I needed to give him an example because, as a father, I am flawed. And many of the mistakes that I make, he sees. I needed to show him someone who did something in life that was a selfless act, who went to fight for a country that did not even recognise him as a first-class citizen. I needed to show him the importance of doing the right thing. I also needed to present an example of someone in our family who did just that. And to let him know that sometimes, while doing the right thing, you may not always get the credit, or it may not even seem like a good thing to do, but it is an important thing to do.
What do we teach our children? … We should say to each of them, ‘Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique … You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything.’
– Pablo Casals
I believe that our young boys today are lost, they are without vision and without purpose. Many of them don’t have basic skills – skills a father would have taught. They don’t even know how to change a light bulb. Fathers, we need to teach our children basic skills in the house.
Can you imagine, young man, going to visit your girlfriend’s house and her mother says, ‘Please, won’t you change a light bulb for me?’ or ‘Please fix the broken plug on my kettle,’ and you have to say, ‘Sorry Auntie, I can’t – I don’t know how’? What do you think that mother would say to her daughter? ‘I don’t want to see that boy here again because he doesn’t even know how to change a light bulb or change a plug!’ But can you imagine the impression you would make on her if you could?
Now, here’s a free lesson, son. When you fix a plug the way my father taught me, you don’t use a screwdriver, you use a butter knife. When you fix it, the green wire goes up to the top because that is your earth, and then the blue into the right and the brown into the left. And if you do happen to mix these two up, don’t worry, because they are alternating currents. So you can’t go wrong there.
I’m also teaching Connor how to shake hands properly. Many of the young guys today have all kinds of fancy handshakes. For instance, they make a fist, then just bump fists or they make a fist and bump the top and the bottom of the hand, and they click their thumbs and all of that kind of thing. But I teach my son the traditional way of greeting someone. To give a proper, gentleman’s handshake, you take the other guy firmly by the hand, look him in the eye and say, ‘How do you do?’ And you listen carefully and intently to what that person’s name is. That is how you shake hands. You don’t run it in, you don’t bump it, you don’t shake it, you don’t high five it. You shake the hand firmly and look the person in the eye. No wet fish, no dead hand, no dead fingers. A firm handshake and a strong look in the eye will tell the other person that you know who you are, and that you are confident and aware.
Manners Still Maketh the Man
When last did you see older people get into a bus or on to the train and then see the young people get up to offer them their seat? Instead they remain seated and they don’t even look up from their iPods and cell phones. They seem to say to themselves, ‘I’m not getting up, I’ve also paid for this seat. There’s no way I’m getting up for this old geezer.’ The very basic idea of what we consider good behaviour and good manners has died. The age of chivalry has officially expired. Young people, young men, don’t know how to behave, because they’ve never had a father to teach them good manners. They’ve never had a father to say this is how you do things, that you get up for an older person, that you say ‘Yes, ma’am’, ‘Yes, sir’ to an older person. This is what you, as a dad, are supposed to do – you are supposed to teach your kids good manners.
Our kids today are lost, doing their own thing. When I go to minister to and counsel parents and their children, I’m very often confused as to who the child is because some children don’t call their mothers and fathers ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ anymore. They call them by their first names, Mary and Fred. And the manner in which they talk to their parents is frightening. One could easily become confused as to who the real parent and leader is in the relationship.
What is the Definition of a Man?
Today it often seems as if a man is defined by the number of women he has slept with. Am I right? To me it seems that the proof of manhood today is how many children I have and how many different women I have hanging on, waiting for me on the sideline. Even famous people like the great sports hero, Tiger Woods, who had a good father and a very good mentor in his dad, Earl Woods, could not keep his marriage vows and stay true to one wife. Did he perhaps feel that competing on a world stage and beating some of the best on the greens and fairways of the world entitled him to break certain rules? Or maybe he felt that these rules did not apply to him. Sadly, he was once the embodiment of the perfect gentleman, the true gladiatorial sportsman, but now he has become an example of the adulterous husband, of the boy who never grew up and grew out of his insecurities.
