Mike & the Mechanics sang a song, ‘Every Generation blames the one before…’ and then tells how he tried to communicate with his own father but just wasn’t able to ‘ In the Living Years’.
I heard this song the first day after my own father died. It made me weep. I sat alone in a hotel room in Bloemfontein and sobbed. I missed my father. His death came suddenly. I had read a scripture an hour before he died: ‘go ahead without me, I am an old man and I will just make your journey cumbersome.’ An hour later my mother phoned me and said, ‘Boetie, don’t get a fright, but your dad passed away this morning.’
We were all going to East London as a family for a holiday to watch Aje, my first son, play cricket for Northern Transvaal Primary Schools in the Perm Week. My dad greeted him at the airport when he received his Provincial colours.
That is the last time we saw him here on earth. It was sad. I remember going to my parent’s house and he was already taken away to the mortuary. My mother showed me where he laid. She was busy in her bathroom and he was in his, shaving. Then he gasped for his breath, three times, and she heard him collapse. When she opened the bathroom door he was lying on the floor with his head on the ledge of the shower. It happened in three seconds. In three seconds he exchanged the earthly for the eternal realm. He stepped over from this life to the life hereafter. Death was the doorway for him into another world.
I drove back to our home in 57 Marais Street, Brooklyn, Pretoria (now Tswane) that we rented from an old farmer. I decided to go for a morning swim. As I dived into the cold pool on that warm summer’s day, 12th of the 12th 1989, I felt the coolness of the water release the heat in my body and as I came up out of the water I said goodbye to my father: ‘Goodbye Oupa!’ I released his spirit to leave the earth – that’s how I felt.
It was not difficult for me to bury him. I had to conduct the service in Alberton Apostolilc Faith Mission Church hall and in the graveyard I threw the last sand on his coffin. My sister cried a lot. For some reason she wanted my golden Cross Ballpoint Pen and I gave it to her, but she dropped it into the grave onto the coffin. I let it go. It was buried with him in his grave like the old Pharaoh’s took their golden wealth with them into the pyramids.
Before he died he told me, ‘I have no regrets, my son.’ Few people can say that. He also used to say, ‘if you want to die by faith, you have to live by faith.’ Something else he was known for was a saying, ‘born once, die twice; born twice, die once.’ This referred to the second death which is an eternal separation from God. If you are born again by spirit and water (John 3:3-5) you will once experience the physical death and not the spiritual death.
I miss my dad. We had our misunderstandings, but in the end we loved one another to overlook the differences and accept each other as we are. He was a militarist and a planner; I am an artist and a non-conformist.
Every generation has its differences. He grew up in the depression years and during two world wars. He knew what it was like to rebuild lives after devastating wars. Every penny counted. I grew up in the Hippie Revolution and went to university in the Woodstock year, ’69. Long hair and floral shirts, bell bottom jeans and high heel boots…wasn’t what he wanted to see in his son. And then I became an actor…the worst nightmare for a pastor in a Pentecostal Church!
But later on I became a missionary and he used to listen to me preach – differently – and even made some notes which I have with me today.
God bless his heart for all he did for me and for all he was: he was a simple man and kept a middle of the road existence, no fancy cars or clothes. He saved what he could and left some money for my mother to survive on. We inherited a small amount eventually that helped us along the way.
He gave up a lucrative business career and sold his brass and iron factory in Alrode to use the money in the full time ministry to subsidise us as a family for the salary was small and the pension hardly enough to buy bread and milk every day! He gave up his life for the Gospel’s sake, and for that I highly honour him. Few men of his calibre would have done the same. But because he was in the ministry, like both my grandparents and my uncle, I entered the mission field and my son Aje is now the 4th Generation preacher! We might not be wealthy factory owners, but we have a wealth hidden in the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is our riches!