The definition of a man has changed. Apparantly, some men in South Africa today feel that if they don’t have a child by the age of eighteen or twenty then they haven’t proven themselves as a man. In urban South Africa (and I would imagine it is so throughout the world) there is a proliferation of teenage pregnancies, fatherlessness and young boys begetting children that is affecting our community in a major way.
My earlier statement about boys joining gangs because they don’t belong to a gang called family, led by a leader called father, has a corollary in that boys beget children to prove that they are men. Ed Cole, in his book, Maximized Manhood, states it so eloquently when he says, ‘… any boy can make a child. But it takes a man to take responsibility of being there to help
raise that child.’
The fact that you can produce sperm and can procreate and make a girl pregnant does not make a man of you. The definition, the true definition of a man, is someone who can take up his responsibilities. It is someone who can be there for his children and for the mother of his child and provide for her – not only in the monetary sense. Many young boys have told me, ‘Zane, I pay my maintenance. Is that not a good thing?’ I say to them, ‘Yes, it is a good thing. But more than your money, your child needs your presence in his or her life.’
Blessed be childhood, which brings down something of heaven into the
midst of our rough earthliness.
– Henri Amiel4
In my father’s day the definition of a man was different. He wasn’t one to stay away from work, as the trend is today, especially on Mondays and Fridays. My father used to get up early and go to work and then come home late in the afternoon. And although he drank a bit, I cannot say that I grew up without a father. My father was there for us. He attended my sporting games. He coached me in cricket and rugby. He took an interest in what we did. He taught us spiritual principles that, to this day, all of my family have kept. We are a church-going family.
And on Friday nights he would come home with his brown paper pay packet, sit down with my mother around the kitchen table and they would work out what money would need to go where. We were not rich, but we certainly were not poor. Groceries, school fees, water and electricity and so on were paid for. This taught me financial responsibility. It showed me that a husband and wife run the home together. It showed me my father was taking responsibility for his family. Looking back, I appreciate the lifestyle that my family had and that type of leadership made me into the man that I am today.
That young boy who locked himself in the room at the beginning of this chapter, who wanted a father to show him what it was like to be a man, is seventeen. He’s hearing all sorts of stories from all sorts of places and people and getting all kinds of advice on what it is to be a man. But what he needs to hear most is his father’s voice. This is very important to every young man – to hear his father’s voice about issues on manhood. This young man wanted his father to be an example to him. But his father was locked in his own insecurities because he had grown up without a father and now he was playing out the very same scenario with his son. What that boy needed was his father to step up and take an interest in him and spend some time with him and teach him. Dads, don’t be afraid to step into your role and place as a man, as a leader … the head of your home.
There are three things that I think are important for a father to share with his child.
Firstly, he needs to talk to and teach his son about women and sex and how these two things can dominate his life. I would like to refer dads to the chapter ‘Marrying as virgins’ for the full low-down.
Secondly, I believe it is important for a father to show weakness in order to strengthen his son. This is very important because, as I said in my opening chapter, I think that South African men are very frontier-minded and they are men who do not really show emotion. But I want to make it clear to you, men, that you have to, at times, show weakness in order to strengthen your son.
Black Cows on a Moonless Night
Connor was scared of the dark for many years. As I am sure most of us were. I would say to him, ‘Take the cup to the kitchen.’ And because the passage light was out, he wouldn’t want to walk from my bedroom down to the kitchen. Until one day I told him the story of how, while at a veld school, we had to spend an evening by ourselves in the wilderness. I remember this camp was in a game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal. Although this game reserve did not have any leopards or lions, it certainly had most of the other wild animals, such as buck, zebras and giraffes. And I, being the joker of the group, was placed at the furthest point from the camp base under a bridge on the riverbank. I was trying to sleep and suddenly I felt a very wet towel-like thing all over my face. It was not a wet towel, of course, but a cow that had been drinking water and had come to wake me up by licking me all over my face. Well, I couldn’t sleep after that. Especially after the team leaders had also come to wake me up in the middle of the night by jumping on top of me and frightening the socks off me. (I was wearing three pairs at the time!)
So I decided to walk back to the nearest guy to keep him company. Because I was furthest from the base, I was the last person to be dropped off and I remembered fairly well where the second last person was. But here was the problem. There was no moon that night and it was very cloudy, so not even the stars were offering me their meagre light to help me on my way back. I walked back along the winding road where the light-coloured sand seemed to light my way. Knowing how dangerous it was to be walking around in a game reserve, I decided to recite some prayers that I knew. Having grown up Catholic, I said the Hail Mary and the catechisms – in fact, I think I said an entire mass that night, walking along the path. Suddenly, the road seemed to stop ahead. I knew there was meant to be a curve in the road but there was just nothing – nothing but pitch black. The road just came to a dead end. I walked up to what seemed to be the end of the road and walked straight into a herd of black Nguni cattle! They surrounded me and started to bellow into the night. Well, I have never been so scared in my entire life. I thought these cattle were going to eat me to get their revenge for all those T-bones and steaks I had eaten over time. And because they were black, all I saw were these luminous eyes shining in the dark. When my voice eventually returned, I managed to scream and shout and the animals scattered and the road seemed to open up again. Of course, by this time, every single hair on my body was standing on end. I proceeded to where the next guy was. I called out to him, but because I did not want to frighten him, I was whispering loudly. But he did not answer. After my experience with the cows, I was still in a bit of shock. I proceeded on to the next guy, who was a kilometre or two away. I found him sleeping at the very place that he was assigned to. The next morning, I asked the first guy, ‘Why didn’t you answer when I called?’ He said he was trying to sleep when suddenly he heard the cows bellowing and someone screaming and then a voice calling out his name in a strange whisper. He was convinced he was being visited by the seven devils of the mountain of Sheva and he just lay there, shivering in the night.
Once I had told Connor this very long and detailed story, I could sense a change in him and I could see the realisation dawning on him by the look on his face. He must have figured that if a big guy like me – I am six foot two in my socks (but I wear tall socks) – could be scared when he was young, then surely there was nothing wrong with him being scared of the dark. This strengthened him, maybe not just then, but I knew I got through to him. When we share our fears with our sons, we teach them that it is okay to make mistakes, that it does not matter how you start a race, but how you finish it. That is the third thing we can teach them. We encourage and strengthen them in this way.
What a Boy Needs
Many young men who are caught up in confusion and despair about having to be a father say to me, ‘Zane, I don’t know how to be a father.’ I then say to them, ‘Become the father that you never had or the father that you wanted to have.’ Or ‘Become the father that your dad wasn’t to you. For your children’s sake.’ I tell them, ‘You might not know everything, but it will put you on the right path to having secure and whole children.’
The sports field is another place where many children get hurt – by the absence of their fathers. Too many of our children today are growing up without having someone watching them in the stands. Have you ever watched a little child as he passes the ball while playing soccer? He has not scored a goal or done anything amazing. He simply kicked the ball on to the next player. But he looks at the stands to see if his dad has seen what he has done. That is a child seeking approval from his father. There are too many children today who are growing up without their fathers on the sidelines to watch them. They seem to take off when Daddy is watching. It’s different when Mummy watches. It is important that Mummy watches. But there is something magical that happens to a child when a father is watching him or her on the sports field.
Living Through Them
Certain fathers want to live their lives through their children’s lives. I know so many children who say to me, ‘I don’t actually want to play rugby,’ or ‘I don’t want to play this particular sport but because my dad didn’t make it when he was young, I am now forced to play this game.’ Fathers, don’t live your lives, your unfulfilled lives, vicariously through your children.
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself … They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.
– Kahlil Gibran5
And that is so true. Fathers, you cannot live your lives through your child. Be a good role model. Think of Timothy and Paul. For some reason, Timothy’s dad is never mentioned in the Bible, but his mother and grandmother are. This would imply that Timothy’s dad had either died or was not part of his life. Did he have an absent father? So much so that Paul saw himself as Timothy’s surrogate dad and mentor and the father figure in his life. In 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy we see the strong hand and father figure of Paul mentoring his ‘son’. Paul tells him how to go through life, how to behave, how not to be shy and scared and feel inadequate just because he is a young man. He tells Timothy to take up the mantle that God has placed on him and live his life to the full. Oh, to hear those words from a man you love and respect. Every young man would soar on wings like an eagle and the sky would be his only limit.
One of my favourite stories about great fathers who have inspired their sons was first told by Paul Faulkner in his book Raising Faithful Kids in a Fast-paced World.6 It tells of one of the most memorable moments in recent Olympic history that took place in 1992, at the summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. You may remember the name Derek Redman. He was a British runner who had been through twenty-two surgeries after an injury he had suffered while preparing for the 400 metre race in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
It was amazing to everyone that he was even running again, much less competing as the best athlete from his country. When the gun went off for his race, Derek took off. He was in the middle of the pack of some of the fastest runners in the world when, about halfway around the track, he pulled his hamstring and fell to the ground.
Of course, everyone thought he was finished; the broadcasters started yelling, ‘Derek Redman is out of the race! Derek Redman is out of the race!’ The cameraman stayed with the rest of the runners as they finished the race, but then raced back to Derek Redman who was still down on the track, trying to pull himself back up. He was determined to finish the race.
To everyone’s amazement, this great athlete slowly stood up and began to hobble around the track, writhing in pain. You can see this on the video footage. As you watch his face, there are tears streaming down his cheeks. Yet, in spite of his determination, it was obvious to everyone watching that there was no way he would be able to finish that race; he was in such pain.
Just as Redman was about to collapse for the final time, a man came running down out of the stands. He climbed the fence at the side of the track, pushed his way past two big guards and ran onto the track. The man who came to Derek Redman’s side that day was Derek’s mentor. He had been sitting at the top of the grandstand that day in Barcelona, and he could not imagine not getting involved.
The man’s name was Jim Redman. He happened to be Derek’s father. For years, he had been there by his son’s side, getting up at four o’clock in the morning for practice, encouraging, supporting and cheering his son on. Now, he felt he just could not stand by and let his son fail to finish the race.
So he came jogging up to his injured son and reached out for him, putting his hand on Derek’s shoulder. Derek took a few more steps and then turned and fell onto the chest of his mentor and dad. Then Jim Redman said, ‘Derek, we started this thing together and we are going to finish this thing together.’
Jim took his son’s arm, put it around his own shoulders, put his arm around Derek’s shoulders and held his son up. I mean, literally, just held him up as together they made their way around the rest of the track. As you can imagine, the crowd was roaring its approval as Derek Redman finished his race.
But he did not finish it alone. Together, linked arm in arm, father and son crossed the finish line as one.
Where, o where are fathers like that who can motivate, support and inspire the youth of South Africa today?
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but
you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’
– Romans 8:15
Now let them soar!
Chapter 4 – End notes
1. Ed Cole. 1982. Maximized Manhood. USA: Whitaker House.
2. Muneera Mohamed, councellor Southern Cape Correctional Services, Mossel Bay and founder of Equilibrium Centre for Wellbeing.
3. Faisal Malik. 2007. The Destiny of Islam in the End Times. USA: Destiny Image Publishers.
4. Henri Amiel, www.thequotegarden.com. Website accessed December 2009.
5. Kaklil Gibran. 1972. The Prophet. London: Heinemann.
6. Dr Paul Faulkner. 1995. Raising Faithful Kids in a Fast-paced World. USA: Howard Publishing.
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